Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Big Sleep (1946)

If you've noticed a pattern from any of my entries, it should probably be that I end to focus more on the female stars of the past as opposed to male. I'm not entirely sure why, but it led to my massive disappointment in the film Key Largo, which can read about in a past entry, when Lauren Bacall was simply placed in the role of "Decent War Widow" who didn't do much else but look frightened. Well, in The Big Sleep, she used to her best as a fast-talking, mysterious, and intelligent woman who may or may not be a killer.

Humprey Bogart is Phillip Marlowe, a Las Angeles private eye whose new client, General Sternwood (Charles Waldron) asks him to resolve some gambling debts of his impulsive, flighty daughter Carmen (Martha Vickers). Upon leaving, he is approached by Sternwood's recently divorced older daughter Vivian (Lauren Bacall) who suggests that there may be more to the case than some simple gambling debts. And as expected, Marlowe is submerged in a world of murder, lies, and crime, where the woman he's falling for may be the woman he's after.

The plot itself is a bit convoluted, in fact, there's one murder than never is solved, which apparently the author of the book on which the film is based was unaware of. But the plot is really only a vehicle for Bogart and Bacall to engage in the fast-paced, witty banter for which the film noir is famous. And both leads are fantastic, with Bogart nailing the persona he could play sowell, that if a morally ambiguous tough guy and Bacall adding wit, intelligent, and mystery to a quintessential femme fatale.

Much as been made of the Bogart/Bacall combination that started with To Have and Have Not, resulted in their marriage and lasted until Bogart's death, and resulted in 4 movies. I've only seen 2, but this film probably exemplifies what made the pairing so electric better than Key Largo. Bacall was essentially the perfect match for Bogart, able to be as cunning as he was, as witty as he was, plus she had beauty and an ability to keep Marlowe and the audience guessing as to what she was thinking.

The film has become a classic, and for good reason, the script is insanely clever, with some of the best dialogue put on film being spoken by some of the best actors put in film. The plot is incredibly complex, which will keep people guessing as to which person is really who they say there are and if they really did what they say they did. A true classic of the genre.

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