#178) The Big Sleep (1946)

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#178) The Big Sleep (1946)

OR “Bogie Takes a Mulligan”

Directed by Howard Hughes

Written by William Faulkner & Leigh Brackett & Jules Furthman. Based on the novel by Raymond Chandler.

Class of 1997

NOTE: This post is about the original 1946 theatrical version. You can read my thoughts on the 1945 pre-release version here.

The Plot: L.A. detective Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) is called by millionaire General Sternwood (Charles Waldron) to investigate who is blackmailing his daughter Carmen (Martha Vickers). On his way out, Marlowe meets Sternwood’s other daughter Vivian Rutledge (Lauren Bacall), who suspects Marlowe has been hired to find her father’s missing protégé. There’s a twisted maze of murders and double-crossings throughout, but this is all mainly an excuse to get Bogart and Bacall back together on screen and let them heat things up with their newlywed passion.

Why It Matters: The NFR doesn’t even attempt to summarize the plot, gives no specific reason for the film’s inclusion, and focuses primarily on the story behind the original 1945 cut and subsequent reshoots.

But Does It Really?: The bad news: This is one complicated mystery. Even the people who made it weren’t sure who killed whom. The good news: The film (as well as Chandler’s novel) is more focused on character and atmosphere than plot. And it’s for this reason why the film succeeds. I have no idea what was going on, especially the further along things went, but I still had a good time. “The Big Sleep” is quintessential Bogie, quintessential Marlowe, and quintessential film noir. It’s baffling and convoluted, but fun and exciting nonetheless. I suspect “The Big Sleep” made the list in 1997 due to the (then) recent discovery and restoration of its 1945 prerelease version. How the NFR still hasn’t selected Bogie and Bacall’s first outing, “To Have and Have Not” is the real mystery.

Everybody Gets One: Screenwriter/novelist William Faulkner, and actors Dorothy Malone and Martha Vickers. But most shockingly, this is Lauren Bacall’s only entry on the list. She’ll always be immortalized by her four films with Bogie, but Bacall’s career spans an additional 60-plus years after that. These early films were just Act I for an endlessly fascinating life and career.

Wow, That’s Dated: Lots of wartime jargon (“The Big Sleep” was filmed in 1944 but not released until after the war). The prime example is the B sticker on Marlowe’s windshield, meaning he is allowed eight gallons of gas a week during the war rationing.

Seriously, Oscars?: Not only was “The Big Sleep” left out of the Oscars in 1946, but so was almost every other Warner Bros. release from that year. The only WB films to sneak in were “Humoresque” and the Foghorn Leghorn short “Walky Talky Hawky”. Neither won.

Other notes

  • Did we catch the opening credit shadows on a smoke break?
  • Marlowe pronounces shamus as “shah-mus” rather than “shay-mus”. Is the former also acceptable or did no one notice?
  • Martha Vickers was just one of the millions of Americans who were married to Mickey Rooney at one point.
  • “She tried to sit on my lap when I was standing up.” There are so many great film noir lines like that throughout, you need a second viewing just to catch them all.
  • The thing I always like about Lauren Bacall is that no matter how fierce or fiery her characters are, there’s always a hint of vulnerability just underneath.
  • It’s always nice to see a detective using his local library. Knowledge is Power!
  • ACME Book Store: Their best seller is “How To Catch a Road-Runner Using Rocket-Powered Skates, Painted Tunnels, and One ‘Help’ Sign”. (That’s TWO Looney Tunes references in one post!)
  • Shout-out to Charlie Chan.
  • I’d like to report a robbery: Dorothy Malone practically steals the film right from under Bogie in her one scene. She does, however, fall for the trope of the bookworm removing her glasses and letting her hair down.
  • Jesus, does every woman in this movie want to go to bed with Marlowe? Is that why it’s called “The Big Sleep”?
  • The ear tug that Marlowe does throughout the film was apparently Bogie incorporating his own physical trait to the character. And here I thought he was saying hi to Carol Burnett’s grandmother.
  • Howard Hawks gets his trademark rapid-fire delivery from his actors, but only rarely allows them to overlap their dialogue.
  • Wow, how did any of the racehorse banter get past the censors? There is nothing subtle about those innuendos.
  • Bacall does her own singing! Next stop, “Applause”!
  • A punch to the spine, that’s gotta hurt.
  • The plot is super dense, but that’s one hell of an ending. It still works, despite the massive headache I’ve acquired from trying to follow the plot.

Legacy

  • Lauren Bacall was in serious danger of being a one-hit wonder before this film. The new cut that emphasized her romantic tension with Bogart helped solidify her as a bona-fide movie star, and her career took off from there.
  • Although they were several films of the other Philip Marlowe books, Bogart never played Marlowe again.
  • This film never got a sequel, but the original novel did. Robert B. Parker got permission from the Raymond Chandler Estate to pen the 1991 follow-up “Perchance to Dream”. It follows Marlowe and Vivian a few years later following the death of General Sternwood, and apparently isn’t that great.
  • “The Big Sleep” was remade for film in 1978, transporting the action to present day England and starring a way-too-old Robert Mitchum as Marlowe.
  • “Now wait a minute, you better talk to my mother.”
  • Bogart’s Philip Marlowe was one of the inspirations behind “The Cheap Detective”.

Further Viewing: Siskel & Ebert give a review and brief overview of the original version’s release in 1997.

3 thoughts on “#178) The Big Sleep (1946)”

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