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Vivian: You go too far, Marlowe.
The Big Sleep is a 1946 film by Howard Hawks based on a novel by Raymond Chandler. Both the original novel and the movie are considered classics, and the latter is a quintessential example of the Film Noir genre.
The convoluted plot follows the investigation by Hardboiled Detective Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) into the gambling debts of young dilettante Carmen Sternwood at the behest of her father, an old, wheelchair-bound millionnaire. However, Carmen's older sister, Vivian Rutledge (Lauren Bacall), claims that the investigation is really about finding what happened to her friend Sean Regan, who has mysteriously disappeared.
As film critic Roger Ebert writes, "It is typical of this most puzzling of films that no one agrees even on why it is so puzzling. Yet that has never affected The Big Sleep's enduring popularity, because the movie is about the process of a criminal investigation, not its results."
The film contains examples of:
- Absurdly High Stakes Game: Vivian bets $14,000 on a single roulette spin and wins (it's rigged, of course).
- Affably Evil: Eddie Mars.
- All There in the Manual: The book sheds some light on a few of the little mysteries in the film, such as the exact nature of the blackmail photos (Carmen wasn't wearing her robe when they were taken) and all that weird business in the back of Geiger's rare book shop (the back room is selling pornography, which is one of the reasons Eddie Mars cleans it out the next morning).
- Auto Erotica: Marlowe and Vivian kiss in his car.
- Badass Longcoat: Trope Codifier.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: Marlowe and Vivian.
- Big Sister Instinct: Vivian spends most of her time protecting Carmen from her own mistakes.
- Chandler's Law: One of the Trope Makers. Marlowe confiscates so many guns that he lampshades it.
- Double Entendre: Marlowe and Vivian's flirtation is mostly conveyed through double entendre (Note: the dialogue below is purely from the movie).
Vivian: Speaking of horses, I like to play them myself. But I like to see them work out a little first, see if they're front runners or come from behind, find out what their whole card is, what makes them run. (...) I'd say you don't like to be rated. You like to get out in front, open up a little lead, take a little breather in the backstretch, and then come home free. (...)
- Executive Meddling: Strangely, one of the few cases where it was for the better. A first version of the film adaptation was completed in 1945 but its release was postponed. Meanwhile, Lauren Bacall's fame rose, and it was decided to make a revised version the following year, giving her character more prominence. This is the version that was released.
- The DVD release contradicts the above. It's stated in a featurette that Bacall's performance in her first film after her debut in To Have and Have Not, Confidential Agent, stunk up the room. Noting similar issues with her performance in several key scenes in The Big Sleep, Jack Warner authorized that several scenes be reshot and others added to try and recapture more of the To Have and Have Not chemistry. And it worked.
- Expecting Someone Taller: It's true, Bogey was not a particularly tall man (he was 5′8″; in the book Marlowe was about six foot even). Lampshaded a few times.
- Fille Fatale: Carmen Sternwood.
Marlowe: She tried to sit in my lap while I was standing up.
- Gentleman Snarker: Marlowe.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Despite the production code preventing a number of the more racier elements of the original script from being filmed, the director managed to get a surprising amount of sexuality onto the screen for 1945/46:
- Carmen's ultra-short shorts in her first scene, which by 1945 standards was the equivalent of someone in 2011 appearing in a scene wearing a thong bikini.
- Marlowe's dalliance with a bookshop owner takes on Bond film-like overtones (including the obligatory "fade out" to suggest they did more than talk about old books).
- When Vivian visits Marlowe's office for the first time, she tries not to scratch an itch on her thigh. Marlowe tells her to scratch it and we get a brief above-the-knee flash which, by 1945 standards, was almost the equivalent of Bacall mooning the camera.
- Gory Discretion Shot: When Geiger is killed, we only hear gunshots and a woman (Carmen) screaming from inside the house. When Marlowe shows up, he's in a pool of blood on the floor.
- Hardboiled Detective: The character of Philip Marlowe is pretty much the Trope Codifier.
- Hell, Humphrey Bogart is pretty much the Trope Namer
- Hays Code: Resulted in some of the steamier elements of the novel being toned down for the film. In particular most references to sex, homosexuality, and nudity were removed (but see that conversation about "horse-racing") and Carmen's role in the murders is only vaguely implied. As a result the ending was changed and Carmen had ultimately a smaller role. The censors wouldn't let Carmen be the killer because that would've made Vivian, the love-interest, an accessory, which was a no-no.
- However, the code seemed to miss several cases of Getting Crap Past the Radar (see above).
- High Heel Face Turn: Vivian finally decides to take Marlowe's side in the end.
- I Know You Know I Know: When Marlowe confronts Eddie Mars at his gambling den.
- Indy Ploy: Marlowe pretending to have a flat tire in order to gain entry to the auto shop. Notable for failing utterly.
Marlowe: Can you fix a flat?
- Later he pretends (much more successfully) to be in Realito to get Eddie Mars to come to Geiger's house, which is where he's actually been the whole time.
- Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Poor, poor Elisha Cook Jr. When the little guy shows up in this film you just know he's going to try so hard to be an effective criminal and that he'll totally suck at it. He ends up getting killed by a completely unsympathetic and far more effective villain. Marlowe specifically mentions how he thought the guy was funny, and had enjoyed being "threatened" by him.
- Ironic Echo: "What's the matter? Haven't you seen a gun before?"
- James Bondage: Marlowe gets knocked out and tied up but is rescued by Vivian.
- Kudzu Plot: Even viewers who pay close attention to the many names in the film will come up baffled at some parts.
- Meganekko: Marlowe chats up an attractive bespectacled bookstore clerk who proves quite willing to have information coaxed out of her. Lampshaded when she takes off her glasses, saying "I don't really need them".
Marlowe: Well, I have to go - I'm late for my lecture on Argentine Serrah-Micks.
- Never Suicide: Police are initially inclined to treat one of the deaths as a suicide, but a couple of details don't add up. In the 1946 film, it's left open. Neither the director nor the writers could figure out what Chandler had intended, so they asked Chandler — who later told a friend in a letter: "They sent me a wire... asking me, and dammit I didn't know either".
- Nice Hat: Bogey wears a fedora for most of the film.
- One-Scene Wonder: The bookstore clerk. Also, the general appears in only one scene at the beginning of the film despite being an important background character for most of it.
- Pretty in Mink: Bacall (Vivian) wears a fur shawl in a few scenes.
- Real Life Relative: Bogart and Bacall were married; they had been working together for some time, but The Big Sleep was their first film as a married couple.
- They actually got married between the shooting of the two different versions.
- Self-Disposing Villain: Eddie Mars ends up shot by his own men.
- Sexy Discretion Shot
- Sibling Yin-Yang: Vivian (cold and calculating, rational) versus Carmen (flighty, childish, ingenuous).
- Slap Slap Kiss: Bogey and Bacall get to do a little of it. See Belligerent Sexual Tension.
- Smoking Is Cool: And never as cool as when Humphrey Bogart lights up.
- UST: Marlowe and Vivian. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall barely touch each other, and don't tear off any clothes, and yet the sexual tension between them crackles more than any pair of Hollywood-lovers on the screens today.