The Big Sleep

Director: Howard Hawks


The chiaroscuro lighting, so directly linked with the genre of film noir, is flawless creating beautiful shades of light and dark. I always find noir visually pleasing although the plots often feel quite contrived and convoluted to me.

As with all film noir there is a central theme of corruption and deceit. “The Big Sleep is a reference to death and indeed death pervades the movie.” (Joshua Klein, 216, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) The murders are numerous and stack up quickly, generally immediately after providing some piece of information. As do the plots with various parties conspiring in blackmail schemes. It all seems a bit too much for me personally – there is too much going on which just adds to my whole ‘noir is convoluted’ theory.

Humphrey Bogart’s Marlowe never loses his cool – he is always in control of every situation in this increasingly complicated story. He is the epitome of a private ‘dick’ in his sharp suit, fedora and trench coat.

The sexual tension between Bogart and Lauren Bacall is palpable. Indeed as Joshua Klein says “when they’re on screen together, the detective story fades to the background.” (216, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die). The femme fatales are always incredibly and effortlessly glamorous and self-contained. The lighting makes them almost glow – something that never happens with the male characters. And this is no except for Bacall’s Mrs Rutledge. Despite being strong female roles the very nature of being a femme fatale means a happy ending is rarely, if ever, guaranteed.

Klein states that “Hawks exploited the sexual tension, adding extra scenes with the two actors and stressing the innuendo-laced dialogue, particularly racy (especially an exchange about horses and saddles) in light of the era’s Production Code.” (216, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) I think this ‘innuendo-laced dialogue’ gives The Big Sleep a surprisingly modern feel.

I like that Marlowe has almost a nervous tic (despite the fact he never appears to be nervous) where he rubs the lobe of his ear, it adds to his personality. In some ways it almost mirrors Carmen’s habit of unconsciously biting her thumb. The mysterious Shawn Regan is never seen but often mentioned and appears to be central to the plot, at least in Marlowe’s mind.

While there are elements of The Big Sleep that I enjoyed, particularly Bogart’s performance and the lighting, ultimately I was left both bored and confused by the film. And I found the ending somewhat lack lustre.


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