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The Big Sleep

The Big Sleep

By Patrick Samuel • October 15th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Warner Bros.

Original release: August 23rd, 1946
Running time: 114 minutes

Director: Howard Hawks
Writers: William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman, Raymond Chandler (novel)

Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall

When we think of film noir our minds cast back to those black and white classics, of half lit rooms and hushed voices, dangerous alleyways and criminal encounters, of a detective and an irresistible femme fatale. We immediately think of Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and The Big Sleep. Based on the novel by Raymond Chandler, it stars Hollywood’s original golden couple in the second of their four films together.

Bogie plays Philip Marlowe, a private detective hired by General Sternwood (Charles Waldron) to deal with the gambling debt his daughter Carmen (Martha Vickers) owes to bookseller Arthur Geiger (Theodore von Eltz). On his way out of Sternwood’s mansion, Marlowe is summoned by the general’s eldest daughter, Vivian Rutledge (Lauren Bacall). She suspects Marlowe’s been hired help find her father’s right-hand man, Sean Regan, who was having an affair with a casino owner’s wife and has now mysteriously disappeared.

The Big Sleep

As Marlowe begins looking into the Geiger case, he’s drawn into a sordid murder mystery involving blackmailers, gamblers, pornographers and killers, and with two tempting ladies caught right smack in the middle of it. What’s a guy like Bogie to do?

Although not a genre in itself, film noir relates more to the mood, style, point-of-view, or tone of a film. It’s a term used to describe certain kinds of films which came out of Hollywood in the decade following World War 2, typically identified between 1941 and 1958; their bleakness, loss of innocence, despair and paranoia mirrored post-war anxieties, pessimism and suspicion and in many ways counter-balanced the optimism in screwball comedies and musicals which the studios continued to produce during this time.

The Big Sleep falls into the category of film noir perfectly; it’s got the morally ambiguous hard-boiled detective hired to solve a case, the young temptresses who symbolise the loss of innocence and an escalating feeling of tension topped off with the chemistry between the film’s protagonist and the leading lady.

The Big Sleep

“The hard-boiled detective is even more isolated, even more Cartesian: he lives entirely alone and has no friends. And this makes his already asocial nature all the worse. The hard-boiled detective is isolated and angry, hopeless and amoral – he’s a dark character in an even darker labyrinth. He’s unrefined and in many way perhaps un-likable. But, then, why should he care? As Marlowe (Bogart) puts it: “I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners. I don’t like them myself, they’re pretty bad. I grieve over them long winter evenings.” ¹

It’s not just his manners and way of life which makes him a classic film noir character, it’s also the way he moves and the way he dresses.

“The hard-boiled detective is excessively detached – he moves in the shadows and at night, ducking into corners and alleyways. Always he stays “covered”, always cloaked in his massive trenchcoat with the collar up to hide his throat. Nothing’s getting in there – and not a lot comes out. Hardly the conversationalist, he’s a man of few words – although when he does speak, he’s witty and waxes the deadpan innuendo about the evils of the human soul, as it its everyday (nothing really for inquiry). He wears a fedora with the lid down, just barely revealing his strained brow and penetrating detective eyes. Physically, he’s expressionless, and pretty stiff. He’s strong, but not very large, and certainly not very tall, although as Marlowe puts it in The Big Sleep (in his typical wisecracking manner): “Well, I try to be”. ¹

The Big Sleep

Having already been paired up for To Have And Have Not (1944), where Bogie and Bacall sizzled onscreen and off, Hawks was determined to repeat the same success here. Portions of the film were re-shot to capitalise on the affair (which lead to the couple’s marriage shortly after the film was completed) and new scenes were added, such as this one contain the risqué dialogue about racehorses, spoken by Bacall:

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… I’d say you don’t like to be rated. You like to get out in front, open up a lead, take a little breather in the back stretch, and then come home free….

MARLOWE: You’ve got a touch of class, but I don’t know how far you can go.

VIVIAN : A lot depends on who’s in the saddle.

Although the plot is rather confusing and the killer’s identity is never openly revealed, The Big Sleep is not really about solving the case, but rather investigating it, and in doing so we see something develop between these two tantalising characters – lust.


  • Conard, M. T., Porfirio, R. (2007) The Philosophy of Film Noir, University Press of Kentucky ¹

While other actors, such as Robert Mitchum and Alan Ladd, played roles of hard-boiled detectives in later film noir classics such as Out Of The Past (1947) and The Blue Dahila (1946), it’s Bogie who epitomises the character making The Big Sleep the classic film we always remember when we think about film noir.

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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