Thursday, August 25, 2011

Thoughts on "The Big Sleep"

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This is my reaction paper from a college film noir class. Originally written in 2003.


The Big Sleep (1946), is another example of the cynical detective genre. Once again Humphrey Bogart plays the straight-as-an-arrow wise-cracking detective that seems to only exist for three things: his work, making witty banter with women, and drinking.

Marlowe (Bogart) is hired by an old man to do something or other, it really doesn’t matter, the plot makes no sense. The important part is that Marlowe meets the old man’s two daughters Vivian and Carmen (Lauren Bacall and Martha Vickers). Carmen is young and oozes sex appeal in her short skirt. She falls into Marlowe’s arms and calls him cute, but also insults him saying, “you’re not very tall are you?” Vivian on the other hand is cold and aloof, she insults his manners, but Marlowe as always has a witty retort, “I don’t like my manners either, they’re pretty bad.”

In the next sequence Marlowe goes into a bookstore with big glasses on and speaks in a really phony sounding accent to a secretary. The secretary says he doesn’t look like a man interested in first editions, to which he replies, “I collect blonds in bottles too.” Since Marlowe’s less than brilliant disguise fails to fool even the secretary, he goes over to the book store across the street and meets a very sexy book store proprietress (Dorothy Malone). Marlowe understands that’s she’s the intellectual type so he appeals to her intelligence to get what he wants from her. Later, he uses a great pick-up line, when she asks if he wants to stay for a drink, “you know it just so happens I’ve got a pretty good bottle of rye in my pocket.”

After this it starts to rain and Bogart follows someone to a house that turns out to be the main location for most of the film’s action. Serious, dramatic sounding music starts to play and you know something is about to happen. Sure enough, Marlowe hears a woman screaming, gun shots and a car driving away. He runs into the house and finds a man dead and Carmen who he describes as, “high as a kite.” I guess that managed to slip by the Hollywood code somehow, though it is quite clear that she had been smoking some marijuana.

I found myself to be very distracted by the scenes that took place in this mysterious house because there were these very ugly Japanese porcelain lamps that were all over the house and seemed very out of place. I just kept wondering if the lamps were somehow significant to the story or were they just all the set designer had lying around that week.

The film kind of muddles around for a while after this. Vivian and Marlowe exchange more witty repartee and prank call someone. Later when they talk about sex, it’s thinly disguised as a discussion about horses.

Next, we meet the movie’s main villain Eddie Mars (John Ridgely) and his two inept and ambiguously gay henchman who are named Sidney and Pete, a tribute to Bogart’s frequent costars Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre.

The next good scene involves Marlowe turning the tables on Joe Brody, a blackmailer, the secretary from the bookstore, and Carmen who comes into an apartment with a tiny little gun. Marlowe has a great line when Carmen is on the floor reaching for a gun, “Get up, you look like a Pekinese.”

After this, the film kind of muddles around again only this time for a lot longer. The next great scene is when Bogart has been tied up by the bad guys, but has been left alone with Vivian. Before she helps him escape he insists on smoking a cigarette.

The rest of the movie was kind of silly. Mars’ only scary henchman falls for the oldest trick in the book when Bacall distracts him by shouting, “Look over there!” Then back at the house with the ugly lamps, Mars is shot by his own henchman because they were told to shoot whoever came through the front door. Don’t ask me why they were told this.

The Big Sleep had some good moments, but I thought that this film badly needed another session in the editing room, it was too long and the plot was overly convoluted.

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  1. You got this all wrong. I was hoping for a pleasant read but straight up you've got your facts all mixed up and the plot actually does make sense though it is convoluted in the extreme. About the all wrong comment, for instance, Bogart doesn't make the blondes in bottles comment to the woman in the bookstore. He makes the crack at the librarian...My in laws didn't like the movie when I lent it to them. It's something of an acquired taste. It's basically for people who like witty banter, double entendres, and humorous, romantic old movies, particularly of the sleuth, noir, genre. The banter is somewhat along the lines of "Bringing Up Baby", or the "Philadelphia Story", fast, filled with innuendo, and funny.

  2. If you enjoyed this review, I got a bunch of other film noirs all wrong too. :) Seriously thanks for reading my review. I did like "the Big Sleep" but at times it seemed to want to showcase Bogart and Bacall rather than be a film noir.