the big sleep. [another day, another movie: noir #5]

The Big Sleep, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, is the second film in a row that I’d already seen before. Only four films that I’d seen previously made the list, and The Big Sleep made the cut because it played no small part in making me want to do a month like this to begin with. I love this movie! With a screenplay by the William Faulkner, directing by Howard Hawks, and Bogart and Bacall delivering line after memorable line, it’s the sort of perfect storm that can often result in cherished classic films.

In this wonderfully complex plot, with all sorts of mysteries and surprises, Humphrey Bogart plays Philip Marlowe, a private detective who gets a job from a wealthy, sick, old client to begin the film. The client has two beautiful daughters who figure in heavily to the plot’s twists and turns, none of which will I spoil here. Suffice it to say that every time Marlowe gets a handle on what’s happening, something happens to convolute the situation and turn everything upside down again.

I fell in love with Philip Marlowe from the very beginning of the film, when Marlowe meets one of said beautiful daughters in the first scene and she coyly says, “You’re not very tall are you?”, and he responds with a straight, “Well, I try to be.” He’s a hard-boiled, hard-drinking, lady loving, quick-witted, clever, smart-ass with a heart of gold. It’s Humphrey Bogart at his very best. It makes me sad that he never returned to the character, since Marlowe is the protagonist of many Raymond Chandler crime novels.

Also notable is the chemistry between Bogart and Bacall. Electric! It may have been even more electric if it weren’t for that silly Hays Code, which severely limited what you could show or say on screen during a movie (apparently much of the novel had to be altered on its way to film because of how strict the Hays Code was, since you couldn’t make any reference to pornography or homosexuality, and of course, there couldn’t be any nudity). Bacall and Bogart had met during filming of their previous film (To Have and Have Not), and the beginning of their world-famous love affair bled onto the screen in this film. If you’ve never seen film noir before, this would be a great place to start!