Sunday, 17 August 2014

The Big Sleep (4½ Stars)

This was Lauren Bacall's third film, and her second film with Humphrey Bogart, to whom she was now married. After only three films she was already typecast as a seductive bad girl. I don't say that to criticise her. She did it so well.

The film is based on a 1939 novel with the same name by Raymond Chandler. The film contains most of the characteristics of film noir, such as the cynical private detective working in a big city and the femme fatale. The book's plot is complex, and the film makes no attempt to simplify it.

A retired general hires private detective Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) to investigate gambling debts that his younger daughter Carmen (Martha Vickers) has had to pay to a bookshop owner, Arthur Geiger. Usually the general's personal aide, Sean Regan, would have carried out the investigations, but he disappeared a month earlier. By coincidence Sean used to be one of Philip's friends. Philip speaks with the general's older daughter Vivian (Lauren Bacall), who at first assumes Philip has been hired to search for Sean, but then becomes very curious when she finds out that he's doing something else.

Philip visits Arthur Geiger's house, but finds him dead. Only Carmen is in the room with the body. Carmen claims that Arthur was killed by Joe Brody, a gambler who had previously blackmailed her father. Joe now wants to blackmail Carmen, saying he will blame her for the murder. In the same evening the general's driver, Owen Taylor, is found dead. Philip goes to Joe's house, where he finds Joe with Vivian and Arthur's assistant Agnes. Carmen arrives and tries to shoot Joe, but Philip stops her. Then Joe is shot by Carol Lundgren, the general's former driver.

Philip meets Eddie Mars, the owner of an illegal casino and also Arthur's landlord. Eddie complains that Sean has run away with his wife. Carmen tells Philip that Vivian has been having an affair with Eddie. Philip confronts a man who has been tailing him. The man turns out to be Harry Jones, Agnes' lover. He says that Agnes is the only one who knows where Eddie's wife is hiding. Before the information can be revealed, Harry is killed by one of Eddie's men.

And so it continues. I hope I got all that right. The story confuses me as well. Philip's investigation begins with the gambling debts, but as the film continues it's no longer about the debts. Philip develops an obsession to find out what secrets are being hidden that drive the people to kill one another. All he can be certain of is that Vivian is in the middle of everything.

The film takes place in a very stylish world of trickery and deception. It's an unreal world. What I mean is that all woman we see, whether they are shop assistants or taxi drivers, are stunningly beautiful. And they all flirt with Philip, distracting him from his investigations. But whatever else happens, Philip's main interest is in Vivian. She's the most beautiful and the most dangerous of all the women around him. Whenever they talk it's like they're sparring with one another. He's trying to get information from her, while she is trying to cross-examine him. Vivian's laces her conversations with sexual innuendo in an attempt to wear Philip down.

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