CLASSIC MOVIE SUNDAYS: The Big Sleep (1946)
Georgios Merkouris / March 17, 2019
( 2 min read )
THE BIG SLEEP (1946)
Director: Howard Hawks
Runtime: 114 min.
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Ridgely, Dorothy Malone, Martha Vickers, Bob Steele etc.
There is a very famous anecdote associated with the production of the film. One day, Bogart appears on set to ask a question pertaining to the script. Everybody paused, since nobody could really answer properly. Director Howard Hawks telegrams Raymond Chandler, the author of the book, asking him to answer the question. Raymond Chandler’s reply: “Dammmit, I don’t know either!”
Infamous for its wild and confusing plot, The Big Sleep has still managed to be one of the most popular films to emerge from Hollywood's golden era. This was in part due to its leads. Humphrey Bogart was the most profitable actor in 1940s cinema, his reputation being cemented due to the success of Casablanca.
Marlowe seemed like the perfect role for him to play: full of charm, cynicism, and an endless supply of double entendres. Alongside him is Bacall who is equally as engaging. The two met each other on the set of Hawks’ “To have and have not” and fell in love. Bogart left his wife in order to be with Lauren. He was forty-four, she was only 20. Why is this important? Because while it made the shooting of the film rather difficult, their on-screen chemistry is unparalleled and contributes to the enduring charm that the film offers. The characters they play are supposed to “ooze” sexual tension, so their off-screen romance made it all the more believable.
The screenplay passed through three different writers, including legendary author William Faulkner, who was trying to break into Hollywood at the time. He felt a strong discomfort working on set, so he asked Hawks if he could work from home instead. Hawks reluctantly agreed, thinking that the author meant his apartment in California. Instead, Faulkner moved back to Oxford, Mississippi, which made the director quite unhappy. Yet, Faulkner’s talent was instrumental in making the film work. The screenplay is filled with endlessly quotable dialogue delivered by the characters, all of them filled with depth. In spite of the confusing nature of the events that transpire, the psychological dimension of the film’s leads is explored to great success.
Howards Hawks is known as a consummate professional. His films were shot fast, featuring virtually no extravagant shooting techniques. Yet, all of the films are distinctly a product of his genius. While it is easy to miss Hawks’ genius, given that his films didn’t feature shots reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s or Orson Welles’ work, the careful attention he paid to mis-en-scene is nothing short of extraordinary. This fact is also evident in “The Big Sleep”, where the staging of the actors and the performances they deliver are used to great effect in order to invoke an appropriate feeling from the audience depending on the circumstances of each individual scene. Hawks once defined a great film as one featuring “three good scenes and no bad ones.” “The Big Sleep” is all of that and more.
You can watch trailer for THE BIG SLEEP here: