Movie review: The Big Sleep (1946)

The Big Sleep ranks at the top of many film noir lists, a favorite despite the convoluted plot. It is hard enough to figure out who really killed whom—even Raymond Chandler wasn’t sure whether one of the characters in his novel was murdered or committed suicide—but different cuts of the film removed and added different scenes.

Humphrey Bogart plays Philip Marlowe, the wisecracking private detective in Chandler’s novels. Lauren Bacall plays his love interest. The witty banter between the two seems to flirt with the lines of property demarcated by the morality code (sometimes referred to as the Hayes Code) in Hollywood.

Quick retorts and witty dialogue grace the entire movie. A gun (one of many) is pulled on Marlowe, who exclaims, “Such a lot of guns around town and such few brains.” After roughly pulling the arm of one woman, Marlowe asks, “Did I hurt you, sugar?” “You and every man I’ve ever met,” comes the quick retort.

The Big Sleep contains nods to World War II which was raging at the time—if you know where to look—expressions, rationing stickers, photos, and a conspicuous female taxi driver. The movie was produced during the war but wasn’t released until afterwards due to a backlog of war movies that the studios wanted to release before the war ended.

For those interested in a good detective story, you’ll enjoy watching Chandler’s story again and again. Each time you may piece together more of the plot and perhaps find mistakes or incongruities.

For those interested in the on-film relations of Bogie and Bacall, you’ll enjoy watching them again and again. Bacall is a strong woman and Bogey a man’s man (whatever that means.)

For those who love the film noir genre, you’ll enjoy watching The Big Sleep again and again. The ambiance screams the dark, seedy underbelly of society.


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