Friday, December 23, 2011

THE BIG SLEEP-OVER! Retooling a Good Bogart Film Into a Great One

This review is part of the Humphrey Bogart blogathon hosted by Meredith. The Blogathon runs from December 23rd through December 25th, 2011. By all means, please leave comments for one and all! :-) 

Thanks to talented blogger Meredith of Forever Classics and her terrific blogathon saluting the one and only Humphrey Bogart (December 25, 1899 – January 14, 1957), we have back-to-back Raymond Chandler film adaptation posts here at TotED:  last week’s Lady in the Lake, and now my entry in the Humphrey Bogart Blogathon, in honor of what would have been the great man’s 112th birthday: The Big Sleep (TBS) 

Raymond Chandler by Rick Geary
Ah, Howard Hawks! Was there any genre he couldn’t tackle with what seemed to be the greatest of ease? And with all due respect to Dick Powell, Robert Montgomery, Robert Mitchum, and James Garner (I haven’t had a chance to catch up with George Montgomery in The Brasher Doubloon yet), was there ever a more perfect cinematic portrayal of Raymond Chandler’s private investigator hero Philip Marlowe than Humphrey Bogart in TBS? Or a more perfect leading lady for him than Lauren Bacall, playing Vivian Sternwood, who in 1945 happily became Mrs. Bogart for the rest of Bogie’s life? Admittedly, the kind of perfection I mean has nothing to do with such trifles as linear, crystal-clear plotting. (Clarity? We don’t need no stinkin’ clarity!) No, the elements that made the 1946 film version of TBS such a perfect entertainment include Hawks’ zesty direction; the film’s great cast, including those sleek, smart, sassy Hawks women, almost all of whom try to seduce him to one degree or another (I want to be a Howard Hawks kind of woman when I grow up!); and the tangy, moody yet cheeky atmosphere that Hawks and his screenwriters William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett (as far as I’m concerned, she’s a Hawks kind of woman, too), and Jules Furthman created with sharp dialogue, humor, and suspense. The memorable characters Marlowe meets along the way range from colorful lowlifes to people of integrity staring down corruption and destruction. In my opinion, TBS is one of the most perfect thrillers about decidedly imperfect people in big trouble! 

"Build a greenhouse, reduce your carbon footprint," they said. 
 I shoulda called Nero Wolfe;
he knows orchids!

Marlowe knows reading is
fun, manly, and sexy! 
TBS opens with the famous greenhouse scene, where Marlowe meets his wealthy new client, General Sternwood (Charles Waldron), an elderly, ailing, wheelchair-bound widower who describes himself thus: “You are looking, sir, at a very dull survival of a very gaudy life.” General Sternwood wants Marlowe to help him keep an eye on Carmen Sternwood (Martha Vickers), the youngest and wildest of the two beautiful young Sternwood sisters, who’s being blackmailed over gambling debts. While Marlowe is at it, the General also wants him to see if he can find his friend Sean Regan, who Marlowe knew back in their rum-running days in Mexico: “I (Marlowe) was on the other side. We used to swap shots between drinks, or drinks between shots, whichever you like.” Sternwood has come to regard Sean as the son he never had. Sean, usually the family enforcer, always took care of anyone who tried to make trouble for the Sternwoods. However, Sean apparently drove off about a month ago and hasn’t been seen or heard from since. It’s clear that Sternwood misses him terribly, which touched my heart and got my suspicions aroused. Marlowe agrees to take the case.

Oh, baby! What guy wouldn't want
to try weaning Carmen Sternwood?
Carmen is the kind of sexy, spoiled flirt who can’t say no, and won’t take no for an answer, either. She’s not shy about approaching men; in fact, Carmen gets to the point pronto when she meets Marlowe, deliberately falling into his arms—lucky for her that Marlowe’s a good catcher! Still, Marlowe makes it clear she’s not his baby as he tells butler Norris (Charles D. Brown, who makes a great straight-faced foil for Marlowe), “You ought to wean her. She’s old enough.” Between Carmen’s bedroom eyes and her gambling debts, is it any wonder she keeps getting herself into more hot water than a tea bag factory? But this time, Carmen gets in a jam it won’t be easy to get out of: Marlowe tails her to the home of book dealer and blackmailer Arthur Gwynn Geiger (the uncredited Theodore Von Eltz), only to find Geiger murdered and Carmen in a dazed, giggling stupor. Even worse, the Asian statue in Geiger’s house has a hidden film camera inside, and somebody’s already made off with the photographic evidence. Soon Marlowe is up to his fedora in colorful and dangerous characters, including gambler/gangster Eddie Mars (John Ridgely), whose wife supposedly ran off with the missing Sean. By all accounts, Mrs. Mars isn’t the kind of wife a guy wants to lose, so what’s up with that? (Fun Fact: According to the TCM Web site, Eddie’s henchmen Sid and Pete were named for Bogart’s frequent co-stars and off-screen pals Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre.)
“So, shamus, how’re the Falcons doing this season?”

The strong, spirited, beautiful women in any Hawks film are always worth watching. TBS provides a veritable smorgasbord of fabulous females, all rushing in and out of the story like it was Grand Central Terminal at rush hour! One of my favorites was a young, pre-Oscar (for Written on the Wind) Dorothy Malone, proving guys do make passes at girls who wear glasses, especially when they let their hair down. Then there’s the uncredited but nevertheless captivating Sonia Darrin as Agnes Lowzier, another sulky, gorgeous, dangerous dame who may not get tons of screen time, but what she gets is, as Spencer Tracy would say, “cherce.” Agnes’ fool for love, Harry Jones, is played by Elisha Cook Jr. and he almost steals the show when he puts himself on the line for Agnes. The sacrifice that “Jonesy” makes on Agnes’ behalf really made me feel for the little guy. 

That does it! No more sleepovers
for you, young lady!
I’ve always liked General Sternwood, and how he calls a spade a spade (not to be confused with Dashiell Hammett’s detective Sam Spade, another iconic Bogart character). Indeed, I like the way Sternwood and Marlowe get along immediately, with their “insubordination” in common. Like so many parents, Sternwood has trouble keeping his two gorgeous young daughters out of trouble; as Marlowe says, “Both pretty, and both pretty wild.” Still, I’d say that even with her penchant for gambling, Vivian is the soul of sensibility and practicality compared to out-of-control Carmen. This isn’t the first time she’s been blackmailed, either; oy, some kids never learn! To further complicate matters, Marlowe and Vivian are starting to fall for each other. Even so, the clever, loyal Vivian makes it clear to Marlowe that she’ll stop at nothing to protect her sister and father as, separately and together, they work to solve this dizzy, violent, but gleefully entertaining mystery.
That's some bad hat, Baby! No wonder Bacall 
shed the chapeau in the retakes!
Between Vivian and Mrs. Mars, Marlowe's fit to be tied!
Like The Boy Scouts, Marlowe is always prepared!
Love is like an itching on Viv’s knee, and baby, she can’t scratch it!
Here's looking at you, Baby!
"Baby, you're the greatest!"
If you’re a stickler for clear, linear plotting, don’t look for it in TBS, or any other Chandler novel  based on one. Chandler’s strengths are in his witty, sardonic dialogue, his memorable characters, and the moody atmosphere he weaves with words. The ever-versatile Hawks evokes this atmosphere with his great cast and production values, including Max Steiner’s score combining suspense and playfulness, working beautifully with the delightfully insolent banter between Bogart and Bacall. In both TBS and Lady in the Lake (indeed, in almost all Chandler/Marlowe movies to one degree or another), at some point Marlowe gets fed up with the leading lady playing it cagey, and he almost always takes her to task, whereupon she hotly responds with a line like, “People don’t talk to me like that!” I always think of these scenes as “The Taming of the Hottie,” because here as in other Chandler/Marlowe movies, Marlowe and the heroine each give as good as they get. It’s especially fun in TBS with the evenly-matched Marlowe and Vivian. Hawks’ leading ladies always have (or quickly develop) spunk to go with their sexiness and strength! Hawks’ films had a reputation of being fun to make, and TBS was no exception. According to Lauren Bacall in her memoir By Myself, Hawks and company got a memo from studio head Jack Warner: “Word has reached me that you are having fun on the set. This must stop.” No word on whether or not anyone did so (my money’s on “no”)!
Vivian sure can sling those obligatos on "And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine"!
Although TBS was actually completed and in the can by March 1945, Warner Bros. sat on it for about a year and a half. Robert Gitt, the Preservation Officer at UCLA Film and Television Archives, explains it all in the DVD’s Special Features. For starters, World War 2 was ending around that time, and movie studios were scrambling to get their remaining war movies into theaters before they started to feel dated; as a result, Warner Bros figured their detective thriller could wait for the nonce. But even more importantly, despite Lauren Bacall’s star-making role in To Have and Have Not, the movie that had brought her and Bogart together, her star was plummeting after her dreadful reviews as an upper-class Brit in the 1945 film adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel Confidential Agent. In The New York Times, Bosley Crowther didn’t sugarcoat poor miscast Bacall’s performance: The noise she makes in this picture is that of a bubble going ‘poof!’” Ouch!
Happily, a knight in executive’s shining armor saved the film and Bacall’s career: Charles K. Feldman, the producer who also brought us 1967’s wild-and-crazy comedy version of Casino Royale. Feldman was Howard Hawks’ production partner, and his confidential advice really turned things around for TBS. In addition to shuffling some scenes and eliminating others, Feldman implemented other suggestions which really made the magic happen for the new-and-improved 1946 version:
  1. 1.) Bacall wore a none-too-flattering veil in the 1945 version. What was the costume department thinking? Moviegoers wanted see Bacall’s beautiful kisser, so they ditched that veil and reshot the scene.
  2. 2.) Hawks shot more scenes between Bogart and Bacall, encouraging their sexy, insolent attitudes. To borrow a line from the TBS trailer, audiences loved seeing That Man Bogart and That Woman Bacall that way!
  3. 3.) Mrs. Eddie Mars was played by Pat Clark in the 1945 version, but apparently she wasn’t available for re-shoots in 1946. Clark’s footage was scrapped for scrappier Peggy Knudson.
Personally, my perfect version of The Big Sleep would be the 1946 version as is, except that I’d love to put in the D.A. scene from the 1945 version (it’s in the double-sided version of the TBS DVD) to clarify at least that part of the plot! In any case, TBS may not always make sense, but it brims with so much suspense, desire, wit, and riveting personalities that I didn’t mind a bit!

Enjoy the following Big Sleep links from YouTube:

Why, Miss Malone, you’re beautiful!

The Big Sleep, Bogart and Bacall and the prank phone call:

Lauren Bacall sings “And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine”

For more information about the fascinating making of The Big Sleep, check out the TCM Web site:

Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas to birthday boy Bogart, and Happy Holidays of all kinds to all of you and all you care about from all of us here at Team Bartilucci H.Q.!


  1. Hey, gang, here's a Fun Fact from the TCM Web site: "In a bow to the General Sternwood character, Lauren Bacall played Lew Harper's wheelchair-bound employer in Harper (1966) which starred Paul Newman in the title role of the detective thriller."

  2. Thank you for participating! The Big Sleep is one of my favorite Bogie films

  3. Meredith, thank you AND you're welcome! :-) I've always thought THE BIG SLEEP was one of Bogart and Bacall's best team-ups. Thanks for your great work on your Bogart Blogathon, and for letting me join the fun! Merry Christmas and Happy Bogart's Birthday!

    By the way, I've added FOREVER CLASSICS to my favorite blogs on my "Further Distractions" list at TotED. Keep your great blog posts coming!

  4. Our dear pal and fellow awesome blogger ClassicBecky has been dueling with her Internet again, but she has nevertheless been kind enough to get her post to me so I can post it for the enjoyment of all! Here it is:

    "Dorian, this has to be one of my very favorites of your articles. I had to laugh at '(Clarity? We don’t need no stinkin’ clarity!)' I've been watching the Bogart movies this morning, and that 'badges' line from Treasure of the Sierra Madre had just been said when I was reading your article! Besides that, it echoes my feelings about TBS perfectly. Who cares if everything falls together in sync? It's a great movie! And I bet they had a great time making it, despite what the head honcho had to say!

    I consider your post a wonderful blend of humor and facts, all weaved in with the storytelling and your ideas for making the perfect Big Sleep. I did not know so many of the behind-the-scenes facts about TBS, Marlowe, Chandler -- it was fascinating. As for the George Montgomery version, I wouldn't bother. Not that I've ever seen it, so maybe I'm not fair, but I just really dislike George Montgomery! LOL! Excellent article, Ms. Bartilucci. Kudos!"

    Becky, thanks a million for your praise and for putting a smile on my face during a slow mid-holiday week! (And by the way, I watched the Bogart movies this morning on TCM, too, and right now I'm watching Marlene Dietrich's movies; right how it's WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION, the film that sparked our friendship!) You're the awesome! Big Happy New Year hugs to you and yours from your pals here at Team Bartilucci H.Q.!

  5. Enjoyed reading your Bogie-man post, Dorian. Far as I'm concerned none of the Chandler films ever made much sense, but they sure were fun to watch.

    Though I must say, doesn't Sternwood looke a little old to be Bacall and the wild one's old man? He looks more like their grandfather.

    But I do notice that men and women tended to look older than their years in those days.

    Of course, it was interesting to find out all the behind the scenes facts too. Actually, I kind of like that veiled hat. :)

  6. Yvette, thanks for your positive comments! I'm tickled that you enjoyed my "Bogie-man post" (love that phraseology! :-)) about THE BIG SLEEP. Actually, as I may have mentioned elsewhere, my dear late mom really knew how to rock a hat, and some of her swankiest headgear included hats with veils. I think the producers of TBS just thought it would be sexier to see young Lauren Bacall's face; guess that's what the "smart set" were into back in the 1940s! :-)

    Funny you should mention how old Sternwood looked and how people used to look older than their years back then; maybe it was all those veils and suits! :-) But hey, General Sternwood said it himself as Marlowe sat sweating in the greenhouse amongst the orchids: "If I seem a bit sinister as a parent, Mr. Marlowe, it's because my hold on life is too slight to include any Victorian hypocrisy. I need hardly add that any man who has lived as I have and indulges for the first time in parenthood at my my age deserves all he gets." Ha! He should've seen today's parents, so many of whom are embarking in parenthood in their 40s or older thanks (? :-)) to artificial insemination! And don't get me started on cosmetic surgery! :-)

    Thanks again, Yvette; it's always fun to chat and quip with you! All of us here at Team Bartilucci H.Q. hope you and your lovely family have a Happy New Year, with hugs and all good things coming your way in 2012!

  7. As you so rightly state, the confusion of The Big Sleep's plot is incidental to the characters. This is a film filled with wonderful characters, big and small. To me, Bogart plays Marlowe similar to the way he played Sam Spade in "The Maltese Falcon," not that I have a problem with that. He is perfect for the role. I do think Robert Mitchum gives Bogie a run for his money, though his version of "The Big Sleep" runs a far second behind Hawks classic. Mitchum in "Farewell, My Lovely," a much better film, is terrific.

    And then there is Bacall, damn was she sexy! That voice, those legs, those knowing eyes!

    Thanks again for a wonderfully written, fun and fact filled post!


  8. Dorian, THE BIG SLEEP is one of Chandler's best novels and I agree that the film adaptation is well-done (love your description of it as a "dizzy, violent, but gleefully entertaining mystery"). However, I am not a fan of Bogart's Marlowe. I can accept Bogart as a detective, but his cynicism is lethargic compared to the snappy retorts delivered by Dick Powell in MURDER, MY SWEET. For me, Powell is the definitive Marlowe; I only wish he had starred a screen version of THE LADY IN THE LAKE (my favorite of the Marlowe novels).

  9. John, I'm so pleased you enjoyed my take on THE BIG SLEEP; many thanks, my friend! You make excellent points about different actors' different portrayals of Philip Marlowe (or in some Chandler/Marlowe films such as LADY IN THE LAKE, Phillip with 2 L's). I think each actor (and of course, each writer and director) portrays Marlowe well in his own way; it's kind of like apples and oranges, when you get down to it.

    I thought Bogart did a great job playing both Marlowe and Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade. Robert Mitchum is definitely one of my favorite Philip Marlowes, with his combination of world-weariness, coolness, and wry humor. (But hey, when is Mitchum NOT cool? :-))

    Of Mitchum's two Marlowe movies, FAREWELL, MY LOVELY is my favorite. Indeed, I thought the chemistry between Mitchum and Charlotte Rampling had a very Bogart-and-Bacall vibe (I loved your description of Bacall!)! But I'm afraid I didn't enjoy Michael Winner's remake of THE BIG SLEEP, though Mitchum himself was terrific as always. I just didn't care for the modern-day milieu and the English locations, and it seemed to me that they all too often substituted violence for wit and chemistry. Granted, it's been some time since I saw it, so maybe I should be a sport and give it another chance.

    Glad you joined in the conversation, John! Hope 2012 will be a great one for everyone, with plenty of great blog posts to write, read, and enjoy! :-)

  10. Rick, I'm glad you enjoyed my TBS blog post and the 1946 version of it overall, even if you prefer Dick Powell's Marlowe to Humphrey Bogart's Marlowe! :-) But that's the great thing about different actors playing Marlowe: there's one for everybody! :-) As a matter of fact, Dick Powell is my favorite Marlowe next to Bogart, with Powell's snappy delivery and combination of determination and vulnerability. In fact, I've been wanting to write a blog post about Dick Powell in MURDER, MY SWEET for quite some time, so I think I'll do one sometime very soon! Watch This Space, as they say. :-)

    Cool though it is to imagine a Dick Powell Marlowe in LADY IN THE LAKE, now that today's filmmakers have the technology to film the Little Fawn Lake scene on location, it would be great to see it in all its glory.

    Happy New Year to you and all the gang at Classic Film and TV Cafe, Rick, and may you and yours have a very Happy New Year with all the good things you want and deserve!

  11. 'Strong spirited women' are always fun to watch--especially when Bogie is around. You are so right Dorian!

  12. Thanks for your comment, Eve; you're a strong, spirited woman after my own heart! :-) Hope you and yours have the Happiest of New Years, my friend!

  13. Right back at you, dear Dorian. :)

    I have a feeling that 2012 is going to be a great year.

    I meant to add that I love that little caricature of Chandler by Geary. Just wonderful.

  14. Yvette, thanks for your kind words, and the feeling's mutual as to both the brand new year and our friendship! Aren't mutual admiration societies fun? :-)

    Glad you liked Rick Geary's Raymond Chandler caricature! It's one of a series of rubber stamps from the clever folks at Ready-Made Rubber. I've also used them at TotED to perk up some of my other blog posts, including THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY, and most recently, my FICTION NOIR post from November:

    Yvette, I'm with you: 2012 sounds very promising indeed, not to put the whammy on it! :-) All of us here at Team Bartilucci H.Q. hope you and your family have a safe and Happy New Year and beyond!

  15. I caught the 1945 version on the (relatively) big screen at Facets Multimedia in Chicago back in 1997. The screening of the film was followed by Robert Gitt's excellent comparison with the 1946 version that was eventually featured on the DVD. It was a memorable night at the movies, but I will always prefer the 1946 version. Movies need to follow their own emotional logic and do not necessarily have to make complete sense when laid out in schematic form. Besides, that damn veil is a serious buzzkill.

  16. I caught the 1945 version on the (relatively) big screen at Facets Multimedia in Chicago back in 1997. The screening of the film was followed by Robert Gitt's excellent comparison with the 1946 version that was eventually featured on the DVD. It was a memorable night at the movies, but I will always prefer the 1946 version. Movies need to follow their own emotional logic and do not necessarily have to make complete sense when laid out in schematic form. Besides, that damn veil is a serious buzzkill.

  17. John, I'm delighted to see you dropping by TALES OF THE EASILY DISTRACTED (TotED for short) and putting in your two cents about THE BIG SLEEP! How cool that you got to see the 1945 version with Robert Gitt himself. Glad you agree that Bacall's veil in the 1945 version left something to be desired! :-) I totally agree about movies following their own unique logic. Logic is nice, but the emotions a movie brings out in us viewers is what really makes it special. Thanks for sharing your BIG SLEEP experience, John, and feel free to join the TotED chat anytime!