The Big Sleep (1946)


The Big Sleep – IMDb 239/250

Well I can finally say it. I have seen a film with Humphrey Bogart in, as my latest watch was The Big Sleep, starring Hollywood’s original ‘Brangelina’ Bogart and his then wife Lauren Bacall.

Based on the famous American novel of the same name by Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep has Bogart playing private detective Phillip Marlowe, as he investigates who is blackmailing his new client’s daughter, simultaneously finding out what happened to a missing family friend.

Your overall opinion of this film will be mostly based on your reactions to the dialogue. The action and plot really play second fiddle to the writing and the interactions between the characters, which some might find exhilarating while some may find it grating. I sat primarily in the latter.

I can appreciate its cleverness. The conversations between all the characters, especially the chemistry infused dialogue between Bogart and Bacall, is very slick and smooth, which isn’t surprising when you consider the great American novelist William Faulkner co-wrote the screenplay, as well as the excellent base material they had to go off from Carver’s novel.

But really the way they talk to each other just isn’t realistic in the slightest. Yes it is impressive and witty but humans don’t speak to one another the way they do in this film, and in the end it was just rather annoying. Then again the art of speech has been lost in the age of texting, clubbing and twerking.

I just think I found the film a bit too smooth for its own good.

Bogart is very good though at portraying the charismatic detective, he really does exude personality, and I can see why Bogart is such an icon, and why he managed to make Phillip Marlowe such a memorable movie character, bringing Carver’s creation to life wonderfully.

Phillip Marlowe was like an American version of James Bond

Phillip Marlowe was like an American version of James Bond – the ladies couldn’t resist his charm

But really he was the only shining light in this film for me. Martha Vickers as the flirtatious Carmen Sternwood put in a good performance, but Bacall playing her sister was rather wooden, it felt more like she was playing herself than a character – something I think is common in film noir. (It is rumoured that the films producers were annoyed how Vickers outshone Bacall, and as such limited her screen time).

Many of the other characters were instantly forgettable, so much so that I had trouble remembering who each character was supposed to be – along with following the actual plot, which didn’t help my engagement of the film.

The Big Sleep really highlighted some of the issues I have with 40s and 50s cinema. Many of them just feel the same as the last, with the same kind of plots, characters, dialogue and in particular their overall feel and the way their presented really makes them interchangeable. Though it is hypocritical of me to say that having watched about ten superhero movies in the last few months which aren’t exactly unique pieces of cinema.

The ending of the film was also rather bizarre as nothing was resolved – but apparently this was the point. Roger Ebert says it is about the ‘process of a criminal investigation, not the results’. Well if that is the case – I didn’t like it. I want things neatly finished.

My main enjoyment of the film came from my own reading of the history and making of it, but I don’t think I will be sitting through The Big Sleep again any time soon.

If you like this kind of film I could see it being one of your favourites. But it really isn’t one of mine – despite some redeemable features, and its name is very fitting for my enjoyment of it.

The Big Sleep: 3/10



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