Monday, June 18, 2012

189. The Big Sleep (1946)

Running Time: 114 minutes
Directed By: Howard Hawks
Written By: William Faulkner, from novel by Raymond Chandler
Main Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Ridgely, Martha Vickers, Dorothy Malone
Click here to view the trailer


I'll try to keep my plot synopsis of "The Big Sleep" easy to understand, unlike the actual plot of "The Big Sleep", which will require pen, paper and a pie chart to keep in order.

Philip Marlowe (Bogart) is a P.I. living in Los Angeles and as the film opens he finds himself at the doorstep of the Sternwood residence. He's been hired by General Sternwood, a wheelchair bound, ailing old man who wishes to procure Marlowe's services in a blackmailing scheme that he's been targeted in. Someone has sent notes to Gen. Sternwood, requesting that he pay gambling debts, that the youngest of his two daughters, Carmen (Vickers), racked up. Gen. Sternwood wants the man who sent the notes, A.G. Geiger, to be "dealt with". Once Marlowe is guaranteed that he'll get his $25, plus expenses, he's on the case. It doesn't even take a half an hour of film time before A.G. Geiger winds up dead and a host of other bad guys are introduced, sending Marlowe down the dark and seedy rabbit hole that is Los Angeles. Marlowe also becomes acquainted with Gen. Sternwood's eldest daughter, Vivian (Bacall), whom he has eyes for, a vicious dame whom he can't resist. There's also a sub-plot involving a previous, missing private investigator, who was hired by the Sternwood's prior to Marlowe; a man named Sean Regan.

Apparently, the story goes that Howard Hawks asked Raymond Chandler to explain to him the twists and turns that make up "The Big Sleep" and Chandler offered a short reply: "I have no idea." To be honest, I kind of gave up on trying to figure everything out at about the halfway mark. It's not that I mind being challenged by a complex film once in a while, it's just that trying to keep all the characters in order took away from just kicking back and enjoying the film. For God's sake, they introduced characters that didn't even appear in the film, like Sean Regan. The character of Sean Regan is mentioned numerously in the film, yet he is never introduced and his plot basically goes nowhere. At the end of the film, there's even a line where Marlowe says something to the effect of "I don't know what's going on and we're never going to have all the answers" (I'm paraphrasing), which basically says that we've thrown a whole lot of information at you and we don't expect you to know what's going on, because our own characters don't even really know what's going on.

Bogart wasn't bad here and actually, I liked him better here than I did in "To Have and Have Not". In fact, the most amusing I've ever see Humphrey was during a scene in "The Big Sleep" where Marlowe bend up the bill of his fedora, puts on a pair of shades and is walks into a book store, pretending to be a rare book collector and asking for a third edition of "Ben-Hur". He reminded me of Jerry Lewis in that scene, talking with a high pitched voice - it's actually one of the few things I'll remember this film for. The other thing I'll remember "The Big Sleep" for is the atmosphere, as it's classic film-noir and really captures the essence of the dark side of cinema, putting it's main character into violent, gritty situations. However, it just didn't all work out for me and ultimately, I just wanted it to end.

RATING: 5/10  Slightly better than "To Have and Have Not", but not by much. I'll gladly say farewell to the Hawks/Bogey team and welcome in the Hawks/Duke team. Next up: "Red River".


June 18, 2012  9:15pm

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