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Film / The Big Sleep

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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 Noir by Howard Hawks, based on the 1939 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 millionaire. 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."

A remake in 1978 was made, starring Robert Mitchum that was much closer to the novel but less critically well-received.

The 1946 film contains examples of:

  • Absurdly High-Stakes Game: Vivian bets $14,000note  on a single roulette spin and wins (it's rigged, of course).
  • Actor Allusion:
    • Marlowe drives a 1938 Plymouth Deluxe - the same car Humphrey Bogart drove in High Sierra.
    • Marlowe tells Carmen the next time he'll come with a tennis racket. This a reference to the legend that a young struggling Humphrey Bogart said on stage "tennis anyone?"
  • Adaptational Karma: In the book, Eddie Mars gets away with everything he does. For the film, the production code wouldn't allow that, so he comes to a sticky end.
  • Adaptational Modesty:
    • The book has Phillip Marlowe interrupting a porn shoot and finding a naked girl. Obviously this wouldn't fly on film in the 1940s, so the movie gets as daring as it could by putting her in a nightgown.
    • Similarly, the scene where Carmen shows up uninvited in Marlowe's bedroom features more clothing than in the novel.
  • 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.
    • General Sternwood 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.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Eddie Mars is revealed to have been responsible for Rusty Regan's murder and planning on murdering Phillip Marlowe. Though, see Ambiguous Situation.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • Ambiguous Situation:
    • Who killed the Sternwood's chauffeur, Owen Taylor? Brody? Eddie Mars? Suicide? An accident due to his suffering a concussion? Raymond Chandler admitted he had no idea.
    • A good argument by many film goers is that Phillip Marlowe actually gets Eddie Mars killed so Carmen can get off the hook for Regan's murder along with Mrs. Rutledge.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Beautiful All Along: Marlowe "transforms" the lady bookseller by removing her glasses.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Marlowe and Vivian.
  • Betty and Veronica: Vivian is the Betty, and Carmen is the Veronica to Philip Marlowe's Archie.
  • Big Sister Instinct: Vivian spends most of her time protecting Carmen from her own mistakes.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Mona Mars is the blonde, Agnes is the brunette and Vivian and Carmen are the redheads.
  • Chandler's Law: One of the Trope Makers. Marlowe confiscates so many guns that he lampshades it.
  • Character Tics: Philip Marlowe rubs his earlobe when his concentrating. Carmen also bites her thumb, which irritates Marlowe.
  • Clark Kenting: Posing as a book collector, Marlowe dons a pair of geeky glasses, turns his hat brim up and adopts an eccentric attitude. Later, the clerk doesn't recognize him until he puts his "disguise" on again.
  • 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!
  • 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.
  • Femme Fatale: Vivian is set up to be the typical Femme Fatale, such as being involved in several shady deals, gambling, and admitting to help cover up a murder all while trying to manipulate detective Marlowe into doing what she wants. The film changes up the game by making her turn heroic halfway through the picture instead.
  • Fille Fatale: Carmen Sternwood.
    Marlowe: She tried to sit in my lap while I was standing up.
  • Fur and Loathing: Agnes is wearing a fur wrap right after Jones got killed trying to help her. Marlowe gives her a "Reason You Suck" Speech too.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Carmen is very rebellious and rowdy when it comes to partying, though we never actually see her like this in action.
  • 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.
  • Hot Librarian: The rare-books shop girl who whips off her glasses, lets her hair down and closes up the shop suggestively (with Marlowe still in it) at the end of her scene.
  • 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.
  • Idea Bulb: Marlowe is sitting on a couch with a lamp behind him, and someone turns it on just after making an off-hand comment that brings half the plot into focus (for Marlowe, anyway, if not the viewer).
  • Ignore the Fanservice:
    • Carmen turns up in Marlowe's bed, but he gets her dressed and drags her home. She's homicidally angry with him for turning her down.
      Marlowe: She tried to sit in my lap while I was still standing up.
    • Vivian puts the moves on Marlowe too, but less blatantly. She also gets upset when turned down, but she's not as histrionic as her sister.
  • 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.
  • Knight in Sour Armour:
  • 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.
  • Letting Her Hair Down: The bookseller woman has her hair all tied up. After the detective chats to her a while, she closes the shop, lets down her hair, takes off her glasses, and ...apparently, helps him pass the time until the person he's seeking turns up across the street.
  • Light Feminine and Dark Feminine: Vivian usually switches to contrast with whatever woman she's sharing the scene with. For example, she's the Light to contrast with Agnes's dark and later the Dark to contrast with Mona's Light.
  • 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.
  • 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 '40s, sunglasses weren't yet considered hip fashion accessories.
  • Nerds Are Sexy: Marlowe spends an afternoon in an antiquarian bookshop with the clerk (Dorothy Malone). An unexpected rainstorm, a bottle of rye, and the line "I'd rather get wet in here", transforms Malone from book-worm to babe, who closes the shop an hour early (and the film fades to black).
  • 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".
  • 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: Vivian wears a fur shawl in a few scenes, and her Heel–Face Turn occurs while she's wearing a magnificent fur coat.
  • Private Detective: Philip Marlowe is one of the best examples in fiction.
  • Promoted to Love Interest: Vivian — in the book, she and Marlowe have Belligerent Sexual Tension but it doesn't go anywhere (in the book, she's still married, in the eye of the law if not in practice). Marlowe's flirtations with the book seller and the taxi driver are also original to the movie (the taxi driver isn't even female in the book).
  • Ready for Lovemaking: Marlowe comes back to his apartment to find Carmen Sternwood waiting for him — though because of the Production Code she's still dressed.
  • Self-Disposing Villain: Eddie Mars ends up shot by his own men.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: The lady bookseller draws the blinds down over the shop door.
  • 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.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: Bogart and Bacall, armed with William Faulkner's writing? Arguably one of the greatest examples in all of cinema:
    Vivian: So you're a private detective? I didn't know they existed, except in books, or else they were greasy little men snooping around hotel corridors. My, you're a mess, aren't you?
    Philip Marlowe: I'm not very tall either. Next time I'll come on stilts, wear a white tie and carry a tennis racket.
    Vivian: I doubt if even that would help.
  • Thinking Tic: Philip Marlowe tugs on his earlobe when he's concentrating.
  • 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.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: It's never explained who killed the chauffeur. During filming, Howard Hawks and screenwriters William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman sent a cable to Raymond Chandler, who later told a friend in a letter: "They sent me a wire... asking me, and dammit I didn't know either."

The 1978 film contains examples of:

  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole:
    • 1978 was not a time when pornography had to be sold in back rooms with brown paper sacks. It could be openly purchased in magazine racks.
    • Similarly, nude modeling was not something that would cause devastating social ill even for a woman of high class. At least not to the level of Blackmail.
  • Age Lift: Robert Mitchum was sixty years old when he filmed The Big Sleep and most of the other characters are significantly older.
  • Foreign Remake: The 1978 film is set in Britain with an American Phillip Marlowe having moved to the country as well as General Sternwood having done the same.
  • Hotter and Sexier: Contains actual nudity, unlike the 1948 film.
  • Setting Update: The story is moved to Britain in The '70s, which introduces a number of Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole elements.
  • Truer to the Text: Despite the Setting Update, the movie eschews closer to the book, including ditching the romances introduced as well as being Hotter and Sexier.