The Big Sleep 1946 Classic Noir Film Review

Humphrey Bogart & Lauren Bacall in Noir Mystery

Quite often referred to as the quintessential film-noir, The Big Sleep stars Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in a gripping, feisty murder mystery.

PI Phillip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) is called in to investigate the bribery and blackmail of a young rich girl, Carmen Starkwood (Vickers) – and the actions of both her and her sister Vivian (Lauren Bacall) lead Marlowe’s investigative mind to discover a far bigger and more complex series of manipulations beneath the surface.

Bogart Leads Fantastic Cast

Humphrey Bogart really was (and is) unlike any other actor – with the hangdog face and sarcastic, suggestive characters he chooses, the actor cemented his place in history. Whilst Casablanca seems to be the film for which he’s known best, his performance as Marlowe has shaped the detective and noir genres since – an outstanding yet understated performance from a great actor. John Ridgely plays Edward Mars, the antagonist of the piece, and plays against Bogart with a sense of malevolence and comedy – he’s a suave character whose intentions are never truly clear.

Lauren Bacall, despite her obvious and quite disarming attractiveness, produces a femme fatale in Vivien who is both suggestive and mysterious – and her scenes with Bogart sizzle with sexual tension. It’s clear to see how she went on to greater fame from here. Martha Vickers almost manages to upstage Bacall here in her role as Vivian’s sister Carmen – all coy expressions and suggestive approaches to Marlowe, she remains in the mind more so than any other character, so bizarre and so memorable is her performance as the spoilt little rich girl with skeletons in her closet.

Sumptuous Movie Coaxed from Chandler’s Novel

Howard Hawks directs each scene with a sense of fluidity – the movie flows from point to point, not stopping to wait for those who can’t keep up. The legendary director coaxes interesting and diverse performances from his cast whilst maintaining the style and intent of the novel’s dialogue and characters. The issues with the plot do cast a shadow, however – the film isn’t that simple to follow, and you really need to listen out for names – and concentration is a big issue for many film-watchers, so be warned. Chandler’s zippy, street-smart dialogue makes the movie the success it is – every line Bogart’s Marlowe speaks has some form of barb behind it, whether it be sexually suggestive or simply an attack. The women’s lines are entendres to the last; Bacall and Bogart’s scene in the cafe is perhaps the best example of the exemplary dialogue provided by Chandler.

Fantastic Example of Classic Hollywood

At turns twisting, manipulative and sexy, this 1940s noir is devilishly entertaining but does require some degree of attention to be paid for the most satisfying experience. Other than the complex plot, the movie is a true classic and deserves the attention it receives.

Bogie and Bacall

When it comes to the greatest love affairs in Hollywood history, the smoldering pairing of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall has to be near the top of the list. Though Bogart was twenty-six years older than Bacall (whom he nicknamed “Baby”), their relationship lasted a passionate and loving thirteen years, until Bogart died of esophageal cancer in 1957. Despite this, Bogie and Bacall co-starred in four films in a relatively short period of time, and according to most accounts, Bogart’s mentorship on these films helped the inexperienced Bacall blossom as an actress.

Remembering Lauren Bacall

It’s been a difficult week for film fans. First, we lost the immensely talented Robin Williams. And yesterday, we learned that the iconic, lovely Lauren Bacall has passed away at the age of 89.

She was a model who parlayed arresting good looks and no short amount of talent into a storied career that lasted for more than seven decades. She was a two-time Tony Award winner and an Oscar nominee (and was awarded an Honorary Academy Award for her fantastic body of work in 2009). She was a writer, producing two well-received autobiographies chronicling her interesting (to say the least) life. She was a mother, a political activist, even a voice-over artist (Ernest and Celestine, Family Guy). She was, in short, an absolute wonder of a woman.

lauren bacall

Still, for all her accomplishments, Bacall has always been almost inextricably linked with the memory of her first husband, Humphrey Bogart. She famously made her debut opposite the much-older actor in 1944’s To Have and Have Not. Including that first pairing, the couple ultimately made four films together, with The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947), and Key Largo (1948) rounding out their shared filmography.

The fascination with the Bogie-Bacall pairing is not all that hard to understand, in retrospect: both of them were skillful performers, both beautiful people with a magnetic appeal for audiences, and their real-life attraction virtually crackled onscreen. The romance between the two has garnered a legendary status over the years; indeed, by most accounts, it was a truly great love story. And Lord knows, there’s nothing we as human beings love more than a good damn love story.
In the wake of Bacall’s passing, an old love letter that Bogart sent to Bacall has been making the rounds online:

“Slim darling, you came along and into my arms and into my heart and all the real true love I have is yours – and now I’m afraid you won’t understand and that you’ll become impatient and that I’ll lose you – but even if that happened, I wouldn’t stop loving you for you are my last love and all the rest of my life I shall love you and watch you and be ready to help you should you ever need help.

All the nice things I do each day would be so much sweeter and so much gayer if you were with me. I find myself saying a hundred times a day, ‘If Slim could only see that’ or ‘I wish Slim could hear this.’ I want to make a new life with you – I want all the friends I’ve lost to meet you and know you and love you as I do – and live again with you, for the past years have been terribly tough, damn near drove me crazy. You’ll soon be here, Baby, and when you come you’ll bring everything that’s important to me in this world with you.”

She’s finally gone to join her Bogie, and left our world that much dimmer for her absence.

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