Classic Film | Issue 6
The Big Sleep (1946)
Private dicks, classy dames, grifting, shooting, and a whole lot of fedora hats, Howard Hawk’s The Big Sleep is a smooth cocktail of intrigue, romance and suspense. Far removed from the Red Bull attitude of modern cinema, this classy cocktail should be savored and enjoyed; ideally with a nice dame on your arm.
Set in urban Los Angeles in the late 1930s, The Big Sleep focuses on Phillip Marlowe, private detective. After being hired by a wealthy magnate to investigate the blackmail of his daughter, Marlowe finds himself drawn deep into a web of deception, extortion, and buried secrets, as he becomes further and further entangled in the seedy underground of LA. Humphrey Bogart fills the shoes of Marlowe perfectly, with his laconic and cheeky style, while Lauren Bacall, the love interest of the film, acts as a delightful contrast with her air of charisma and grace.
The dialogue in the film is sharp, witty and beautifully scripted. Bogart and Bacall both perform their roles brilliantly, and Bogart’s sarcastic yet charming Marlowe clashes beautifully with Bacall’s gracefully icy Carmen. The cinematography is splendidly classic in nature, and the black and white shots of urban LA contribute well to the film’s gritty feel.
Though by no means a James Cameron blockbuster, the film has a great sense of pace and urgency as Marlowe closes in on the answers he seeks. Unfortunately, this pace is occasionally interrupted by the gaudy and suspenseful music that characterised movies of the era.
I thoroughly enjoyed the film, but it is very unlike the plotless action-filled orgies of modern cinema. The characters are developed and brilliantly acted; the script is not only well written, but genuinely funny; and the fast paced, engaging plot builds up to a climax on par with that of Layer Cake or Lock Stock … plus, there are heaps of Fedora hats.
– Matt Chapman