Big Sleep, The (Warner 1946, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall)

Poster for the movie "The Big Sleep"
116 min - Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller - 23 August 1946
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The ground beneath Hollywood surely shook when Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall paired for the first time in the wartime melodrama To Have and Have Not. So combustible was the couple’s chemistry that it resulted not only in a hit film, but also in a soon-to-be-legendary offscreen marriage and a string of movies throughout the 1940s tailor-made for their brand of heat. The first of these was The Big Sleep, based on Raymond Chandler’s novel and helmed by To Have and Have Not director Howard Hawks. Originally slated for release in 1945, scenes were reshot and reordered for the film’s eventual 1946 debut.

A Stylish, Convoluted Case of Blackmail and Murder

Bogart, who had already played Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, fills infamous P.I. shoes once again as he takes on the part of Chandler’s knight errant, detective Philip Marlowe. Hired by the wealthy General Sternwood (Charles Waldron) to foil a blackmailer who’s ensnared his youngest daughter wild, childlike Carmen (Martha Vickers) Marlowe soon finds himself both embroiled in murder and falling in love with the general’s other daughter, the headstrong Vivian (Bacall). As the bodies pile up around them, the passion smolders between the rumpled shamus and the stylish thoroughbred.

So convoluted is the plot to The Big Sleep that not even Chandler in answer to a query from Hawks and the screenwriters knew who killed one of the story’s many victims. One character, very much a part of the tale, never appears on-screen (alive or dead). The story hardly matters, though it’s all about the denouement. This is an exercise in high style that Hollywood often attempts and almost never attains. The Big Sleep was beautifully shot in black and white by Sidney Hickox and it’s filled with witty dialogue, such as Marlowe’s answer as to whether he ever knew the general’s friend, Sean Regan, “Yes, in the old days, when he used to run rum out of Mexico and I was on the other side. We used to swap shots between drinks, or drinks between shots, whichever you like,” or his comment after first meeting Carmen, “She tried to sit in my lap while I was standing up.”

After playing mostly bad guys in the ’30s, Bogart forged a career for himself in the 1940s as a romantic lead. Even in The Maltese Falcon, though, and Casablanca, his is an almost dour presence. There’s none of that here. Bogart’s Marlowe is a man relaxed with himself, not just cool, but humorous in the face of danger. One running gag has every woman he meets flirting with him and it’s easy to see why Marlowe may be hard-boiled, but, at his heart, there is a soft center. In his scenes with Bacall, the pair virtually ignites the screen, so palpable is the heat between them.

Director:  Howard Hawks
Producer:  Howard Hawks
Composer:  Max Steiner
Director of Photography:  Sidney Hickox

Production Details

Production Companies:  Warner Bros.

Release Date:  23 August 1946

Running Time:  1 h 56 min

Genres: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Language:  English

Tagline: The picture they were born for!

Budget and Box Office takings where known