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.

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