Directed by Howard Hawks
From “Bringing up Baby”, a comedy by Howard Hawks, to one of the most influential noir films of all time, ‘The Big Sleep”: one of the most overly complicated by completely enthralling pieces of cinema ever made.
I can’t even really tell you what this film was about, it was so convoluted. I would have needed a flow chart just to keep track of all the characters names and what they did, and in that sense the film really does place you directly in the shoes of Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) as you try to unravel the mystery of the film along with him. (Though for what it’s worth, Marlowe appeared to be having a much easier go at it than I was.) Reportedly both the screenwriters of the film and Hawks himself came to a standstill while making the film because they couldn’t figure out for the life of them who actually killed a certain character in the film. So they called up Raymond Chandler, the man who wrote the novel, and asked him. He responded by telling them that it was right there in the novel, they just had to read it carefully. A few days later he called them back and told them that he reread the novel and even he couldn’t figure out who killed the guy, telling them to come up with their own answer. In the version of the film released in theatres (there is also a pre-release 1945 version available on the DVD that reportedly makes more sense) that answer is never given and the plot remains mostly impenetrable, but there’s always so much going on in the film that as a viewer you hardly get caught up in the fact that what you’re seeing doesn’t really make any type of sense.
The reasons for this are predominantly two-fold: the performances and the writing. Both Bogart and (future wife) Lauren Bacall are mesmerizing in their portrayals. Their dynamic with one another is utterly fantastic and there’s never a wasted word between the two. They feed off one another’s longing and disdain and by the end of the film you don’t really care if the plot ends up making any sense, you just want to see these two end up with each another. Of course, these two performances would be nothing without the amazing dialogue that populates the film. Truly, I can’t think of a film with better banter. The amount of quotable dialogue that spews forth from Bogart’s mouth is nearly endless and Bacall keeps pace right up there with him. It’s difficult enough to give one character a truly authentic voice, but in “The Big Sleep” there isn’t a character that doesn’t sound exactly like they should.
Despite being a very had film to follow in the classical narrative sense, I would be a fool not to recommend this film. It’s right up there with “Double Indemnity” and “L.A. Confidential” as a masterpiece of the noir genre.