The Big Sleep
- Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe
- Lauren Bacall as Vivian Rutledge
- John Ridgely as Eddie Mars
- Martha Vickers as Carmen Sternwood
- Charles Waldron as General Sternwood
- Dorothy Malone as Book Shop Girl
- Elisha Cook Jr. as Harry Jones
A film noir thriller at its most complex and convoluted, The Big Sleep is cryptic but endlessly entertaining stuff. With a real feel for the dark material shown by director Howard Hawks and the sultry chemistry between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, The Big Sleep keeps you glued.
World weary and intelligent private detective Philip Marlowe is summoned to the home of the old General Sternwood. The elderly and frail man is concerned about his youngest daughter Carmen, who has a reputation for being loose. She has had compromising photos taken of herself and someone is using the sordid images to blackmail Sternwood. The person that appears to be behind the blackmailing is a man named Geiger, whose book store doubles as a crime racket. The General also wants Marlowe to locate Shawn Regan, a confidante close to the family who has disappeared strangely. While at the house, Marlowe also encounters older sister Vivian, a more cool and collected lady who knows how to flirt with him, yet keep something of a distance. Investigating further into muddy waters, he finds that the blackmailing crime racket ties with the missing Shawn Regan, though Marlowe is bewildered by how they could possibly do so. Just as he gets close, Geiger is murdered, complicating matters even more. Yet it also transpires that Vivian may also have some involvement in the sinister activities as nearby shady casino owner Eddie Mars appears to have a strange hold on her that she desperately attempts to remain hidden. Quickly, Marlowe is sucked into a seedy world of corruption and double crosses where he is desperate to find answers, as everything is spun in a web of underhand tricks and cloak and dagger activities.
Howard Hawks majestically gets the hard-boiled aura of this Raymond Chandler adaptation, coating everything in a shadowy and seedy vibe as Marlowe journeys into a corrupt underworld of suspicion and classic noir. The black and white cinematography is employed in a pretty amazing way with chiaroscuro taking precedent here and making the atmosphere tangible to the audience from the smoky opening titles. Now I must talk about the plot of The Big Sleep, as it is one mystifying and at times very confusing puzzle. This is actually far from a criticism of this film noir thriller, because it grasps the attention, gets you to pay attention and often moves at such a blistering pace, you won’t realise certain things that don’t add up. Sure everything is pretty cryptic and has you scratching your head, but oh what fun there is to be gained from this movie because of its pace and sexual tension, that are kept on high from start to end. What really brings a film like The Big Sleep to life is the scintillating screenplay, that practically bursts with repartee and innuendo that is some of the most sexual dialogue to be found in a movie from the 40’s, when the censors where usually on full patrol to eliminate anything suggestive . The script takes full advantage of the Bogart/Bacall relationship on and off-screen and serves up some double entendre laden exchanges that push the boat out on risqué (be sure to check the scene between Marlowe and Vivian in which she uses horse-riding and saddles as a reference to another physical activity.) As dark and mysterious as the film is, heck it brings new meaning to the word confounding, there is a playful spirit tone gleaned among all the dodgy dealings, blackmail and sleazy events that are usually hinted at rather than shown. Max Steiner is on score duties and transfers every ounce of tension and stunning sexiness to the viewer, matching the dark yet enticing underbelly The Big Sleep has to offer.
Humphrey Bogart heads up things with a fine performance as the iconic detective Philip Marlowe. Bogart impressively injects the part with cynicism, a quick talking attitude and weariness from all the years on the job. You couldn’t have asked for anyone better than Bogart to essay this part, which he plays with charm, dashes of dry humour and smarts that tell him to keep looking for the outcome of a most baffling case. He is simply on point during the whole run of this movie and makes it look effortless. Lauren Bacall practically oozes confidence and enigmatic sexuality as Vivian, whose feisty encounters and suspicious behaviour form a lot of the proceedings, particularly as Marlowe finds himself falling for her. Bacall was only in her early 20’s in this film, yet she has the innate ability to project the impression of a young woman who has seen a lot, seems to be in control and is adept at being secretive. Having already showed their undeniable chemistry in To Have and Have Not, Bogart and Bacall pretty much set the screen ablaze here, as they once more trade innuendos and tantalizing dialogue that flows from their lips like vintage whiskey. You simply couldn’t have asked for a better pairing than Bogart and Bacall, as they where exceptional together, both on film and in reality. John Ridgely has enough slimy energy and enigmatic ways to keep the shady Eddie Mars memorable in the long run. Martha Vickers features as the childlike and coy sister whose extracurricular activities are the start of Marlowe’s investigation into the unknown. A stately presence is to be found in the work of Charles Waldron as the old General calling upon the skills of Marlowe to eliminate the scandal surrounding his daughter. Popping up in small but still memorable parts, there is Dorothy Malone as a coquettish book shop worker and Elisha Cook Jr. as a very tragic fall guy who comes off badly within the darkness in doomed fashion.
As mystifying and mysterious as it all is, The Big Sleep earns its status as a classic noir due to the hard-boiled style and the iconic partnership of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.