I’m really interested in film noir, but I haven’t actually watched very many of the classics yet. I’m much more familiar with modern noir — Brick, LA Confidential, Chinatown, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, etc.
So Mek and I rented The Big Sleep which, not coincidentally, I also read earlier this year.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a whole to say about this one. I really liked aspects of it — primarily the back and forth between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall — but I also feel like the plot was sometimes a little too muddled, and I didn’t really love what they did with the ending, that is, how they completely changed it. Sometimes, change is good (like I’m a huge Neil Gaiman fan, but — all in all — I much prefer the ending of Stardust the movie to Stardust the book) but sometimes, well, sometimes change is not so good.
A few arbitrary notes:
1. The Big Sleep was a lot of fun to read and has some terrific prose — I’d really like to read more of Raymond Chandler’s work — but it’s also sort of hideously homophobic in multiple passages. Thankfully, none of the novel’s homophobia translates to the film, likely because the movie just went ahead and cut almost a whole subplot. I suspect this had less to do with decency and more to do with the Hays Code trying to pretend gay people don’t exist, but I was still a little relieved that I didn’t have to deal with shit like this:
“I backstepped fast enough to keep from falling, but I took plenty of the punch. It was meant to be a hard one, but a pansy has no iron in his bones, whatever he looks like.”
Of course, there’s often a downside to cutting offensive bullshit from a story: you might be in danger of leaving big plot holes behind, like why a character was killed in the first place. But you know. So it goes.
2. Speaking of that pesky Hays Code, though: years ago, when we were learning about the do and do-nots of early Hollywood, one of my film classes watched a scene from this movie. I call it the Racehorse Scene:
Sadly colorized, this scene also might have a few mild spoilers, so be wary, those of you who haven’t seen it and actually someday care to. More importantly, we watched this one in class to illustrate how characters got around directly discussing sex. Answer: horse metaphors.
This particular scene doesn’t actually take place in the book, as the romantic relationship between Phillip Marlowe (Bogart) and Mrs. Vivien Rutledge (Bacall) is definitely amped up for the film. I don’t really mind this, though — like I said before, I enjoy their back and forth, and I think the two actors have good chemistry. (You’d think that would be a given, for real-life couples, but it doesn’t actually seem to be.) I did, however, roll my eyes immensely when the L word was dropped by both characters.
I have Feelings about that, not just in this movie but in all movies. Love might not be overrated, but it is overused.
3. My problem with the ending is two-fold: one, the actual murderer is a little ambiguous — and not the cool kind of ambiguous, but the stupid ambiguous — and two, Marlowe basically just stands there and tells you what happened, revealing insights that seem to come out of nowhere. Any good mystery, I think, should give the viewers enough clues that their immediate reaction to the Big Reveal is, Oh, of course! or Shit, how did I miss that? But when Marlowe starts saying, “So Mr. X did this to Mr. Y because of ABC reasons,” you’re like, So, you came to that conclusion . . . how, exactly? The whole thing is weirdly anticlimactic.
4. Finally, my favorite scene is this: while Marlowe is sitting at a counter — possibly drinking coffee, I don’t actually remember — the audience basically sees a lightbulb going off over his head. Then a waitress behind him literally turns on a light above his head. Best. Thing. Ever.
Mars: “Is that any of your business?”
Marlowe: “I could make it my business.”
Mars: “I could make your business mine.”
Marlowe: “Oh, you wouldn’t like it. Pay’s too small.”
Sternwood: “How do you like your brandy, sir?”
Marlowe: “In a glass.”
Vivian: “I don’t like your manners.”
Marlowe: “And I’m not crazy about yours. I didn’t ask to see you. I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners. I don’t like them myself. I grieve over them on long winter evenings.”
Vivian: “Why did you have to go on?”
Marlowe: “Too many people told me to stop.”
Norris: “Are you attempting to tell me my duties, sir?”
Marlowe: “No, just having fun trying to guess what they are.”
Taxi Driver: “If you can use me again sometime, call this number.”
Marlowe: “Day or night?”
Taxi Driver: “Night’s better. I work during the day.”
Carmen: “Is he as cute as you are?”
Marlowe: “Nobody is.”
Enjoyable enough and probably better on a second viewing, but I think this movie is a bit more muddled than it ought to be. There are some primary source reasons for this — Raymond Chandler famously didn’t even know who killed off a particular character — but the film’s changes make things more confusing, not less.
Um. Don’t drink the water?