The Big Sleep (film)

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
The Big Sleep.jpg

Vivian: You go too far, Marlowe.
Marlowe: Those are harsh words to throw at a man, especially when he's walking out of your bedroom.


The Big Sleep is a 1946 film by Howard Hawks based on a novel by Raymond Chandler. Both the original novel and the movie are considered classics, and the latter is a quintessential example of the Film Noir genre.

The convoluted plot follows the investigation by Hardboiled Detective Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) into the gambling debts of young dilettante Carmen Sternwood at the behest of her father, an old, wheelchair-bound millionaire. However, Carmen's older sister, Vivian Rutledge (Lauren Bacall), claims that the investigation is really about finding what happened to her friend Sean Regan, who has mysteriously disappeared.

As film critic Roger Ebert writes, "It is typical of this most puzzling of films that no one agrees even on why it is so puzzling. Yet that has never affected The Big Sleep's enduring popularity, because the movie is about the process of a criminal investigation, not its results."

Tropes used in The Big Sleep include:

Vivian: Speaking of horses, I like to play them myself. But I like to see them work out a little first, see if they're front runners or come from behind, find out what their whole card is, what makes them run. (...) I'd say you don't like to be rated. You like to get out in front, open up a little lead, take a little breather in the backstretch, and then come home free. (...)
Marlowe: You've got a touch of class, but I don't know how how far you can go.
Vivian: A lot depends on who's in the saddle.

  • Expecting Someone Taller: It's true, Bogey was not a particularly tall man (he was 5′8″; in the book Marlowe was about six foot even). Lampshaded a few times.
  • Fille Fatale: Carmen Sternwood.

Marlowe: She tried to sit in my lap while I was standing up.

  • Gentleman Snarker: Marlowe.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Despite the production code preventing a number of the more racier elements of the original script from being filmed, the director managed to get a surprising amount of sexuality onto the screen for 1945/46:
    • Carmen's ultra-short shorts in her first scene, which by 1945 standards was the equivalent of someone in 2011 appearing in a scene wearing a thong bikini.
    • Marlowe's dalliance with a bookshop owner takes on Bond film-like overtones (including the obligatory "fade out" to suggest they did more than talk about old books).
    • When Vivian visits Marlowe's office for the first time, she tries not to scratch an itch on her thigh. Marlowe tells her to scratch it and we get a brief above-the-knee flash which, by 1945 standards, was almost the equivalent of Bacall mooning the camera.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: When Geiger is killed, we only hear gunshots and a woman (Carmen) screaming from inside the house. When Marlowe shows up, he's in a pool of blood on the floor.
  • Hardboiled Detective: The character of Philip Marlowe is pretty much the Trope Codifier.
  • Hays Code: Resulted in some of the steamier elements of the novel being toned down for the film. In particular most references to sex, homosexuality, and nudity were removed (but see that conversation about "horse-racing") and Carmen's role in the murders is only vaguely implied. As a result the ending was changed and Carmen had ultimately a smaller role. The censors wouldn't let Carmen be the killer because that would've made Vivian, the love-interest, an accessory, which was a no-no.
  • High Heel Face Turn: Vivian finally decides to take Marlowe's side in the end.
  • I Know You Know I Know: When Marlowe confronts Eddie Mars at his gambling den.
  • Indy Ploy: Marlowe pretending to have a flat tire in order to gain entry to the auto shop. Notable for failing utterly.

Marlowe: Can you fix a flat?
Villain: As good as you can make 'em.


Marlowe: Well, I have to go - I'm late for my lecture on Argentine Serrah-Micks.
Clerk: The word is 'ceramics' - and they ain't Argentine, they're Egyptian.
Marlowe: Oh, you did read a book once.

  • Never Suicide: Police are initially inclined to treat one of the deaths as a suicide, but a couple of details don't add up. In the 1946 film, it's left open. Neither the director nor the writers could figure out what Chandler had intended, so they asked Chandler -- who later told a friend in a letter: "They sent me a wire... asking me, and dammit I didn't know either".
  • Nice Hat: Bogey wears a fedora for most of the film.
  • One-Scene Wonder: The bookstore clerk. Also, the general appears in only one scene at the beginning of the film despite being an important background character for most of it.
  • Pretty in Mink: Bacall (Vivian) wears a fur shawl in a few scenes.
  • Self-Disposing Villain: Eddie Mars ends up shot by his own men.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Vivian (cold and calculating, rational) versus Carmen (flighty, childish, ingenuous).
  • Slap Slap Kiss: Bogey and Bacall get to do a little of it. See Belligerent Sexual Tension.
  • Smoking Is Cool: And never as cool as when Humphrey Bogart lights up.
  • UST: Marlowe and Vivian. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall barely touch each other, and don't tear off any clothes, and yet the sexual tension between them crackles more than any pair of Hollywood-lovers on the screens today.