The Big Sleep (1946)


Year 1946

Humphrey Bogart   as Philip Marlowe
Lauren Bacall as  Vivian Rutledge
John Ridgely as Eddie Mars
Martha Vickers as Carmen Sternwood  
Elisha Cook Jr. as Harry Jones
 
Director - Howard Hawks
Screenwriters - William Faulkner
  - Leigh Brackett
  - Jules Furthman
Book Author - Raymond Chandler

This movie, The Big Sleep, is worth watching to see the relatively slight framed Humphrey Bogart fit into the oversized shoes of the most imitated gumshoe of all time - Philip Marlowe. Bogart is my second favorite Philip Marlowe. Robert Mitchum is my all time favorite in the role.

"Who is Philip Marlowe?" you may well ask. This Raymond Chandler character is the private investigator that all other "hard boiled" P.I.s are modeled after. He's big as a barn door, "hell with the ladies", a sucker for a sob story, and always, always does the morally correct thing despite personal consequences. Heck, even Fox Mulder is partially based on him.

Maybe it's because Philip Marlowe is cynical and world weary that he protects the honest people to the extent he does. In this movie, he protects General Sternwood, the man who hired him to handle a blackmail attempt. (If you want to read some great World War II era detective stories, I cannot recommend Raymond Chandler high enough.)

Bogart isn't cynical enough and he certainly isn't big enough to be the best Philip Marlowe. That doesn't mean that he isn't convincing in the role and if you haven't read the books or seen Mitchum, you might think that he's the best. If this was the only flaw in the movie, then it would be on the "At Least Once" list. But there are other issues.

Oh, one other thing. Although John Ridgely does a servicable job as Eddie Mars, Oliver Reed is a much more imposing and believable Eddie when he plays against Mitchum's Marlowe in the 1978 version of The Big Sleep.

The biggest problem with this movie is that, because it stars both Bogart and Bacall, the hero has to get the girl. Aww, that's nice. But! It isn't film noir. In film noir, the hero finds out that the girl is flawed and not worth his time. In the book, that is what happens. Most of the second half and the entire ending of the movie was rewritten to make sure Bogart and Bacall lived happily ever after. It doesn't work and comes out as a jumbled mess.

Here are a couple of examples. There is a scene where a bound Marlowe is released just before a shootout at an automobile repair gargage. In the book, the woman who releases him is not the General's daughter Vivian Rutledge. The fact that Vivian knows about the hideaway so that she can release Marlowe takes away from her credibility as Marlowe's ally. I mean, she knew about it so why didn't she mention it earlier? And why did she show up at the right time to release Marlowe? The book is not so contrived.

And the ending! There's a side story of what happened to a man named Regan who was a rum runner that the General took a liking to. In the movie, because it's a Bogart and Bacall vehicle, everything at the end is all chocolates and kisses. In the book, Marlowe confronts Regan's killer and washes his hands of the Sternwood daughters. You feel for the murdered man. The movie lacks lasting impact.

Still, the first half of the movie is well done. It's basically the book with the dialog coming straight from the book. It will draw you in. Marlowe likes the General Sternwood and gives his allegiance to him. After taking care of the blackmail, Marlowe sticks around to find out what happened to the friend and proxy son of the General - Regan.

Until it's all resolved, Marlowe gets involved with a pornography ring, mobster gamblers, psychotic killers, and psychotic "citizens". Because of censors, the movie never comes out and says pornography, but it's intimated. In the book, it's stated.

Here are some lines by Chandler that were kept in the movie. Maybe one or two are from Faulkner, I'm not sure.


General Sternwood: Do you like orchids?
Marlowe: Not particularly.
General Sternwood: Ugh. Nasty things. Their flesh is too much like the flesh of men, and their perfume has the rotten sweetness of corruption.

General Sternwood: How do you like your brandy, sir?
Marlowe: In a glass.

Marlowe: You know what he'll do when he comes back? Beat my teeth out then kick me in the stomach for mumbling.

Marlowe: My, my, my. Such a lot of guns around town and so few brains. You know you're the second guy I've met today that seems to think a gat in the hand means the world by the tail.

No nudity or blasphemy. There are some grizzly deaths. But it's Bogart and he's good in the movie. There is the Bogart and Bacall chick flick potential, too, so you can watch it with a date.


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