The Big Sleep (1946 film)
|The Big Sleep|
|Directed by||Howard Hawks|
|Produced by||Howard Hawks|
|Music by||Max Steiner|
|Editing by||Christian Nyby|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Running time||115 minutes
(re-released original cut)
The Big Sleep is a 1946 film noir directed by Howard Hawks, the first film version of Raymond Chandler's 1939 novel of the same name. The movie stars Humphrey Bogart as detective Philip Marlowe and Lauren Bacall as the female lead in a film about the "process of a criminal investigation, not its results." William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman co-wrote the screenplay.
The plot of The Big Sleep is unusually complex. Some details remain hazy at the film's end. Private detective Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) calls on new client General Sternwood (Charles Waldron) at his Los Angeles mansion. The wealthy general wants to resolve gambling debts his daughter, Carmen Sternwood (Martha Vickers), owes to bookseller Arthur Gwynn Geiger. As Marlowe is leaving, General Sternwood's older daughter, Mrs. Vivian Rutledge (Lauren Bacall), stops him. She suspects her father's true motive for calling in a detective is to find his friend Sean Regan, who had mysteriously disappeared a month earlier.
Marlowe goes to Geiger's "rare book shop." Agnes Louzier (Sonia Darrin), Geiger's assistant, minds the shop: the front for an illegal operation. Marlowe follows Geiger to his house and hears a gunshot and a woman scream. Breaking into the house, he finds Geiger's body and a drugged Carmen, as well as a hidden camera with an empty cartridge. Marlowe picks Carmen up and brings her home. Marlowe later goes back to the house, but discovers the body is no longer there. Later, Marlowe learns that the Sternwood driver has been found dead, with his car driven off a pier.
Vivian comes to Marlowe's office the next morning with scandalous pictures of Carmen she received with a blackmail demand for the negatives. Marlowe returns to Geiger's bookstore, and discovers that they are packing up the store. Marlowe follows a car leaving the bookstore to the apartment of Joe Brody (Louis Jean Heydt), a gambler who previously blackmailed General Sternwood. Marlowe returns to Geiger's house where he finds Carmen. She initially claims ignorance about the murder of Geiger but then insists Brody killed Geiger. They are interrupted by the owner of the home, small-time gangster Eddie Mars (John Ridgely).
Marlowe follows Vivian to Joe Brody's apartment, where they join Brody and Agnes, and later, Carmen, who wants her photos. Marlowe takes the photos and sends Vivian and Carmen home. After Brody admits he was blackmailing both General Sternwood and Vivian, he is suddenly shot and killed; the assailant flees. Marlowe follows and apprehends Carol Lundgren, Geiger's former driver, who has killed Brody in revenge for Geiger's death.
Marlowe visits Mars' casino, where he asks about Regan, who is supposed to have run off with Mars' wife. Mars is evasive and tells Marlowe that Vivian is running up debts in his casino. Vivian later tells Marlowe she wants him to take her home. While Marlowe waits for her, a stooge of Mars' attempts to rob Vivian. Marlowe intervenes and punches him out. While driving home, Marlowe unsuccessfully presses Vivian on her connection with Mars, telling her he knew the money she won and subsequent robbery was a setup by Mars and her to try to show Mars and Vivian had animosity toward each other. Vivian still won't say anything. Marlowe then returns home to find Carmen waiting for him. She admits she didn't like Regan and mentions that Mars calls Vivian frequently. She attempts to seduce Marlowe, who throws her out of his apartment. In the morning, Vivian calls Marlowe to say that Regan has been found in Mexico, and that she is going to see him.
Harry Jones (Elisha Cook, Jr.), an associate of Brody's, and Agnes' lover, conveys an offer from Agnes to reveal the location of Mars' wife for $200. However, when Marlowe goes to meet Jones, Canino, a hired killer, attempts to find Agnes himself and then poisons Jones after being told of her location (which turns out to be false). Marlowe then meets Agnes himself, after she telephones the office where Jones was killed. She reveals that she's seen Mona Mars near Realito by an auto repair shop. In Realito, Canino attacks Marlowe, who wakes to find himself tied up, being watched by Mona. Vivian then comes in. Mona throws a drink at him and leaves when Marlowe tells her that Mars is a gangster and a killer. Vivian fears for Marlowe's life and frees him, allowing him to get to his car and his gun. After Vivian helps distract him, Marlowe kills Canino and they leave together. During the drive back to Geiger's bungalow, Vivian unconvincingly tries to claim she killed Sean Regan.
When they arrive, Marlowe calls Eddie Mars and says that he is still in Realito at the payphone. They arrange to meet at Geiger's house, giving Marlowe ten minutes to prepare. Mars arrives with four men, who set up ambush points outside. When Mars enters the home, Marlowe holds him at gunpoint. Marlowe reveals to him that he has discerned the truth: Mars blackmailed Vivian, saying Carmen had killed Regan. When Mars threatens Marlowe with his men outside, Marlowe begins to fire his gun near Mars, causing him to run outside where he is mistakenly shot dead by his own men. Marlowe then calls the police, telling them that Mars killed Regan. In the process, he tells them Vivian helped him with Eddie Mars, exempting her from criminal prosecution and that her sister Carmen needs a doctor's help.
- Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe
- Lauren Bacall as Vivian Sternwood Rutledge
- John Ridgely as Eddie Mars
- Martha Vickers as Carmen Sternwood
- Peggy Knudsen as Mona Mars
- Regis Toomey as Chief Inspector Bernie Ohls
- Charles Waldron as General Sternwood
- Charles D. Brown as Norris
- Bob Steele as Lash Canino
- Elisha Cook, Jr. as Harry Jones
- Louis Jean Heydt as Joe Brody
- Dorothy Malone as Acme Bookstore proprietress
- Sonia Darrin as Agnes Lowzier, the salesgirl at A.J. Geiger bookstore (uncredited)
- Ben Welden as Pete, Mars' flunky (uncredited)
- Tom Fadden as Sidney, Mars' flunky (uncredited)
- Trevor Bardette as Art Huck (uncredited)
- Theodore von Eltz as Arthur Gwynn Geiger (uncredited)
Production and release 
The Big Sleep is known for its convoluted plot. During filming, allegedly neither the director nor the screenwriters knew whether chauffeur Owen Taylor was murdered or had killed himself. They sent a cable to Chandler, who told a friend in a later letter: "They sent me a wire ... asking me, and dammit I didn't know either".
After its completion, Warner Bros. did not release The Big Sleep until they had turned out a backlog of war-related films. Because the war was ending, the studio feared the public might lose interest in the films, while The Big Sleep's subject was not time-sensitive. Attentive observers will note indications of the film's wartime production, such as period dialogue, pictures of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and a woman taxi driver who says to Bogart: "I'm your girl." Wartime rationing influences the film: dead bodies are called "red points," which referred to wartime meat rationing, and Marlowe's car has a "B" gasoline rationing sticker in the lower passenger-side window, indicating he was essential to the war effort and therefore allowed eight gallons of gasoline per week.
The "Bogie and Bacall" phenomenon, a fascination with the couple which had begun with To Have and Have Not, and which grew during their subsequent marriage, was in full swing by the end of the war. Bacall's agent, Charles K. Feldman, asked that portions of the film be reshot to capitalize on their chemistry and counteract the negative press Bacall had received for her 1945 performance in Confidential Agent. Producer Jack Warner agreed, and new scenes, such as the sexually suggestive racehorse dialogue, were added (scripted by an uncredited Julius Epstein). The reshot ending featured Peggy Knudsen as "Mona Mars" because Pat Clark, the originally cast actress, was unavailable. Because of the two versions created by the reshooting, there is a substantial difference in content of some twenty minutes between them, although the difference in running time is two minutes. The reshot, revised The Big Sleep was released on 23 August 1946.
The cinematic release of The Big Sleep is regarded as more successful than the pre-release version (see below), although some complain it is confusing and difficult to follow. This may be due in part to the omission of a long conversation between Marlowe and the Los Angeles District Attorney where facts of the case, thus far, are laid out. Yet movie-star aficionados prefer it to the film noir version because they consider the Bogart-Bacall appearances more important than a well-told story. For an example of this point of view, see Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" essay on the film.
Novelist Raymond Chandler said Martha Vickers (Carmen) overshadowed Lauren Bacall (Vivian) in their scenes together, which led the producers to delete much of Vickers' performance to enhance Bacall's.
Effects of the Hays Code 
Killer's identity 
There is some confusion as to the identity of Sean Regan's killer. In the novel Carmen is definitely the culprit, but that would have made Vivian, Marlowe's love interest, an accessory to murder, which would have run afoul of the Hollywood Production Code. Hence, the film edits the original story, to imply that Mars killed Regan himself because Regan was romancing Mars's wife. He then convinced Vivian that her sister committed the crime during one of her mental blackouts so that he could blackmail the Sternwood family. Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies tells the story that during shooting Howard Hawks got so confused that he telegraphed Raymond Chandler to ask him who the killer was and Chandler replied "Oh, I don't know."
Another primary focus of the Hays Office censorship polices was to heavily restrict sexual themes. In the novel, Geiger is selling pornography, then illegal and associated with organized crime, and is also a homosexual having a relationship with Lundgren. Likewise, Carmen is described as being nude in Geiger's house, and later nude and in Marlowe's bed. To ensure the film would be approved by the Hays Office, changes had to be made. Carmen had to be fully dressed, and the pornographic elements could only be alluded to with cryptic references to photographs of Carmen wearing a "Chinese dress" and sitting in a "Chinese chair". The sexual orientation of Geiger and Lundgren goes unmentioned in the film because references to homosexuality were prohibited. The scene of Carmen in Marlowe's bed was replaced with a scene in which she appears, fully dressed, sitting in Marlowe's apartment, when he promptly kicks her out. The scene, shot in 1944, was entirely omitted in the 1945 cut but restored for the 1946 version.
1946 version 
At the time of its 1946 release, Bosley Crowther said the film leaves the viewer "confused and dissatisfied", points out that Bacall is a "dangerous looking female" ..."who still hasn't learned to act" and notes:
The Big Sleep is one of those pictures in which so many cryptic things occur amid so much involved and devious plotting that the mind becomes utterly confused. And, to make it more aggravating, the brilliant detective in the case is continuously making shrewd deductions which he stubbornly keeps to himself. What with two interlocking mysteries and a great many characters involved, the complex of blackmail and murder soon becomes a web of utter bafflement. Unfortunately, the cunning script-writers have done little to clear it at the end.
Time called the film "wakeful fare for folks who don't care what is going on, or why, so long as the talk is hard and the action harder" but insists that "the plot's crazily mystifying, nightmare blur is an asset, and only one of many"; it calls Bogart "by far the strongest" of its assets and says Hawks, "even on the chaste screen...manages to get down a good deal of the glamorous tawdriness of big-city low life, discreetly laced with hints of dope addiction, voyeurism and fornication."
1997 release of the 1945 original cut 
In the late 1990s, a pre-release version—director Hawks's original cut—was found in the UCLA Film and Television Archive. That version had been released to the military to play to troops in the South Pacific. Benefactors, led by American magazine publisher Hugh Hefner, raised the money to pay for its restoration, and the original version of The Big Sleep was released in art-house cinemas in 1997 for a short exhibition run, along with a comparative documentary about the cinematic and content differences between Hawks's film noir and the Warner Brothers "movie star" version.
Working from Chandler's original words and adding spins of their own, the writers (William Faulkner, Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett) wrote one of the most quotable of screenplays: it's unusual to find yourself laughing in a movie not because something is funny but because it's so wickedly clever.
Note that the above quote is not specific to the 1945 version but, rather, is in reference to both films. In fact, Ebert preferred the 1946 version. He stated:
The new scenes [of the 1946 version] add a charge to the film that was missing in the 1945 version; this is a case where "studio interference" was exactly the right thing. The only reason to see the earlier version is to go behind the scenes, to learn how the tone and impact of a movie can be altered with just a few scenes... As for the 1946 version that we have been watching all of these years, it is one of the great films noir, a black-and-white symphony that exactly reproduces Chandler's ability, on the page, to find a tone of voice that keeps its distance, and yet is wry and humorous and cares.
In a 1997 review, Eric Brace of The Washington Post wrote that the 1945 original had a "slightly slower pace than the one released a year later, and a touch less zingy interplay between Bogart and Bacall, but it’s still an unqualified masterpiece."
Awards and honors 
A region-1 (U.S. and Canada) DVD version of The Big Sleep was released in 2000. It is a double-sided, single-layer disc; with the 1946 theatrical version on side-A (114 m), and the 1945 film noir version (116 m) on side-B. The DVD also contains a 16-minute, edited version of the 1997 documentary comparing the two versions that is narrated by Robert Gitt, who worked on the restoration of the 1945 version. Film critic Walter Chaw writes of the DVD releases of The Big Sleep and To Have and Have Not (1944), "The fullscreen transfer of The Big Sleep is generally good but, again, not crystalline, though the grain that afflicts the earlier picture is blissfully absent. Shadow detail is strong—important given that The Big Sleep is oneiric—and while the brightness seems uneven, it's not enough to be terribly distracting. The DD 1.0 audio is just fine."
1978 remake 
A remake starring Robert Mitchum as Philip Marlowe was released in 1978. This was the second movie in three years featuring Mitchum as Marlowe. Many have noted that while it was more faithful to the novel, due to lack of restrictions on what could be portrayed on screen, it was far less successful than the original 1946 version with Bogart and Bacall.
- Variety film review; August 14, 1946, page 10.
- Harrison's Reports film review; August 17, 1946, page 131.
- Ebert, Roger (June 22, 1997). "The Big Sleep (1946)". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2009-12-16.
- "Overview for The Big Sleep (1946)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2008-06-07.
- Dirks, Tim. "Detailed Analysis of the Big Sleep". filmsite.org. Retrieved 2009-12-16.
- Hiney, T. and MacShane, F. "The Raymond Chandler Papers", Letter to Jamie Hamilton, 21 March 1949, page 105, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000
- The Big Sleep (1946)
- Hiney, T. and MacShane, F. "The Raymond Chandler Papers", Letter to Jamie Hamilton, 30 May 1946, page 67, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000
- The Motion Picture Production Code of 1930 (Hays Code)
- Crowther, Bosley (August 24, 1946). "The Big Sleep, Warner Film in Which Bogart and Bacall Are Paired Again". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-12-16.
- "Cinema: The New Pictures, August 26, 1946". Time. August 26, 1946. Retrieved 2009-12-16.
- Brace, Eric (April 25, 1997). "The Original 'Big Sleep': Rise and Shine". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-12-16.
- Ebert, Roger. "Introduction to Great Movies". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2009-12-16.
- The Big Sleep (DVD). Warner Home Video. February 15, 2000. 114 minutes. See "The Big Sleep (1946)". Warner Bros.
- Chaw, Walter (undated). "FFC Presents Bogart on DVD - To Have and Have Not - The Big Sleep". Film Freak Central.
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