Humphrey Bogart stars as private eye Marlowe, hired by General Sternwood to sort out the mess of his daughter Carmen’s life. Marlowe soon unravels a deadly web of deceit and corruption, which makes for a racy mystery as the body count mounts. A complex thriller, seductively quick-witted and a teasing commentary on genre conventions, The Big Sleep is one of the most richly entertaining films noirs ever made.
Chosen for My Noir by
Declan Clarke, artist and curator:
“Howard Hawks’ adaptation of The Big Sleep seems, in hindsight, to have been the perfect forging of a ready-made classic. One of the greatest Hollywood directors and the most iconic Hollywood screen couple (Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall), in a film of a novel by an author now regarded as having invented modern crime fiction (Raymond Chandler), scripted by a Nobel Prize-winning author (William Faulkner) and two of Hollywood’s most lauded screenwriters (Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman). What could possibly go wrong?
Well, as it transpires, nothing. But plenty could have. A troubled shoot was compounded by an early test screening being a flop with audiences. Some reshoots later, the film is an almost perfect example of North American Noir. Light-hearted despite the dark subject matter, Marlowe (Bogart) and Mrs. Rutledge (Bacall) burn all in their path as they exchange deadly one-liners and almost lecherous ‘knowing glances’. The film has a reputation for having an overly-complicated plot but, in actual fact, it’s a daring and radical piece of filmmaking by Hawks. Why explain everything? And, why let the nuances of a layered plot supersede eye-watering chemistry on screen? With the pallid and anaemic plotting that passes for drama in contemporary Hollywood cinema, The Big Sleep is a film to be savored.”