Combustible Celluloid
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With: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Ridgely, Martha Vickers, Dorothy Malone, Peggy Knudsen, Regis Toomey, Charles Waldron, Charles D. Brown, Bob Steele, Elisha Cook Jr., Louis Jean Heydt
Written by: William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman, based on a novel by Raymond Chandler
Directed by: Howard Hawks
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 114
Date: 23/08/1946

The Big Sleep (1946)

4 Stars (out of 4)

I'd Like More

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

If anyone ever tries to make the argument that plot is more important than anything else in cinema, this is a great movie to throw in their face. The Big Sleep is of course based on a great 1939 Raymond Chandler novel, and no less a writer than William Faulkner worked on the screenplay, in addition to screenwriters extraordinaire Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman. But not even those heavyweights could work out all the plot details. Not to mention that the studio pressured director Howard Hawks into adding new scenes that would emphasize the relationship between gumshoe Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) and Vivian Sternwood Rutledge (Lauren Bacall), based on the heat those stars had generated in their previous film, To Have and Have Not. What we end up with is a confusing mess, but nonetheless, every scene crackles with life, and each scene follows the next in a kind of organic sense, even if it's not always entirely logical. It starts when General Sternwood (Charles Waldron) hires Marlowe to deal with a blackmailer; the General has two troublesome daughters, Vivian and the younger, flirtier Carmen (Martha Vickers). From there, there are lots of dead bodies, chases, shootouts, double-crosses and other stuff that even veteran fans of the movie can never totally summarize. Nobody remembers the plot anyway; we remember the lines of dialogue, the energy that Bogey and Bacall share, and the weird little scenes like Bogey's put-on in a bookshop -- followed by one of those great, "do you really need to wear those glasses?" makeover moments. (Future Oscar winner Dorothy Malone is the girl with the glasses.) More than anything, it's Hawks's mastery, skill and personality that holds it all together. (To prove it, a remake, starring Robert Mitchum and Jimmy Stewart, opened in 1978 to almost universal scorn.) In 1997, the "pre-release" version of Hawks' film was shown in theaters, without some of Bacall's smokier scenes, but two minutes longer and with other very interesting touches. Both versions are available on Warner's 2000 DVD.

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