For some (not for me), “The Big Sleep” is the bests collaboration between stars and husband and wife team, Humphrey Bogart-Lauren Bacall. The film was directed, as was their first teaming, “To Have and Have Not,” by the legendary Howard Hawks, who had discovered Bacall when she was a 19 year old model.
In “The Big Sleep,” Bogart plays one of Raymond Chandler’s most iconic characters, the cynical private eye Philip Marlowe; many Hollywood movies have centered on Marlowe’s adventures .
At the time of release, many viewers complained that the narrative was confusing and even incoherent, but it did not matter. As the royal couple of Hollywood, Bogey and Baby (Bacall, also nicknamed “The Look”) were at the height of their popularity. Bogart had just been nominated for the Best Actor award in “Casablanca,” which won the 1943 Best Picture Oscar.
And the plot? Marlowe is hired by wealthy General Sternwood (Charles Waldron) handle a blackmailer shaking down the General’s sensual daughter Carmen (Martha Vickers).
This encounter introduces Marlowe to Carmen’s seemingly straight-laced older sister Vivian (Bacall), who is protective of Carmen. In his pursuit, Marlowe gets mixed up in the murder of Arthur Geiger (Theodore von Eltz), a dealer in pornography. He also meets the gambler Eddie Mars (John Ridgely), who seems to be strangely connected to Vivian.
The narrative was so convoluted that even the various screenwriters, including author William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthmann, had to consult Raymond Chandler for advice, though this proved to be unhelpful.
Initially, “The Big Sleep” was to include a scene with police detective Bernie Ohls (Regis Toomey) explaining the more obscure plot details, but this expository scene was deleted. Cashing in on the glamorous marriage and strong chemistry between Bogey and Bacall, the latter’s part was expanded. Thus, several scenes were reshot to please the fans and demonstrate to sexual electricity between the two.
End result is a cult film noir that French critics have all along admired, whereas American audiences remain intrigued but baffled. Which goes to say that a movie can become legendary due to star power and iconic imagery without being totally satisfying dramatically.
Beware: There are different versions of the film, as well as an unacceptable computer-color version.
Running time: 116 Minutes.
Directed by: Howard Hawks
Written By: Raymond Chandler, William Faulkner, Jules Furthman, Leigh Brackett