Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Big Sleep

I've come to the realization that Humphrey Bogart is my favorite actor. I know that sounds like an incredible blanket statement. I've often professed my deepest admiration for Laurence Olivier as the supreme artist of screen acting, but Bogart has the "movie star" quality that puts him over into the supreme position in my book.

With this in mind, I finally got to re-watch THE BIG SLEEP (1946) for the first time in probably close to ten years. I recently purchased the Warners DVD of the film, which includes the 1945 pre-release version, with a more solid plotline and less of Bogart and Bacall. I have watched a short documentary on the comparisons between the two versions, but have not yet watched the 1945 version, probably because the mythology of the "1946 version" (the theatrical version that has been in circulation for over 60 years) has created such an impression on me that I'm still not ready to look at the alternate cut.

THE BIG SLEEP is not a great film. Bogart had the good fortune of being cast in three truly great American films made in the 1940s-THE MALTESE FALCON, CASABLANCA, and THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE. These profound films make up the iconic image we have of Bogart today. THE BIG SLEEP, however, is a very good film. It was based on the novel (one of my favorite detective books) written by Raymond Chandler, who concocted a story so dense, impenetrable, and downright complicated that even the author himself professed not to know what was going on in it. Indeed (and I don't think this is a plot spoiler) the mystery itself is never solved in the film, very unusual for a detective story. It moves with none of the slickness of "The Kennel Murder Case" (possibly the best 'whodunnit' film made in Hollywood), but still manages to keep suspense throughout the proceedings, because Marlowe (Bogart) seems to exist in a world in which no one can be trusted, and everyone has the potential to turn on him at the drop of a hat.

The plot is fairly straightforward-Private eye Philip Marlowe is brought in by elderly millionaire Sternwood to find his chauffeur's killer. After that point, things get pretty disjointed, and trying to follow the development of the plot after that point is simply pointless, except to say that Marlowe soon finds himself involved with Sternwood's daughter (Bacall), and things get heated up from there.

The film is so much fun, there's really no need to dwell on its plot. It's all about style and performance here, and that's where the film scores a knockout. Bogart looks great in every shot-his suits and fedora are particularly nice (I would love to get that suit for myself).

THE BIG SLEEP delivers a fun mystery and great performances done in brilliant Hollywood style, directed by Howard Hawks.