The Big Sleep (1946)
December 3, 2022 10:17 AM - Subscribe

Private detective Philip Marlowe is hired by a wealthy family. Before the complex case is over, he's seen murder, blackmail, and what might be love.

Private investigator Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) is hired by General Sternwood to help resolve the gambling debts of his wild young daughter, Carmen (Martha Vickers). Sternwood's older daughter, Vivian (Lauren Bacall), provides assistance when she implies that the situation is more complex, and also involves casino owner (John Ridgely) and a recently disappeared family friend. As people linked to the Sternwoods start being murdered, Marlowe finds himself getting ever deeper into the case.

Basil Wright: The trend is worth keeping an eye on, particularly since this film is even glossier, more violent and more amoral than its predecessors. It is brilliantly directed and photographed. It moves with breath- less speed. The acting is admirable. The dialogue (Raymond Chandler and William Faulkner are among those credited) is of an unusually high level of humour and crispness. With the exception of an aged general, who lives charmingly in an orchid-house after a mis-spent life, there is not a single person in the film to whom any reasonable sympathy could be extended in any circumstances by any normal citizen. There are murders—by bullet and poison- blackmailings, and personal violence of a type notorious in German concentration camps. And I have to admit that I enjoyed every minute of it, as will most people, I suppose. But that is not neces- sarily an excuse for its production. The stars, by the way, are Humphrey Bogart, at his toughest, and Lauren Bacall, at her silkiest and sulkiest.

Sarah Boslaugh: The Big Sleep is full of delightful scenes, including two featuring independent women who are charmed by Marlowe. One (Joy Barlow) drives a taxi, and her scene (which does not advance the plot) may reflect the fact that this film was shot during World War II, when many women took on roles previously reserved for men. The other scene is much more extended and does aid the plot mechanics, while featuring Dorothy Malone as a brainy bookstore owner who knows her business and knows what she wants.

Jennie Kermode: The Big Sleep has the distinction of being without doubt one of the greatest crime films of the Forties, yet also one of the least structurally satisfying. Showcasing Bogart and Bacall at the height of their talents, it sizzles with energy, and a witty script holds the viewer's attention throughout - it's just that, by the end, you may be left quite unsure what has actually happened, or why you should care. Fortunately, this does nothing to diminish the thrill.

posted by Carillon (19 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Probably worth noting that the screenplay was written by Leigh Brackett, who went on to write other things, up to and including The Empire Strikes Back.
posted by SPrintF at 11:10 AM on December 3, 2022 [6 favorites]

I've watched this a couple times but can't say I've ever felt like I fully understood the plot. It's still a remarkable film, though.
posted by johnofjack at 11:35 AM on December 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

" it's just that, by the end, you may be left quite unsure what has actually happened," - Jennie Kermode
"can't say I've ever felt like I fully understood the plot." - johnofjack
That's okay.
Raymond Chandler couldn't keep it straight, either.

Lauren Bacall recalls in her autobiography, "One day Bogie came on the set and said to Howard, 'Who pushed Taylor off the pier?' Everything stopped." As A.M. Sperber and Eric Lax write in "Bogart," "Hawks sent Chandler a telegram asking whether the Sternwood's chauffeur, Owen Taylor, was murdered or a suicide. 'Dammit I didn't know either,' " Chandler recalled.
posted by Mutant Lobsters from Riverhead at 12:46 PM on December 3, 2022 [9 favorites]

I love the dialogue between Bacall and Bogart, this is a movie to me that really exists on the vibes it exudes, and my are they good ones.
posted by Carillon at 1:03 PM on December 3, 2022 [4 favorites]

And that confusion's understandable, because of two points:

a) 6 of Chandler's 7 novels, he wrote by cannibalizing the short stories he'd sold to the pulps. Thrilling Detective only lists the short stories used for the first four (under the "Short Stories" section of the page), but I am reasonably sure that all but Playback used plots and elements from the pulp stories. (And Playback was Chandler cannibalizing a screenplay he'd written.)

b) Chandler himself suggested, "When in doubt have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand." He wasn't 100% serious, but he wasn't 100% joking, either.
posted by Mutant Lobsters from Riverhead at 1:03 PM on December 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

Holy hell, Lauren Bacall is supernova level charismatic here.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:45 PM on December 3, 2022 [4 favorites]

It’s a glorious, beautiful, captivating mess. I can watch it over and over and over.
Younger me, upon my first viewing, fell utterly in adolescent lustlove with Dorothy Malone.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:37 PM on December 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

With some movies, understanding the plot is counteractive to your enjoyment. Just go with it.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:43 PM on December 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

This thread is making me feel so much better about how little I could follow this movie. Enjoyed the shit out of it, no clue what went down
posted by potrzebie at 11:27 PM on December 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

One of my friends in high school called it The Big Scam for how little sense it made after we watched it for English class.
posted by praemunire at 11:47 PM on December 3, 2022

Probably worth noting that the screenplay was written by Leigh Brackett

Brackett also wrote the script for another Philip Marlowe movie, Robert Altman's 1973 film The Long Goodbye, which is very firmly a product of the early 1970s.
posted by jabah at 7:18 AM on December 4, 2022

I haven't seen this movie, but it feels like the comments here strengthen the argument for The Big Lebowski being a parody/homage of it.
posted by LionIndex at 8:59 AM on December 4, 2022 [3 favorites]

I love the dialogue between Bacall and Bogart

Bogart and Bacall had just married shortly before starting filming this. After watching their scene where their characters discuss horse racing, I had a feeling that the evening they spent back at home after filming that day was very pleasant indeed.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:51 AM on December 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

My alias is based on the gangster from this movie, Eddie Mars. He has a bit more of a role in the book, but is still interesting in the film.
posted by Eddie Mars at 2:58 PM on December 4, 2022 [5 favorites]

Lebowski borrows bits of plot from many books. If you haven’t read the books, I can’t recommend them highly enough. They are a product of the time so go in expecting occasional casual racism and near constant misogyny, but the writing is so good and the characters are just exceptional.
posted by Eddie Mars at 3:27 PM on December 4, 2022 [5 favorites]

It is just endlessly, endlessly rewatchable (for me, at least).

Me and the family went to a local Botanical garden last week that has a Christmas lights display on. There was a greenhouse that, when we entered, we saw had orchids. I immediately thought "Their flesh is too much like the flesh of men".

Anyway, easily in my top ten of all time.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 3:33 AM on December 5, 2022 [4 favorites]

I do get immense pleasure out of the many women who throw themselves at Humphrey Bogart’s Marlowe (especially the bookshop owner), signifying his animal magnetism. It’s somewhat translatable on-screen, but intriguing for the surplus attractiveness that we can’t know (or is written in).
posted by inkytea at 11:17 AM on December 11, 2022 [2 favorites]

Bogart always fascinated me as an unlikely romantic lead. He made his name as the toughest guy in Hollywood next to George Raft, but along the way somebody noticed that he lit up when you put a woman opposite him.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:32 AM on December 11, 2022 [2 favorites]

I watched this yesterday and am extremely relieved to learn that it wasn't just me who struggled with the details of the plot. I get notoriously distracted during movies and TV but I was paying attention the whole way through this and couldn't follow a lot of it. It didn't help that sometimes I couldn't tell the characters apart because of the B&W.
posted by urbanlenny at 8:44 AM on March 27

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