Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Big Sleep (1945) * * * ½

Private detective Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) calls on new client General Sternwood (Charles Waldron) at his LA mansion. As he waits, the General's younger daughter Carmen (Martha Vickers) flirts with Marlowe. Marlowe is indifferent, leaving Carmen intrigued. He is then led by Norris, the butler, into the sun room where he is introduced to the ailing but wealthy general, who wants to resolve gambling debts owed by Carmen to a bookseller named Arthur Gwynn Geiger. As Marlowe begins to leave, he is stopped by General Sternwood's oldest daughter, Mrs. Vivian Rutledge (Lauren Bacall), who questions Marlowe about what he is doing for her father. Vivian, who recently divorced, suspects her father's true reason for calling in a detective is to find Sean Regan, his friend, companion and bodyguard who mysteriously disappeared a month earlier. The general assumption, established as the film progresses, is that Regan has run off with a local gambler's wife, Mrs. Eddie Mars.

General Sternwood: You may smoke, too. I can still enjoy the smell of it. Hum, nice state of affairs when a man has to indulge his vices by proxy. You're looking, sir, at a very dull survival of a very gaudy life, crippled, paralyzed in both legs, barely I eat and my sleep is so near waking it's hardly worth a name. I seem to exist largely on heat like a new born spider. Do you like orchids?
Philip Marlowe: Not particularly.
General Sternwood: Ugh. Nasty things. Their flesh is too much like the flesh of men, and their perfume has the rotten sweetness of corruption.

Vivian: So you're a private detective. I didn't know they existed, except in books, or else they were greasy little men snooping around hotel corridors. My, you're a mess, aren't you?
Philip Marlowe: I'm not very tall either. Next time I'll come on stilts wear a white tie and carry a tennis racket.
Vivian: I doubt if even that will help.
Vivian: What will your first step be?
Philip Marlowe: The usual one.
Vivian: I didn't know there was a usual one.
Philip Marlowe: Well sure there is, it comes complete with diagrams on page 47 of how to be a detective in 10 easy lessons correspondent school textbook and uh, your father offered me a drink.
Vivian: You must've read another one on how to be a comedian.
Philip Marlowe: I collect blondes and bottles.

Marlowe goes to Arthur Geiger's book shop and dons a disguise as he enters the shop under the premise of searching for several rare books. Agnes, the unfriendly shop assistant, claims that they don't have the book Marlowe is looking for, nor any of the other books he asks about. Marlowe begins to suspect that the book store is a front. As he is talking with Agnes, a man enters the back room where Marlowe sees stacks of books and paper. His suspicions are correct: Geiger is illegally selling pornographic books. He asks to see Mr. Geiger, but Agnes claims that Geiger is not in. Marlowe leaves the store and takes shelter in a bookstore across the street as it begins to rain. While there, he asks the clerk whether or not she has ever seen Geiger. She says that she has. She describes Geiger as being in his early 40s, fat, with a Charlie Chan mustache and a glass eye. Marlowe and the attractive brunette begin to flirt. She removes her glasses and lets down her hair. Marlowe decides to wait for Geiger in the store. The clerk lowers the blinds and pulls out glasses for the bottle of rye Marlowe offers.

They wait for Geiger. Marlowe glimpses Geiger leaving his bookshop, says goodbye to the clerk, then follows Geiger to his home. As Marlowe is getting out of his car, a second car pulls up to the front of the house. A woman gets out and runs inside. Marlowe checks the registration on the car that pulled up, it reads "Carmen Sternwood". Marlowe goes back to wait in his car. Time passes. He sees a flash of light, then hears a gunshot and a scream, immediately followed by the getaway of two of the cars parked behind the house. Marlowe enters Geiger's house, where he finds Geiger's dead body on the living room floor. Next to it he finds Carmen, high and wearing an Asian dress, a subtle indication that she had somehow been modeling for Geiger's pornography books. Marlowe looks around the room and finds a statue with a camera hidden inside of it. The camera's film cartridge is empty. Marlowe leaves the scene and returns Carmen to her home, where he tricks Vivian into revealing that Carmen had a connection with Sean Regan.

Marlowe walks back to Geiger's house to retrieve his car. Inside, Geiger's corpse is nowhere to be found. Back in his office, Marlowe receives a phone call from Bernie Ohls, Chief Inspector of Homicide, who works for the District Attorney. Ohls and Marlowe are friends from when Marlowe worked for the DA. Bernie tells Marlowe that a car registered to the Sternwoods has been found off the Lido Pier. After arriving at the scene, Bernie questions Marlowe about his work for the Sternwoods and urges him to let go of the case. They discover that the driver of the car was Owen Taylor, the Sternwoods' chauffer who was in love with Carmen. Owen Taylor has been blackjacked then pushed into the ocean in his car.

The next morning, Vivian comes to Marlowe's office. She has been sent a scandalous picture of Carmen and a blackmail demand for the negatives from Agnes. Vivian says she can get the money from Eddie Mars (John Ridgely). She is supposed to make the drop that evening. She promises to call Marlowe to let him know where the drop will be made. Marlowe returns to Geiger's bookshop, and discovers that they are packing up the store. Marlowe follows the car leaving Geiger's store in a taxi and arrives at the apartment of Joe Brody (Louis Jean Heydt). Joe Brody is a gambler who has previously blackmailed General Sternwood for $5,000.

Marlowe returns to Geiger's house where he finds Carmen attempting to get inside. She initially claims to know little about the murder of Geiger but then claims Brody killed Geiger. They are then surprised by someone unlocking the front door. The man is the owner of the home, who Marlowe realizes is Eddie Mars. Marlowe and Mars have a brief conversation, where Marlowe claims that he is there working for Carmen. The two are looking for Geiger, who he claims gave Carmen "the loop". Mars tries to bully Marlowe into telling him who cleaned out Geiger's store.

Eddie Mars: Convenient, the door being open when you didn't have a key, eh?
Philip Marlowe: Yeah, wasn't it. By the way, how'd you happen to have one?
Eddie Mars: Is that any of your business?
Philip Marlowe: I could make it my business.
Eddie Mars: I could make your business mine.
Philip Marlowe: Oh, you wouldn't like it. The pay's too small. Oh, Eddie, you don't have anybody watching me, do you? Tailing me in a gray Plymouth coupe, maybe?
Eddie Mars: No, why should I?
Philip Marlowe: Well, I can't imagine, unless you're worried about where I am all the time.
Eddie Mars: I don't like you that well.

In the evening, Vivian calls to say that she hasn't heard anything from the blackmailer. On a hunch, Marlowe drives to Joe Brody's apartment and waits outside. Vivian drives up and enters the apartment. Marlowe uses his knowledge of Geiger to force his way in. Joe Brody, Agnes (Geiger's assistant) and Vivian are inside. Marlowe accuses Joe Brody of murdering Owen Taylor for the photos. He also says that Brody can be framed for Geiger's killing. Marlowe demands the film. The door buzzes and Brody opens it to be greeted at gunpoint by Carmen, who has come for her pictures. Marlowe takes the film from Brody and sends Vivian and Carmen home. After the women leave, Brody admits he was blackmailing both Colonel Sternwood and Vivian. He claims innocence for both murders, however. Joe Brody says that he was waiting in his car in back of Geiger's house the night that Geiger was shot, but that there was another car down the hill, presumably Owen Taylor. Brody confesses to taking the film off of Owen Taylor and blackjacking him.

There is another knock at the door and, as Brody opens it, he is shot and killed. The murderer runs down the stairs to escape. Marlowe follows and apprehends him, only to find that he is Carol Lundgren, Geiger's "shadow", who has killed Brody in revenge, falsely believing that Brody was Geiger's killer. Marlowe brings Lundgren back to Geiger's house. Marlowe ties up Lundgren and calls Detective Bernie Ohls to come pick him up. With Geiger's murder attributed to Owen Taylor, Owen Taylor's likely killer (Brody) now dead himself, and Lundgren turned in to the police for the Brody killing, Vivian Sternwood is anxious for Marlowe to close the case. Marlowe, however, is worried about a number of unanswered questions revolving around Eddie Mars and Regan. He refuses to be "sugared off" the case. Their conversation is highly sexually charged, exposing a romantic tension that has been building throughout the film.

Marlowe visits Mars' casino, where he finds Vivian singing. He asks Mars about Regan, who is supposed to have run off with Mars' wife, but Mars is evasive. He tells Marlowe that Vivian is leaving bad IOUs in his casino. Vivian wins a large amount of money at the tables and wants Marlowe to drive her home. He waits in his car for her, then foils Mars' thugs attempting to rob Vivian of her winnings. But Marlowe realizes the attempted robbery was faked and presses Vivian on her association with Mars. As he unsuccessfully questions her, they kiss.

When he returns home, Carmen is waiting for him. He asks her about Regan and she admits she didn't like him. She also mentions that Mars calls Vivian frequently. In the morning, Detective Bernie Ohls calls Marlowe and tells him to lay off the Sternwood case. Marlowe suspects the key to the mystery is Mars and Regan and persuades Ohls to back off. Marlowe then calls the Sternwood mansion and Vivian tells him Regan has been found in Mexico.

Marlowe is then brutally beaten by two of Mars' thugs, who tell him to lay off the case. He is helped by Harry Jones (Elisha Cook, Jr.), an associate of Brody's. Jones conveys an offer from Agnes to reveal the location of Mars' wife for $200. However, when Marlowe goes to meet him, Canino, a hired killer of Mars', has gotten there first. He gets Agnes' location from Jones before poisoning him. It turns out to have been a false location. When Agnes tries to call Jones, Marlowe arranges a meeting with her. Agnes tells Marlowe that she's seen Eddie Mars' wife near Realito by a "car drop" called Art Huck's Car Repair. This is a location where Eddie Mars repaints stolen cars.

Philip Marlowe: You the guy that's been tailing me?
Harry Jones: Yeah, the name's Jones. Harry Jones. I want to see you.
Philip Marlowe: Swell. Did you want to see those guys jump me?
Harry Jones: I didn't care one way or the other.
Philip Marlowe: You could've yelled for help.
Harry Jones: If a guy's playing a hand, I let him play it. I'm no kibitzer.
Philip Marlowe: You got brains.

Marlowe follows Agnes' tip and fakes a flat tire to gain entry to the Art Huck's Car Repair shop. But he is attacked and knocked out by Canino. He wakes to find himself locked up with Mars' wife, who has no idea where Regan is. Vivian is also hiding there. Mona Mars believes her husband is innocent of any killings and leaves when Marlowe tells her about Jones' death. Vivian, fearing for his life, kisses and frees Marlowe. When Canino arrives, Marlowe gets to his car and his gun. He eventually is able to kill Canino with Vivian's help.

Vivian and Marlowe drive back to Geiger's bungalow. She asks, "What if I told you I killed Sean Regan?", but Marlowe does not believe her. When they arrive at Geiger's house, Marlowe calls Eddie Mars. Marlowe says that he is still in Realito at the payphone. They arrange to meet at Geiger's house, giving Marlowe 10 minutes at the house before Mars will arrive. Marlowe says, "Mars has been ahead of me all the way, if I don't get him this time, we're cooked." When Mars arrives to set up an ambush, Marlowe surprises him and holds him at gunpoint. Mars admits that it was Carmen that killed Regan after being spurned. Mars covered it up but was blackmailing Vivian.

Marlowe wounds Mars and he runs out. But his men, waiting to ambush Marlowe, shoot and kill Mars. Marlowe calls Bernie Ohls to wrap up the case but tells him that Mars killed Regan. Marlowe and Vivian decide to commit Carmen and conceal the truth from the dying General Sternwood. They wait in the dark as sirens approach, now committed to each other.

THE BIG SLEEP is a perfect example of the film noir genre. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall made screen history together more than once, but they were never more popular than in this adaptation of Raymond Chandler's novel, directed by Howard Hawks. The story is so complicated that even Chandler had trouble following his own plot. It requires the viewer to keep track of an unexpected number of characters--including two characters who never appear on screen, a pivotal character who doesn't actually have any lines, and a character who is frequently mentioned but doesn't appear until near the film's conclusion. One of the mysteries is never solved in the movie, but most viewers don't seem to care. However, the film is a certified classic, very entertaining and atmospheric, and an electrifying plunge into detective fiction. An absolutely mesmerizing film, it is a masterpiece full of sharp dialogue that moves at a brisk pace, the finest detective novel ever put on celluloid. The whole thing is filmed as a fast moving dream of dialogue and images hard to forget. One critic likened it to a huge hangover.

There are two cuts of this movie: the 1946 movie star version and the 1945 film noir version. THE BIG SLEEP is noted for its convoluted plot. During filming neither the director nor the screenwriters knew who killed chauffeur Owen Taylor or if he had killed himself. They sent a cable to Chandler who wrote to a friend in a letter: "They sent me a wire... asking me, and dammit I didn't know either". It is also interesting to watch the 1945 version of the film--as well as the documentary prepared by UCLA which details the differences between the two--all changes wrought by the strengthening of the Bacall character to leverage the chemistry between her and Bogart. The scene in the book store was also quite a display of chemistry between Bogart and Dorothy Malone. 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.

This movie was made in the age of Hays Office censorship, when it was expected that adults would understand certain story points that would be lost to children. In the novel, the books Geiger profitably rents are pornography, then illegal and associated with organized crime. In the film, Joe Brody is killed by Carol Lundgren who believes he killed Geiger. In the novel, Lundgren is Geiger's homosexual lover, a detail which goes unmentioned in the film. Also in the novel, Marlowe finds pornographic photographs of Carmen and later finds her naked in his bed. In the film, the photographs show Carmen was at Geiger's house when he was killed (thus possibly implicating her in his murder). The novel's nude bedroom scene in Marlowe's apartment is altered in the film to a clothed Carmen awaiting him in an armchair.

Film critic Roger Ebert, who entered the film in his list of 100 Great Movies, praises the film's writing: "Working from Chandler's original words and adding spins of their own, the writers 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." The Washington Post called the film "an unqualified masterpiece."

The cast also includes: Martha Vickers (Carmen Sternwood), Dorothy Malone (Acme Bookstore proprietress), Peggy Knudsen (Mona Mars), Regis Toomey (Chief Insp. Bernie Ohls of the District Attorney's Office). Charles Waldron (Gen. Sternwood), Charles D. Brown (Norris), Bob Steele (Lash Canino), Louis Jean Heydt (Joe Brody), Pat Clark (Mona Mars), James Flavin (Capt. Cronjager), Thomas E. Jackson (Dist. Atty. White), Trevor Bardette (Art Huck), Joy Barlow (Taxi driver), Max Barwyn (Max), Deannie Best (Waitress), Tanis Chandler (Waitress), Jack Chefe (Croupier), Joseph Crehan ("Doc" the Medical Examiner), Sonia Darrin (Agnes Lowzier), Carole Douglas (Librarian at Hollywood Public Library), Jay Eaton (Extra in casino), Tom Fadden (Sidney), Bess Flowers, Shep Houghton (Nightclub patron), Pete Kooy (Motorcycle offcer), Lorraine Miller (Hatcheck girl), Forbes Murray (Furtive man), Shelby Payne (Cigarette girl), Jack Perry, Tommy Rafferty (Carol Lundgren), Emmett Vogan (Ed), Theodore von Eltz (Arthur Gwynn Geiger), Wally Walker (Mars' thug), Dan Wallace (Owen Taylor), Paul Weber (Mars' thug), and Ben Welden (Pete). Max Steiner composed the original music. William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman wrote the screenplay from Raymond Chandler's 1939 novel "The Big Sleep". Howard Hawks directed.

The authorised DVD is a double-sided, single-layer disc, with the 1946 movie star version on side A as it was released to theaters, and the 1945 film noir version as it was originally shot on side B. The actual differences between the two are fairly slight, but they prove significant. The 1946 version shows Bogart (as Philip Marlowe) as the epitome of "cool" in every situation, even when he has a gun pulled on him or is getting beaten up. Lauren Bacall comes off much better in the 1946 version as well, as she shows the spark that was seen in TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (1944). The 1945 version has a few scenes cut from the 1946 version which are quite good, and is actually a little easier to understand.

Although the original version is somewhat easier to follow in terms of story, it lacks the flash that makes the theatrical version such a memorable experience. It is easy to see why Hawks chose to rescript and reshoot several key scenes as well as add new ones, and fans will have fun comparing the two. The DVD also includes a documentary on the differences between the films and the motivations behind them. Picture and sound quality are quite good, but some reviewers have noted portions of this print have a flicker or seem a bit washed out, but they do not distract from the enjoyment of this movie. In 1997 the U.S. Library of Congress deemed this film "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and preserved to the National Film Registry.

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