I used to have a fear. This fear had kept me from watching some amazing movies. What was that fear? That black and white film would bore me and be a waste of my time. I know its a strange fear, but that is honestly what kept me from watching the great classics in the history of film. As I watch these classic films, its astounding how they grab a hold of my attention and do not let go. The color (or lack there of) suddenly becomes a moot point and the story has taken control.
Which brings me to one of my new favorites, “The Big Sleep“. Now obviously it is a favorite among many as it is rated #143 out of the top 250 on IMDB.com, and I can clearly see why. The film is filled with action, drama, sensuality, fatality and mystery. In other words, its the perfect example of ‘Film Noir’.
The story follows Private Detective Philip Marlowe who has been called to the Sternwood Residence at the request of General Sternwood. His youngest daughter, Carmen (Martha Vickers), is in trouble and he requests the aid of Marlowe to clean up the problems. The story heats up when Carmen’s older sister Vivian (Lauren Bacall) begins to confuse Marlowe, mentally and sensually.
In almost every scene, Marlowe is present. We are meant to follow the story in his footsteps trying to figure out the puzzle as the pieces are shown to us. Every time we learn a little bit about a character, we are suddenly thrust into a brand new tangent that sets us back to square one.
The writing is very coy as many scenes are very “word” heavy. But these scenes require that the viewer pay very close attention because it is basically a spoken boxing match. This is no clearer than in the scenes between Bogart and Bacall. The scenes are charged with emotion as the two have their back-and-forths. But besides the incredibly strong delivery of lines, the real hero of this film is the director Howard Hawks whom tells an amazingly intriguing story from a script that was penned by multiple writers who didn’t necessarily speak to each other. The list of amazing talent continues on with Max Steiner (score) and Sid Hickox (cinematographer). Both Max and Sid do an amazing job at capturing and expressing the dramatic moments in wonderfully honest ways.
There are very many interesting tidbits about this film. One in particular is that there are in fact two versions of this film: a 1945 pre-release and the 1946 theatrical. The differences are detailed in a special feature on the DVD, but suffice to say that the former had much less Bacall screen time. In my opinion, after watching both versions the 1946 version is much better as the energy is heightened with the extra amount of Bogart and Bacall scenes. But to get some of these scenes, they not only had to re-film, but also had to shoot entirely new footage almost a year after the original production ended. Amazingly when watching the 1946 version, I didn’t notice any differences. Which is a testament to the quality of the production.
Should you see this film? Oh you have got to see this film! It is a great example of noir and a film that helps one to understand classic American cinema.
Moment I was hooked:
When Marlowe and the audience see Carmen Sternwood’s legs in her short skirt, in the first scene of the film.
Favorite Scene: When Vivian (Bacall) tries to sugar Marlowe (Bogart) of the case in a small diner.
My rating: 8/10