For Reel

The Big Sleep (1946)
June 25, 2015, 1:14 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Howard Hawks
4 Stars
The Big SleepAt about the halfway point of The Big Sleep, private investigator Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) is paid off by his employer and told to back off the case that he’s been following. He simply can’t. When asked why he keeps prolonging his involvement, he sighs, “Too many people told me to stop.” And so he presses on, even as gun-wielding mugs continue to emerge from the shadows, the newest pieces in a neverending web. The audience has an especially rough shake because, in addition to keeping track of an ever-growing cast of characters (including some who are spoken of but never seen), Marlowe keeps his distance. Predicting his next move is impossible. The film’s labyrinthine narrative is indeed one of its joys, but The Big Sleep makes a pretty convincing case that the plot simply doesn’t matter. In fact, there’s a murder that not even director Howard Hawks or Raymond Chandler (the author of the novel on which the film is based) can explain. It’s a film of moments and atmosphere, filled with irresistible one-liners and seductive glimpses of a salacious underworld. Bogart has the expected chemistry with Lauren Bacall, but some of the most enjoyable moments of the picture involve his dalliances with the other women who find themselves equally unable to resist his charms, including the naughty daughter of his employer (Martha Vickers, stealing the film only five minutes in) and the lusty proprietress of a bookstore (a young Dorothy Malone).

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