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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 8.33%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 4.17%
Total Crap: 4.17%

2 reviews, 12 user ratings

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Big Sleep, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Convoluted, but well worth the effort."
5 stars

"The Big Sleep" isn't confusing; it's rich. Its plot is too convoluted for many to fully grasp in one viewing, but where that could be seen as a negative for many films, it's a delight for this one. Depending on the type of person you are, it either gives you an excuse to re-watch it (and experience all the bon mots and pretty ladies again), or it will allow the film's stature to build when you watch it again for all the great lines.

Private detective Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) is hired by dying General Sternwood (Charles Waldron) to investigate the blackmail of his daughter Carmen (Martha Vickers). Before he can leave the Sternwood mansion, though, older sister Vivian Sternwood Rutledge (Lauren Bacall) is looking to take control of the situation. Good luck with that; every rock Marlowe turns over reveals some new crime, be it blackmail, drugs, gambling, or murder. And when the person initially blackmailing the Sternwoods is found dead, that doesn't mean their problems are over - it just means there's more (and more dangerous) people involved than had originally been thought.

The plot is kind of incidental, though. It throws Bogart and Bacall together, and occasionally gets someone trying to kill them. Either Marlowe has dealt with cases like this before or he's got a copy of the script, because he's got a knack for knowing just what each turnaround means despite the clues not being nearly so transparent to the audience; it's a good thing for us that he's got Vivian tagging along much of the time for him to explain it to. The fun comes from watching Bogie be James Bond before Bond was much more than a twinkle in Ian Fleming's eye; he saunters through a dangerous case with calm self-assurance, breaking out firearms when necessary, stumbling across beautiful women who are instantly attracted to him (including Dorothy Malone and Joy Barlow as a bookstore proprietress and a cab driver, respectively) and thugs who want to kill him at roughly the same rate.

These encounters are all great fun because Marlowe's wit is even quicker than his draw, and he's got a comeback for everyone, whether it be crook, client, or beautiful young widow (or is it divorcée, not that it matters?). Bacall's Vivian has the best responses, which isn't really surprising; director Howard Hawks and his writers (William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman) rewrote and reshot scenes after seeing how the audience responded to them in To Have and Have Not, resulting in the film's release being delayed two years (try to imagine how poisonous the internet buzz would be if that happened sixty years later). Hawks, Faulkner, and Furthman had also worked on that film, so they had first-hand experience with making this work. The dialogue is easily the best part of the script, which famously had Hawks and Bogart calling original novelist Raymond Chandler to ask whether a character was murdered or committed suicide.

When you've got a pair of leads as well-suited to each other as Bogart and Bacall, you can let some of the plot slide so long as their constantly being fed chances to work off each other. Here, they almost seem to be in a competition to see who can deliver their great lines more casually, trying to convince us that yes, they are this clever in every conversation. They're well-matched, both affecting worldly amorality while displaying obvious affection for and loyalty to the general. Martha Vickers has a very nice turn as Carmen, all bratty and spoiled and cold sexuality. It's a shame we don't see her and Bacall playing off each other more than they do; that could have been a very fun dynamic.

Hawks and his writers keep the movie barrelling along at a rapid pace; plot twists come nearly as quickly as great lines, so much so that there's scarcely a moment to breathe even with the occasional stops to explain what's going on to the audience. If anything, the movie is too punchy. It's hard to build up suspense when the plot twists often come straight out of left field; shaking things up, after all, is only noticeable when the ground had been steady at some point. The way Marlowe and Vivian fall for each other is kind of perfunctory, but that's okay; this isn't the sort of movie where we really need to believe that they stick together until the day they die. Just finding someone they like and can relate to in the middle of a world full of scheming and murder is enough.

The mystery story is there, and makes a certain amount of sense after a few viewings. But figuring out the whos, whens and whys is only a quarter of the fun of this movie. The real delight is the fun dialogue, delivered like only Bogie & Bacall could.

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originally posted: 03/11/06 04:56:12
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User Comments

3/20/15 stanley welles classy, fast fun 5 stars
10/13/13 David H. Bizarre, but Bogie & Bacall make it extremely worth it. 5 stars
3/31/12 keith miron I didn't understand any of it. 1 stars
10/15/07 fools♫gold All you need is Howard Hawks. 5 stars
12/28/06 Agent Sands Comfortable movie to watch for the airy, pop culture-related intentions of the filmmaking. 4 stars
6/30/06 MP Bartley No idea what was happening by the end, but it's largely irrelevant. Feel the iconography! 5 stars
7/09/05 John MacKendrick Witty dialogue and sizzling chemistry between Bogart and Becall. 5 stars
8/23/03 Mark Honeyman A fantastic adaption of a great story, 5 stars
10/29/02 Charles Tatum All you need is Bogie and Bacall 5 stars
8/26/01 R.W. Welch A couple of plot holes, but with Bogart and Bacall, who cares? 5 stars
3/27/01 A. Bonora Fascinating 4 stars
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  31-Aug-1946 (NR)
  DVD: 05-Oct-2010



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