Directed by Howard Hawks
Screenplay by William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman
Based on the novel by Raymond Chandler
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Ridgely, and Martha Vickers
Private detective Philip Marlowe (Bogart) has been hired by General Sternwood to look into the gambling debts of his youngest daughter, Carmen. After being confronted by the General’s older daughter Vivian, his case becomes about much more than gambling debts. As Marlowe digs deeper, he discovers a web of deceit and crime that goes as far as murder. With dangerous encounters and murders happening all around him, Philip Marlowe find a bond growing between Vivian and himself. This bond could prove deadly as the two tangle with a gang of dangerous men with nothing to lose.
The Big Sleep is based on the novel written by Raymond Chandler. Chandler wrote a number of books that later came to the screen, including Double Indemnity and The Long Goodbye. This story was adapted from the novel by a team of writers that included William Faulkner (To Have and Have Not), Leigh Brackett (Rio Bravo), and Jules Furthman (Mutiny on the Bounty). Director Howard Hawks (The Big Sleep) was given the task of translating this overly complicated screenplay onto the screen. With a great cast, Hawks was able to create on of the best of the film noir genre.
The cast for this movie includes lead roles by Humphrey Bogart (The African Queen) and Lauren Bacall (The Mirror Has Two Faces). The film also features John Ridgely (Arsenic and Old Lace), Martha Vickers (The Burglar), and a number of other talented actors. For Bogart, this was another role that seemed written for him. For Bacall, this was a chance to rebuild her image after her film Confidential Agent had bombed. Together, this was another chance to build the “Bogie and Bacall” legend. Some of the scenes were even re-shot at the request of Bacall’s agent to capitalize on the chemistry between the two. In addition to these two big stars, the film also benefited from nice performances by Ridgely and Vickers. Martha Vickers is especially good in her role as the troubled younger sister.
When this movie was released it immediately met criticism for the complex and often confusing story. Bosley Crowther described the problems with this film, and his point of view is still relevant today. He wrote, “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.” While this is true, the story seems to work on a different level, where the little details are easily forgotten while the character drama continues to work. While not being the best written of the film noir genre, this is still one of the classics.
What this movie lacks in story, it makes up with acting and visuals. The camera work and set design create a great setting for this story of murder, deception, and intrigue. Critics praised Hawks’ ability to make something seemingly sexual and dark despite the restrictions of the Hayes Code. His use of visuals allowed the suggestive dialogue to speak loud and clear throughout the movie.
Today The Big Sleep is counted as a masterpiece of movie making. This is a designation that can be credited to several aspects of the film, including the chemistry between Bogart and Bacall, and the tangled story that serves almost as a backdrop for the bigger moments. I think this is a movie that defies many of the expectations of the generation it came out of. If you’re a fan of Bogart, Bacall, or any of the people involved, this is one to see. I would also recommend this to fans of mystery, crime, or film noir. I give this one 4.8 out of 5 stars.