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Sunday, 27 October 2019

The Big Sleep

There's a film channel on Freeview called TCM which shows a random selection of movies. Recently I noticed that they were scheduled to show The Bog Sleep and The Maltese Falcon so set the box to record both.  I was a big fan of film noir back in the 80s and early 90s, watched both these films and others, especially those with Humphrey Bogart in them. I read some of Raymond Chandler's novels. This week there was a night when everyone was out and I settled down to watch The Big Sleep.

Bogart plays a private detective Phillip Marlowe hired by General Sternwood to settle a problem with some gambling debts one of his daughters (Lauren Bacall) has accrued. Carmen (Bacall) wants to stop him. She suspects that what her father really wants is to find Sean Regan, who vanished in mysterious circumstances a month earlier. From there on in the plot thickens to involve a bookseller, some blackmail regarding indecent photos of the younger Sternwood daughter, a very flirtatious scene in the bookshop and implied sex, a casino belonging to Eddie Mars, several visits to a house where the body of the bookseller Joe Geiger is found, a beating for Bogart, some resolution of plot issues, Bogart and Bacall suddenly falling in love and the death of Eddie Mars, shot by his own men when Bogie tricks him into going outside. All good film noir stuff.

The film was made during the war- there are a few wartime moments such as a female taxi driver and poster of FDR- but its release was delayed until 1946 so the studios could rush release all the war films they'd made. It was criticised on release for being difficult to follow and confusing. Marlowe sometimes makes deductions that aren't shared with the audience. The death of chauffeur Owen Taylor is unexplained. It's not especially confusing but there is a lot of back and forth, people going to and from places rapidly. There's little character development, it is all plot. And it does look old- really old. But Bogart and Bacall are superb, the lighting is dramatic, there's a grittiness about it that appeals and script is witty and fresh. Everyone, Bogart especially, smokes constantly.

A couple of pop culture things leapt out. Firstly the line 'now wait a minute, you better talk to my mother', taken by Coldcut, who have been posted here several times this week now, and used in their 1987 remix of Eric B and Rakim's Paid In Full. Paid In Full (Seven Minutes of Madness Mix) was a pioneering example of the art of the remix, a record that gave Eric and Rakim a hit, spliced in vocals from a recent hit from Ofra Haza and introduced the world to the much used 'This is a journey into sound...' sample.

Paid In Full (Seven Minutes Of Madness Mix)

When Marlowe (Bogart) visits Eddie Mars' casino Vivian (Bacall) is singing (backed by The Williams Brothers including Andy). The song is And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine, a jazz song written by Stan Kenton. One of the lines she sings refers to a girl being 'a sad tomato'- the lines go 'she's a sad tomato/she's a busted valentine'.

In 1994 Michael Stipe would use the same line in R.E.M.'s Crush With Eyeliner, a line that has always jumped out at me as being such an odd expression. I've no idea if Stipe got it from The Big Sleep or from a different version of the song but it seems reasonable to assume he watched the film late night on tour in a hotel room. Stipe follows it with 'she's three miles of bad road'.

Finally, as this picture shows, the younger of the two Sternwood girls must have been one of the inspirations for the look Ridley Scott gave Sean Young in Blade Runner (Martha Vickers, second right).

That's your lot from The Big Sleep. Next stop for me is to watch The Maltese Falcon, a film and book that from memory are far more confusing and difficult to follow than The Big Sleep.


The Swede said...

Bob Dylan had a well documented Bogart phase in the 1980s, paraphrasing quotes from his films here and there. From The Big Sleep, Bacall's 'Nothing you can't fix' retort to Bogie's 'What's wrong with you?' reappeared as the couplet '...at one time there was nothing wrong with me, that you could not fix...' in 'Seeing the Real You at Last' on 1985's 'Empire Burlesque'.

Tom W said...

I believe the unexplained death of the chauffeur is direct from Chandler's book. When he was asked about it at a party Chandler, who drank and wrote, said: "Him? Ah, I forgot about him," and there the matter rested.

FurryBootsCityBoy said...

Dorothy Malone is the gorgeous book store assistant who gives the lie to the Dorothy Parker maxim: “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.”!


Michael Doherty said...

Have you seen the successful 70's update with Elliot Gould, The Long Goodbye, directed by Robert Altman. He's like a stoner Marlowe. I think I'll track that down and watch it myself tonight.

Michael Doherty said...

Superb, not successful.

Michael Doherty said...

Also interesting is that Leigh Brackett who wrote the 1946 screenplay for The Big Sleep also wrote the screenplay for Altman's film. Her last ever screenplay was for Empire Strikes Back written with Lawrence Kasdan.

Swiss Adam said...

Don't think I've seen the Long Goodbye but its reminded me of the 1978 Big Sleep with Robert Mitchum which I might look out for.

Michael Doherty said...

I really couldn't recommend The Long Goodbye enough, Adam. The action has been transplanted to the early 70's LA but Gould's Marlowe is very much still the early 50's gumshoe (as the book was). Early appearance from Schwarzenegger too. I've just stuck it on here with a beer. Thanks for putting Marlowe into my head.

FurryBootsCityBoy said...

I bought the DVD of Robert Altman's "The Long Goodbye" - very underrated film, but very different from the book.

londonlee said...

The Big Sleep is still a cracker of a movie