by Roger the Shrubber
If you are in the mood for a witty, dark thriller that makes you think (and more importantly, makes you care) as the plot rolls along, then take a look at some of the older noir thrillers from the '40's. More specifically, rent The Big Sleep, which features all of the classic noir trademarks (urban setting, dark subject matter, characters driven by greed) and couples it with old-fashioned sexual tension and pithy dialogue between the two leads, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. It all adds up to make for one of cinema's classic efforts, and is well worth the rental fee.Set in WWII era Los Angeles, this film starts out with private detective Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) paying a visit to a client, an eccentric old millionaire of frail health who lives in a mansion with his two beautiful but mischievious daughters, Vivian (Lauren Bacall) and Carmen. It turns out that a Mr. Geiger is holding Carmen liable for thousands in gambling debts, and the old Mr. Sternwood is nervous that this may lead to something worse, and fast. You see, the Sternwood family has gone down this road before, and as Carmen is cute and reckless, she has a tendency to attract the attention of shady men with nasty intentions. The family had to bail her out when she was blackmailed before, and the savvy Mr. Sternwood sees the writing on the wall again.
"When in the mood for some great noir, check this puppy out."
Sternwood asks Marlowe for advice on the matter, and to keep track of this affair and to try and keep things from getting too much worse for the family. Well, it turns out that old Mr. Sternwood was right to be nervous, as before long Carmen is found by Marlowe in a house where the man she owed money to is shot and dead, lying before her as she sits there dazed from drugs. Was she framed, as Marlowe suspects? Then by whom? And why? These and more questions pop up and aren't answered easily as Marlowe leads us on a tricky case that takes us through some of the dark (and sometimes glitzy) underworld of 1940's LA.
Thus begins a series of events that involve corrruption, deceit, lust, blackmail, murder and fast women. All in all, a typical day in LA, even for 1945. It all makes for a fun ride, although the plot does get pretty convoluted as the story progresses. If I had any gripes about this movie, it would be that it was just too damn difficult to keep track of the plight of ALL the characters involved. This and the fast-paced dialogue make for a few huh?'s, but this is preferable to far-to-common experience in the other extreme, where the plot is dumbed down to the point where everyone gets it, but nobody cares. My point is that it may be challenging, but it is a good kind of challenging, in that it is intriguing too.
To me, the best part of seeing these kinds of puzzling movies are the conversations with your friends that follow. "Wait, who killed the chaffeur?" "Are you sure that she killed Sean Regan?" "Why did Vivian obey Kenneth Mars all the time?" "Were the bookeeper and his assistant having a homosexual affair?" Etc, etc. When a movie is good enough to interest so many in intricacies of the plot that they find themselves discussing it afterwards at length, then you have yourself a classic on your hands. I first noticed this after seeing "Reservoir Dogs" for the first time, and now anticipate it every time I see another film of that ilk, which this certainly is. Some may consider this a sign of poor direction, what with leaving loose ends about, but in this case it is not. The point with all of this is that the case itself is a confusing one, and here, like in real life, you don't always get all the answers.If you are getting annoyed with Hollywood's latest formulaic fare, then check out film noir. Whether it be "Maltese Falcon," "The Third Man," "Double Indemnity" or this, "The Big Sleep," you'll be in for a treat. It's the perfect antidote.
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originally posted: 03/05/01 21:23:28