The Big Sleep Reviews
Based on a novel by Raymond Chandler, this is about cynical private investigator Philip Marlowe and his involvement in a blackmail case that turns murderous. The film is noted for being really complex and confusing, and that's one of my main issues with it. I'm not a stupid person, but if the three screenwriters who adapted this had to contact Chandler and ask him to tell them what was going on, and even he didn't really know (or so he said), then you've got some problems here.
I've watched, and enjoyed, some very complex and convoluted films before, but here it just didn't stick. I think maybe too it has something to do with how hyped this film was. Yeah, it's a strong mystery, and sure, maybe I did enjoy the fact that it's really more about the procedural aspects of a criminal investigation than the results, but even then it feels unsatisfying. Maybe that has to do with my other major complaint, which is censorship.
I know that you can still have a great work of art without having to details all the graphic aspects, but when the more sordid stuff is integral to the film, then maybe yeah, they need to be shown. Obviously that wasn't gonna happen in the 40s, but maybe they could have tried to really be groundbreaking, even if it meant courting more controversy than they would have wanted to deal with. Look at stuff like A Clockwork Orange as a prime example.
Sorry for ranting, I just couldn't help it. Anyways, yeah, this is a fun, though challenging mystery thriller. I think what makes it work in the end are the performances, and the chemistry the cast have with one another, especially where Bogart and Bacall are concerned. Those tow are terrific, and its said that Bogart's turn are Marlowe is the definitive one. Works for me. Martha Vickers is also really good, and, even though she makes just a brief appearance, I loved Dorothy Malone as the book seller that Marlowe has a moment with while hiding out in her shop. It's a great scene (and one where I'm okay with the subtlety).
Despite how much of a complicated mess this is, the film does have some great lines, and a dry and sardonic sense of humor. It's really stylish, and from a formal perspective, is very impressive. The look is great, it's well shot, and the score by Max Steiner is a real treat.
It has its flaws, and I'm prepared to have my cinema buff card revoked for saying anything bad about this film, but I stand by my judgment. I did like it, and do recommend it, but think that it's not as grand as I was lead to believe.
Everything about this film is perfect. The mystery is compelling and engaging because the characters are always ahead of the audience, which is refreshing in this age when everything but flashing arrows tell modern audiences when the detective encounters a clue. The writing is sharp and funny with lines so good and so right for Bogie that it's impossible to imagine anyone else saying them. For example:
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.
And there's Bogie and Bacall -- film legends with legendary chemistry -- who sizzle the screen. It's only their talent that makes a rather tepid love story work.
I don't see anything profound or socially necessary about The Big Sleep, but films like this can be intellectually engaging and fun.
Overall, The Big Sleep is a foundational film and a great time at the movies.
For the film itself, it is very detailed. While this is my first Hawks film, I am amazed at the attention he gives to the most simplistic actions. For example, when Marlowe is interrogating a suspect, their is almost more to read out of their body language than their actual words. The camera is angled perfectly to capture the interviewees anxious movements as he attempts to avoid any type of eye contact with Marlowe. A simple interview becomes a mental chess game as Marlowe counters these movements.
This is simply one example of many beautifully crafted scenes in this sprawling crime story that is chalk full of shadows, shady people, and copious amounts of raw violence taking place in a dimly lit city.
While most noirs are filled with a large cast of double crossers, this cast of characters seems exceptionally grand and can sometimes be tedious to keep track of. The fact that there are so many characters means that many characters don't have enough screen time for the audience to get adequately acquainted with them. While this doesn't detract too much from the greatness of this film, it sometimes makes it difficult to become fully immersed in the picture. In the end, this is a great film with solid directing and astonishing performances. With a tighter script, this film could have been worthy of my coveted 5 stars.
A complex plot, very hard to unravel, even for the shrewd Philip Marlowe, who seems to find corpses anywhere he looks.
The story grabs you and never decays, contrary, it grows in tension with each minute, and almost every attitude seen by the players, and line of dialogue spoken has incommensurable vigor.