Ryan Chartrand

“The type of man she hated…was exactly the type she wanted.”

This is the genius tagline from the 1946 film noir classic “The Big Sleep,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

The film’s opening scene, along with credits, begins with two silhouettes, those of Philip Marlowe (Bogart) and Vivian Rutledge (Bacall), lighting up cigarettes and smoking, as they stand in a near embrace.

Private Investigator Philip Marlowe arrives at the Sternwood mansion, at the request of ailing Gen. Sternwood, to assist with a blackmail scheme on his youngest daughter, Carmen, among other items on the general’s agenda.

It is a film about death, and this is one flick overflowing with it, although some of the murders are never actually seen. This is exactly the case with the murders of Sean Regan, A.G. Geiger and Owen Taylor.

A series of four other murders occur as the film progresses, leading Marlowe (very) slowly but surely, on a roller coaster ride of suspense and intrigue, to the answers.

Although the film is punctuated throughout with slight reveals that expose an illicit underworld of blackmail, pornography, gambling and murder, “Sleep” is a never-quite-found-out whodunit whose initial killer isn’t revealed until nearly the end.

One of the highlights of this film is the constant back-and-forth, sometimes comedic, sometimes sexual innuendo-filled dialogue that occurs between Marlowe and Vivian. It keeps the picture alive in places that otherwise would seem a bit cumbersome.

The scene where they meet in the restaurant and engage in a lively discussion on “horse racing” is racy, saucy and sexy. The same goes for the scene in which Vivian comes to Marlowe’s office with the blackmail picture. The witty banter, that ensues as they trade quips on the phone with the police sergeant, produces golden magic up on the silver screen.

“Sleep” also features some memorable characters that bring the picture to life. Carmen Sternwood (played by Martha Vickers) is the pouty, spoiled younger sister of Vivian. Vickers plays Carmen to a tee, as she flirts with Marlowe from the beginning, trying to get what she wants from him – and any other man that walks through her life.

Eddie Mars (played by John Ridgely) is the casino owning, black-tie wearing thug that hires others to handle the rougher end of business. Mars always likes to be seen in the front of the house, never behind the scenes. He has men like Canino for such purposes. Canino (played brilliantly by Bob Steele) is the classic era-based, business handling gangster figure that men like Mars employ to handle their dirty work. Canino’s role is so realistic, Canino and Steele could be indistinguishably interchangeable. Harry Jones (played by Elisha Cook Jr.) is one of the few completely honest people in the whole film.

Jones tries to help Marlowe but pays for it – with his life. Canino poisons Jones before Marlowe can get to him and discover the information Jones promised him. Although Jones’ role is brief, one cannot help feeling some form of sympathy following his disturbing death.

The film was based on the 1939 novel by author Raymond Chandler, who garnered many novel and screenplay credits, and died while writing a Philip Marlowe novel in 1959.

Produced and directed by Howard Hawks, the film’s screenplay was written by William Faulkner, Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett, and a brilliant dramatic score by composer Max Steiner. “The Big Sleep” was distributed by Warner Bros. Studios and premiered in August of 1946 in Los Angeles.

The film never won an Academy Award during its era of release, nor was it even nominated for that matter. However, “The Big Sleep” received the 1997 National Film Registry Award from the National Film Preservation Board.

As the film comes to its dramatic ending, with Marlowe manipulating Mars’ own men into killing him, Marlowe is able to pin Regan’s murder on Mars, thereby protecting Vivian’s sister Carmen and the Sternwood family name.

In that witty, just-this-side-of- naughty banter that plays between Bogart’s and Bacall’s characters, Vivian tells Marlowe: “You’ve forgotten one thing.” Marlowe looks at her with a questioning glance as she adds: “Me.”

As Marlowe pulls Vivian to him, he asks her, “What’s wrong with you?”

Vivian looks at him with that steamy, sultry glance made for lovers and says, “Nothing you can’t fix.”

The film comes full circle here, as the camera catches two hands placing half-smoked cigarettes into the same crystal ashtray, suggesting that something heated has just taken place between Marlowe and Vivian. Something both have waited patiently for throughout the entire sordid affair.

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