Film / The Big Sleep

Vivian: You go too far, Marlowe.
Marlowe: Those are harsh words to throw at a man, especially when he's walking out of your bedroom.

The Big Sleep is a 1946 film by Howard Hawks based on the novel of the same name 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).
  • Adaptation Name Change: Terrence "Rusty" Regan is changed to Sean Regan. Also, Vivian Regan is no longer Regan's ex-wife, probably due to censorship, so her name is changed to Vivian Rutledge and the dissolution of her marriage is handwaved.
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication: In the book, Carmen notes how tall Marlowe is and follows up by asking if he's some kind of prize fighter. In the film, she notes how short he is but still asks if he's a prize fighter, so it comes out of nowhere.
  • Age Lift: In the book Marlowe lists his age as 33. In the film he lists it as 38, though Bogart was actually 45 at filming.
  • Affably Evil: Eddie Mars.
  • All There in the Manual: The movie censors out some of the book's details. Reading the book sheds some light on a few of the little mysteries in the film, such as the code book Marlowe finds (it's Geiger's ledger of clients), 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).
  • Artifact Title: Because the film has no narration, there is no Title Drop at the end, so the relevance of the title is never brought up.
  • Auto Erotica: Marlowe and Vivian kiss in his car.
  • Badass Longcoat: Trope Codifier.
  • Batman Gambit:
    • Outside the auto shop, Marlowe fires his gun off to the side from hiding, confident that it will scare away one of the two hoods without requiring him to murder anyone or reveal his location. It works.
    • Marlowe pretends to be in Realito to get Eddie Mars to come to Geiger's house, which is where he's actually been the whole time.
  • 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.
  • Coy, Girlish Flirt Pose: Carmen does this a couple times to get Marlowe's attention.
  • Curse Cut Short:
    Agnes: He gives me a pain in my—
    Brody: That goes for me, too. You got your pictures, get out!
    Marlowe: (to Agnes) Where does he give you a pain?
    Agnes: Right in my—
    Brody: Look, get out!
  • Deadpan Snarker: Marlowe and Vivian are, of course, great at this.
  • Dirty Coward: One of the crooks at the auto shop runs away as soon as Marlowe fires his gun into the ground.
  • Double Entendre: Marlowe and Vivian's flirtation is mostly conveyed through double entendre.
    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. (...)
    Marlowe: You've got a touch of class, but I don't know how how far you can go.
    Vivian: A lot depends on who's in the saddle.
  • Expecting Someone Taller: Several cracks are made at the expense of Marlowe's height. This is inverted in the book, where the same scenes comment on his tall stature.
  • Fille Fatale: Carmen Sternwood.
    Marlowe: She tried to sit in my lap while I was standing up.
  • Gender Flip: The taxi driver is changed to a girl. In the novel, the card he gives Marlowe is never brought up again and serves no story purpose. In the film, it's turned into a flirtatious gesture. When Marlowe asks if she's available day or night, she requests that he call at night, since she works during the day.
  • Gentleman Snarker: Marlowe.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Despite The Hays Code preventing a number of the 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:
    • Marlowe's dalliance with a bookshop owner takes on James Bond film-like overtones (including the obligatory "fade out" to suggest they did more than talk about old books).
    • Marlowe and Vivian share an extended conversation about horse racing that is entirely in sexual metaphors.
  • The Glasses Gotta Go: Before drinking (and possible more) with the book shop clerk, Marlowe requests that she take her glasses off. She complies readily, claiming that she doesn't really need them.
  • 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.
    • Eddie is shot off-screen, and we see only the resulting bulletholes in the door behind him. Then he falls into frame.
  • Hand Wave: General simply says that Vivian's marriage "didn't work out." This is because in the original book she had been married to Regan and this had to be changed.
  • Hardboiled Detective: The character of Philip Marlowe is pretty much the Trope Codifier.
  • Hiding the Handicap: Invoked by her sister rather than Carmen herself, but the principle still stands: in order to avoid social repercussions and upsetting their father, the full extent of Carmen's eccentricities are kept under wraps.
  • High-Heel–Face Turn: Vivian finally decides to take Marlowe's side in the end.
  • Human Shield: Canino uses Vivian as one at one point.
  • 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?
    Villain: As good as you can make 'em.
  • Informed Attractiveness: Carmen repeatedly tells Marlowe that he's cute to flirt with him.
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Poor, poor Harry Jones (and no surprise since it's Elisha Cook, Jr., who almost always plays this type of character). 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 harmless.
  • 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. Even Raymond Chandler lost track of some plot points.
  • Lighter and Softer: The 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, and Carmen's role in the murders is only vaguely implied. As a result the ending was changed and Carmen has 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. Also, Mars is punished for his role in Sean Reagan's murder because the Hays office believed criminals should be punished for their crimes. However, Marlowe does flirt with a lot more women in the film than he does in the novel.
  • A Man Is Not a Virgin: In the books Marlowe was a knight-like man who never slept with any woman whilst on a case (he has two, possibly three, sexual encounters throughout the series). Somehow, even back then, Warner Bros had the idea that a tough-guy like Marlowe wouldn't be believable if women didn't go to bed with him so to spice things up they added in the infamous Librarian scene and to a lesser extent the Cab girl scene.
  • 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".
  • Nerd Glasses: The book store girl wears them, until The Glasses Gotta Go. Also, when Marlowe pretends to be a book snob, he wears a pair of sunglasses that are intended to have the same effect. In The Forties, sunglasses weren't yet considered hip fashion accessories.
  • 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.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure: When Marlowe asks Carmen if she floated into his room through the keyhole like Peter Pan, she asks, "Who's he?"
  • Pretty in Mink: Bacall (Vivian) wears a fur shawl in a few scenes.
  • 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 don't tear off any clothes - in fact, they barely touch each other - and and yet the sexual tension between them crackles more than any pair of Hollywood-lovers on the screens today.