Saturday, February 13, 2016

CANON OF FILM: "THE BIG SLEEP"

THE BIG SLEEP (1946)

Director: Howard Hawks
Screenplay: William Faulkner & Leigh Brackett & Jules Furthman based on the novel by Raymond Chandler




As numerous witnesses verify, one day during production of “The Big Sleep,” Bogart went up to Director Howard Hawks and casually asked who pushed Taylor off the pier. Production was soon halted and after numerous discussing, finally they sent a telegram to Raymond Chandler the author of the novel. He didn’t know either. Don’t even try to follow this film logically, it doesn’t work, doesn’t even come close to working, but a great mystery doesn’t have to work logically. I often complained about reviewers who base whether a mystery film is any good or not on whether or not they figure out who did it before the movie does, (coughs, Rex Reed coughs) because that’s not what a mystery is about.  A mystery, is about the process of the solving of the crime, any mystery plot, as Raymond Chandler would probably tell you, is nothing more than just a series of places to force the characters to go in order to eventually solve the mystery. Or in the case of “The Big Sleep”, the plot is just a device to run in and out of scenes in between moments when Bogart is on with his new bride, a maybe-20-year-old Lauren Bacall.

I know, I should probably put this film in the context of Howard Hawks, who admittedly is somebody I like more the more films of his I watch, or how Hawks, who once said, to paraphrase, “If all else fails, then make it a drama,” probably knew and understood more than anybody that the best way to handle Chandler was to treat it as this absurd and comedic series of scenes, but to me, this is Bogart & Bacall vehicle, and the best of their films at that. They met famously while shooting “To Have and Have Not,” (…You just put your lips together and blow). That film has it’s followers, although I tend to think it’s mostly forgettable and that the only reason to watch it is for the scenes between Bacall and Bogart and watch their chemistry as it’s pretty clear they’re falling for each other in real life; other than that, it’s basically a rip-off of “Casablanca”. I guess you could argue the only reason to watch “The Big Sleep” as well is because of Bogart and Bacall, but there’s way more going on. It’s a classic film noir, arguably the most classic of the genre to some, and it is thrilling but really I watch it for the comedy. The outlandishness of the plot mixed with brilliant one-liners and series of dialogues.

Bogart (After Vivian’s nymphy sister Carmen (Martha Vickers) “fell,” on him.) “She tried to sit in my lap while I was still standing up.”

And the most famous one, a scene that was added later to make Bacall look good in the film, is a conversation she has with Bogart, supposedly about horse racing.

Bacall:…”I like to play them myself. But I like to see them workout a little first, see if they’re front runners or come from behind, find out what their whole card is, what makes them run…I’d say you don’t like to be rated. You like to get out in front, open up a little lead, take a little breather in the backstretch, and then come home free.”

In the film, Bogart, having already played Sam Spade in “The Maltese Falcon”, is now Philip Marlowe, the other most legendary of the hard-boiled private detectives of film noir (I actually already included Robert Altman’s “The Long Goodbye” into my Canon, so technically, this is the second time Marlowe has shown up in the canon, and he appeared in numerous Chandler books and he’s been portrayed in ten films total, by nine actors total including Elliot Gould, George Sanders, James Garner and Robert Mitchum, twice among others) gets hired by Bacall’s father, General Sternwood (Charles Waldron). That’s literally all I can ever remember about the investigation, and I think most people are lucky to remember that. There’s one person dead already, and nobody remembers what the hell he was actually investigating, but soon, one murder offscreen leads to another murder offscreen, and then about 5-8 other people getting killed in/during the movie, depending on how you count. Marlowe is observant and knows how to find clues and witnesses, which continually lead him to someone/someplace which leads to more discoveries. I’ve seen it three times, I know some who’ve seen it twice as much, and nobody, including myself can completely explain the events in the film. I remember certain scenes and lines of dialogue, and details like a gun taped underneath the front of Bogie’s car, and the apparent free time sexcapade Marlowe has with a bookstore girl, (Dorothy Malone, who steals her scene, she actually seems to almost have more sexual chemistry with Bogart than Bacall does, but that’s probably just me, I like Dorothy Malone.) Everything happens and doesn’t happen has some connection maybe to a “gambler,” named Eddie Mars (John Ridgely), and really who cares, as long Bogie and Bacall end up in each others arms at the end of the film.


Despite the detective, the femme fatale, and the body counts, I actually consider the film too witty to even be a true film noir, but I don’t watch it for that anyway. Scenes were actually added after the original cut of the movie because they wanted more scenes with just Bogart and Bacall and that was the right decision. “The Big Sleep”, is pure exciting filmmaking and it’s full of everything we want in the classic Hollywood film. Big stars, a love story, big laughs, sharp witty dialogue, and violence, etc. They don’t really do this anymore in Hollywood, where they continually pair people in movies, just to have them paired together, especially when they’re real-life romances. I think argue Hepburn and Tracy is the all-time best of them, but Bogart and Bacall is a close second and “The Big Sleep”, by far is their best and most fun work.    
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