Howard Hawks' "The Big Sleep"
April 7, 2012 4:18 PM   Subscribe

The Big Sleep is a film I have found a very intense love for. The rotating cast of shadowy crooks and deceptive dames coupled with the roller-coaster plotting makes this classic movie endlessly entertaining. Bogart and Bacall are electrifying together and the supporting cast is equally captivating. Considering it’s over 60 years old, The Big Sleep still works in a big bad way and feels fantastically modern. It’s as if the film is simply too fast and too entertaining to age. It was crafted by the hands of some of Hollywood’s finest artists at the time and oozes quality as a result. Most of all though, this movie is just pulpy, fearless, fun and really, really cool. - Pictures and Noise

The notorious convolutedness of the plot is suggested by this character connections chart. [spoilers]

The haunting fatalistic theme is by the immortal Max Steiner.
posted by Trurl (56 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite

 
When I watch this, I invariably sigh over the certainty that never again will Hollywood make a film this great.
posted by Trurl at 4:18 PM on April 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's also the basis for The Big Lebowski.
posted by griphus at 4:27 PM on April 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


Absolutely one of the best films ever. I never pass-up a chance to watch it. It's among the top films on my "If it's on, I'll stop everything and watch" list.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:39 PM on April 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


I saw this a while back and liked it a lot but I didn't think the 'chemistry' between Bogey and Bacall was a good as To Have And Have Not. It seemed a little forced and contrived.

After I saw it I read a few reviews and was confused about how you were supposed to know about the relationship between Lundgren and Geiger. Is there some secret 1940's thing that's supposed to let me know they were lovers? Or is it just something made up by a bored movie critic?

Also, the IMCDB has a good overview of all the cool old cars used in the movie.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 4:41 PM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Big Sleep is the best adaptation of Chandler's novels by far. It's heads and shoulder above Altman's The Long Goodbye, and that's a shame because TLBG was Chandler's finest novel.
posted by dortmunder at 4:41 PM on April 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


William Faulkner and Leigh Brackett were the screenwriters. At one point they were unsure about who killed the chauffeur, so they contacted Chandler, who said, "dammit, I don't know either."

Nice writeup.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:45 PM on April 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


Is there some secret 1940's thing that's supposed to let me know they were lovers?

I wasn't aware of this angle - real or imagined. But now that I think about it, for a male character in the 1940s to "affect a knowledge of antiques" is probably as explicit as they could get in identifying him as gay.
posted by Trurl at 4:49 PM on April 7, 2012


Also, the scene with Dorothy Malone at the first link was the first thing I thought of after coming across The Whelk's recent post.
posted by Trurl at 4:55 PM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


TLBG was Chandler's finest novel.

A thinly veiled semi-autobiography, almost. Not his best work, The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely are much tighter efforts, but it is certainly his most personal long-form work.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:06 PM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can I just pop in here and say HOW FREAKING HOT Lauren Bacall is? She makes my heart hiccup.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 5:18 PM on April 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


I have a good friend in her late 70's and in her peer group Lauren Bacall was the model of female sexiness. What Beyonce or Angelina Jolie is to the teenage girls of today, Lauren Bacall was to her gang. My friend's speaking style, her fashion ideas, all of that is a (kind of lame probably although I ain't an expert) imitation of Lauren Bacall.
posted by bukvich at 5:27 PM on April 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Marlow's line "I'd (a lot) rather get wet in here" is such a damn smooth line. Not too forward, not chauvinist, just the right level of double meaning that allows for a polite decline without either feeling embarrassment. It also deftly presents appreciation for a situation where something could happen, but itself does not directly propose any action. IIRC, this scene is only in the film, but it's an amazing, complex handling of 'proper' post-Victorian manners in the wartime, or just post-war America.

All I'm saying is, that line is as as smooth and complex regarding social rules and flirting as the Blue Angels are to flying.
posted by chambers at 5:36 PM on April 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


Can I just pop in here and say HOW FREAKING HOT Lauren Bacall is?
FWIW, Bacall was 21 when The Big Sleep was shot, in '45.
Bogart was 46 years old.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:38 PM on April 7, 2012


Can I just pop in here and say HOW FREAKING HOT Lauren Bacall is?

Hot enough to get a Vice-President in trouble. She's already engaged to Bogart at this time, and when Truman was playing the piano for the National Press Club, she jumped on the piano. It made a lot of gossip headlines, and was a bit of a PR headache for a few days, but in the end it was not a big deal, though Mrs. Truman was not too happy about it.
posted by chambers at 5:50 PM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is there some secret 1940's thing that's supposed to let me know they were lovers?

I was all prepared to jump in with my factoid about how "gunsel" is Yiddish slang for a young man kept by an older man, until I realized that's actually from The Maltese Falcon.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:03 PM on April 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Horace R -- That is a hell of a factoid! "Gunsel" is used in reference to Wilmer for whom the characterization makes a whole lotta sense.
posted by Jode at 6:09 PM on April 7, 2012


Yeah - I'm uncultured and low-brow. All I can think of is Ren grabbing Stimpy in the first episode and hollering "THE BIG SLEEP!".

Guess I should check out this film and up my cultural literacy a notch or two.
posted by PuppyCat at 6:14 PM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd hate for the dismissive comment above to prevent anyone from watching Altman's fabulous adaptation of The Long Goodbye, which is huge amounts of fun and a totally worthy addition to the Chandler film canon. It's not a contest, both movies can be great in their own different ways.
posted by the bricabrac man at 6:23 PM on April 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


Considering it’s over 60 years old, The Big Sleep still works in a big bad way and feels fantastically modern.

The best noirs feel modern because their themes - the utter randomness of fate, the difficulty (or impossibility) of finding meaning in life, the futility of ambition, the caustic power of lust and greed - are timeless. They're great genre art.

"The Big Sleep" deserves its reputation as a classic, but there are others - e.g. "Act of Violence", "On Dangerous Ground", "The Prowler", "Out of the Past", "The Dark Corner" - that are every bit as good.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:35 PM on April 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's heads and shoulder above Altman's The Long Goodbye yt , and that's a shame because TLBG was Chandler's finest novel.

If you look at The Long Goodbye as a precursor to The Big Lebowski, instead of an adaptation of a Chandler film, it's pretty wonderful.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:36 PM on April 7, 2012


In a film studies course in college, I was confused enough by The Big Slep to begin a short presentation with the following sentence: "For a film about a romance, it conspicuously lacks even a single kiss on screen."
posted by Nomyte at 6:37 PM on April 7, 2012


"The Big Sleep" deserves its reputation as a classic, but there are others - e.g. "Act of Violence", "On Dangerous Ground", "The Prowler", "Out of the Past", "The Dark Corner" - that are every bit as good.

Kiss Me Deadly is so bizarrely and utterly nihilistic it's a wonder it was ever made.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:44 PM on April 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Good movie. I like it a lot.

When I think of Dorothy Malone in the Sleep and what she later got an Oscar for, I find that kinda sad.
posted by wrapper at 6:48 PM on April 7, 2012


Kiss Me Deadly is so bizarrely and utterly nihilistic it's a wonder it was ever made.

I suppose the choice would be to present Mike Hammer as a hero, in which case you've basically made attractive a vicious thug, or to create a film that comments on that. The film is closer in spirit to the works of Charles Willeford, who often wrote tales of murderous psychopaths whose psychopathology was hidden from the outside world because they just seemed your everyday, tough-talking American. In Mickey Spillane's world, that wasn't pathology, it was just how men were supposed to be, and that's a pretty hard thing to put onscreen without commentary unless you happen to be a thug.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:54 PM on April 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


As correct as you are about the portrayal of Mike Hammer etc. I was thinking more of the ending.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:58 PM on April 7, 2012


I discovered Chandler while I was living in Los Angeles. A nice symbiosis, that...
posted by jim in austin at 6:59 PM on April 7, 2012


you know, a noir (or whatever) primer here would be a fine thing. I must have 150 or so on hand. The Big Sleep is definitely a standout. Out of the Past is reallllly something. Kiss Me Deadly is great, but it feels like an outlier, a mannerist work at the end of a genre.

Cloris Leachmann, heavy breathing, and realizing that, yes, it's meemaw from Raising Hope, which even had the good graces to give her a topless joke.

I should give The Long Goodbye a chance again. I was totally put off by accidental period failures in the mise en scene, as I recall.
posted by mwhybark at 7:05 PM on April 7, 2012


Big Sleep is a lot of fun, all right, but I have to agree with Confess Fletch that the chemistry between the leads in better in To Have and Have Not. It blew my mind to learn that Bacall was only 19 in that film.

If only she'd been cast in the Maltese Falcon...it would have been the best film ever. (Ignoring the fact that it was made earlier and Bacall would been too young.)
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:07 PM on April 7, 2012


The first paragraph of the novel is one of my favorite openings in fiction:
It was about eleven o'clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved, and sober, and I didn't care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.
posted by octothorpe at 7:17 PM on April 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


I like that connection chart, because as I first saw the movie back in college, I knew I'd be confused enough with all the names that I started making a chart of my own on the fly. Having everyone's faces on it might've helped too.

It's kind of funny how amidst all those unique colorful names, there's a "Harry Jones."
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 7:23 PM on April 7, 2012


I just pop in here and say HOW FREAKING HOT Lauren Bacall is?
FWIW, Bacall was 21 when The Big Sleep was shot, in '45.
Bogart was 46 years old.

FWIW, Thorzdad, she'd just bagged the manliest man in all of Hollywood, a man so goddamned awesome she'd never need another to the day she died.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:41 PM on April 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


And here I didn't know what I'd do with the rest of my evening.

Off to watch The Big Sleep.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:42 PM on April 7, 2012


One film that I've always though of as timeless.
posted by tyllwin at 7:44 PM on April 7, 2012


Accidental period errors in The Long Goodbye? I'm pretty sure the movie is set in the 70s, when it was made, judging by the clothes, music, next-door nudist yoga girls (there, that got some of you to check it out!), etc. It's definitely not a Chandler movie---Altman brings his usual lack of regard for the source material to it---but it sure is wonderful.

I read once that Bacall was so nervous shooting the first scene with Bogart that she was a sobbing wreck whenever the cameras weren't rolling. But as soon as action was called, she became the preternaturally cool creature you see on screen. Maybe that's part of what's fascinating about them as a couple---they're both completely fake (Bacall was a nervous kid playing a sophisticated lady, Bogart was an Upper West Side snob pretending to be a tough guy), and thus they became the most perfect emblems of an era of glorious fakeness.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:52 PM on April 7, 2012 [8 favorites]


It's heads and shoulder above Altman's The Long Goodbye, and that's a shame because TLBG was Chandler's finest novel.

Um, no.

I like The Big Sleep a lot, but I love The Long Goodbye. TBS has that huge plothole that even Chandler couldn't fill (see above); TLG is a masterpiece.

I was totally put off by accidental period failures in the mise en scene,

Huh?
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 9:29 PM on April 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh man, Truman's face kills me. I wonder if that is the look of a man that was briefly considering whether he could get away with anything later on, while still having a politcal career next day, and avoiding Bogart remodelling his face the day after that.

I wouldn't blame him if so.
posted by Iosephus at 9:48 PM on April 7, 2012


A detailed look at two versions of the film: the pre-release and theatrical versions.
posted by crossoverman at 11:18 PM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Regarding the gay theme, I'll just repost what I wrote here a few months ago:

"Well, then, speaking of random bits of history and obscure stuff: "and Chinese art". Did you know, that having Chinese art, or what in general might be termed Orientalist decor, in an American bachelor's pad, was associated with being gay? I'm sure you've seen The Big Sleep. As you know, there was a sort of gay theme running through that film, what with antique dealers and Bogart playing - very broadly - a gay stereotype when he enters the faux dealer's shop. Now, do you remember Geiger's house? And how it was furnished? That's right - in an Orientalist decor. That, my friend, was a code for the audience, a nudge, a poke in the ribs and a wink, "this is a gay household", something that would have been understood back in the 40's where that (informal) convention existed."
posted by VikingSword at 11:19 PM on April 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


I don't know about fearless. The dude sold porn, not books.
posted by Brocktoon at 11:47 PM on April 7, 2012


Accidental period errors in The Long Goodbye?

Those were deliberate. Elliot Gold is supposed to be a 1950's-style detective in the 1970s.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:21 AM on April 8, 2012


I was totally put off by accidental period failures in the mise en scene, as I recall.

I was put off by the presence of Morris the Cat.

Aside from that, while I had some quibbles with the adaptation and some uneven casting/acting (but you tend to get that in an Altman film of the era), there were some bits I rather liked. The choice of location was a masterstroke. I really felt having him drive an antique car was off, though. The real Marlowe wouldn't (drive an antique, that is). And yes, I got the point about his being out of time, but it doesn't need to be literal.

I'll also note here that the remake by Michael Winner and Lew Grade, set in London, with Robert Mitchum as Marlow is a real mixed bag, most of it gratingly bad.
posted by dhartung at 12:27 AM on April 8, 2012


Theres a showing (at the amazing LA Theater) via Last Remaining Seats on 6/13 if you'd like a chance to see it on the big screen.
posted by brownchickenbrowncow at 1:09 AM on April 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


dhartung: I'm kind of amazed Robert Mitchum never played Philip Marlow until later in life, because Robert Mitchum circa "Night of the Hunter" is basically what I see in my head for Marlow when I read a Chandler novel.
posted by Grimgrin at 1:23 AM on April 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Great post
posted by caddis at 3:59 AM on April 8, 2012


Jean-Luc Godard's Made in U.S.A. was an unauthorized adaptation of a Donald Westlake novel, but it was also inspired by the complex plot of the Big Sleep. In Brechtian fashion, Godard doesn't enact the plot, but merely has the characters recite it.
posted by jonp72 at 7:36 AM on April 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Altman made two interesting choices in his The Long Goodbye.

1. The field of vision is never stationary. The camera is continuously tracking or panning or zooming.

2. The director boasted that "the camera is always looking in the wrong place".

He also made some not-so-interesting choices too.
posted by Trurl at 8:06 AM on April 8, 2012


Wikipedia:

The Big Sleep (1978) was the second film version of Raymond Chandler's 1939 novel of the same name. The film was directed by Michael Winner and stars Robert Mitchum in his second feature film portrayal of the detective Philip Marlowe. The cast includes Sarah Miles, Candy Clark, Joan Collins, and Oliver Reed. James Stewart appears as General Sternwood.

The action was set in London, England rather than California. The movie contained material more explicit than what could only be hinted at in the 1946 version, such as homosexuality, pornography and nudity. Mitchum was 60 at the time, far older than Chandler's 33-year-old Marlowe (or the 1946 film's 38-year-old Marlowe played by a 46-year-old Bogart).


The remake lacks the original film's distinctive style and chemistry... but it really wallows in the bleak nihilism of the novel, if you like that sort of thing.
posted by ovvl at 8:39 AM on April 8, 2012


Thanks, Bunny.

I was getting TOTALLY confused by the subsequent posters being confused by my characterization of the mise en scene. I guess I was so confused and put off by the seventies stuff I just stopped paying attention. I did not rent the film knowing it was by Altman, and it was years ago, definitely before I started trying to watch films seriously.
posted by mwhybark at 8:57 AM on April 8, 2012


Thanks, Viking Sword for actually having a reasonable response to my question.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 9:44 AM on April 8, 2012


Great book; great movie. Critics have pointed out that the plot in both is more than a little confusing. True. But the atmosphere in both: fantastic.

It is not accidental that Metafilter's beloved Haruki Murakami's prose reminds one of Raymond Chandler's - Murakami translated several of Chandler's novels.
posted by kozad at 10:01 AM on April 8, 2012


I think maybe the thing I like best about The Long Goodbye, and it's definitely one of my favorite movies, is the anecdote (rumor?) that during its production Altman hired a skywriter to fly over Elliot Gould's house and write "it's okay with me too."
posted by whir at 11:43 AM on April 8, 2012


Considering it’s over 60 years old, The Big Sleep still works in a big bad way and feels fantastically modern.

If you ever write a sentence marveling how an [insert number]-year-old movie can feel modern, your movie-blogging privileges should be taken away from you. Forever.

Best Marlowe in my book is Dick Powell in "Murder My Sweet."
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 12:22 PM on April 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Best Marlowe in my book is Dick Powell in "Murder My Sweet."

Agree. Also contains the funniest paragraph Chandler ever wrote:
"OK Marlowe, I said to myself, you're a tough guy. You've been sapped twice, choked, beaten silly with a gun, shot in the arm until you're crazy as a couple of waltzing mice. Now let's see you do something really tough - like putting your pants on."
Worst Marlowe is James Caan in the godawful HBO movie "Poodle Springs".
posted by afx237vi at 2:16 PM on April 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


The best noirs feel modern because their themes - the utter randomness of fate, the difficulty (or impossibility) of finding meaning in life, the futility of ambition, the caustic power of lust and greed - are timeless. They're great genre art.

I would say this movie feels "modern" not because these are "timeless" themes but because they are major themes of modernism, which have stayed fairly relevant up to our time.
posted by Miko at 3:09 PM on April 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Miko: Yeah, I think that's exactly right. Noir is pulp modernism, and for the moment, we're still in a modernist era. I could certainly imagine a time or place when its pessimism seems as dated as the chipper optimism of postwar pop music seems today.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 4:13 PM on April 8, 2012


I like them because I wish I was Marlowe. That or James Bond. My reason is more fun then theme analysis.
posted by Brocktoon at 5:54 PM on April 8, 2012


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