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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Where Many Great Scenes Make a Picture

Again With Bogart and Company in The Big Sleep (1946)

Ann wanted to see this as she had just finished the book. I told her not to worry about the sometimes incoherent story, as neither did Howard Hawks, who rightfully was after "good scenes" and not to annoy viewers the rest of the time (as he aptly put it with regards all his post-war stuff). There are good scenes --- The Big Sleep is loaded with them --- and this time I noted what a contribution Max Steiner's score is (wish there was a CD). Ann thought Lauren Bacall had nothing and that Martha Vickers was infinitely better. I mentioned how Vickers' part was cut in order to protect Bacall. Wonder if that reality ever gave LB pause. WB reissued The Big Sleep in 1954 and called it The Violence Screen's All-Time Rocker Shocker, a personal favorite of taglines. What lavish streets and houses they built indoors for this. Bob Steele was terrific for one of the heavies. Bogart would remember and recommend him to later The Enforcer. Bogart and Hawks fell out and wouldn't work together again, HH piqued that offscreen Bogey got Bacall (the latter tells that story in her book). Pity such a petty thing robbed us of further teaming.


Blogger reprobates said...


Which version of THE BIG SLEEP did you watch, the 1945 original cut or the 1946 official release version? Bacall definitely has "nothing" as Ann describes her in the original cut, but they did make an attempt to steam her up in the re-do.

Between the two versions, I'd put back the scene in the DA's office from the first cut, it's a perfect "the show so far" scene for the middle of the film and it does sorta make sense of it all of it for the audience, but then I'd go with the final re-do all the rest of the way. The film would run a bit over two hours then, but who cares, it's a great place to be no matter how long it is.


10:14 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

We would have watched the general release version, but I'd welcome some of the 1945 footage back in an expanded "Big Sleep" that would also include longer scenes from 1945 that highlight more of Steiner's music.

1:46 PM  
Blogger iarla said...

Lauren Bacall is very overrated. Not and actress, she's a highly stylized screen presence, and, of course, Veronica Lake did it first. Bacall got lucky by marrying a legend. Without that?

9:25 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

THE BIG SLEEP is my favorite Bogey pic. I prefer the 1945 version over the 1946 re-do. The D.A. office scene clarifies the script. And for me, the less Bacall, the better (in any movie). My late mother-in-law had to spend an entire day with her in 1945 and didn't like her at all. Laurette Taylor or Sarah Bernhardt she wasn't, even though she thought she was. Every line of dialogue in TBS is sheer genius, and Steiner's score fits like a glove. So, who did kill Shawn Reagan?

10:42 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer looks back on "The Big Sleep" --- novel and movie:

Raymond Chandler's "The Big Sleep" has been a favorite of mine since I discovered it among my mother's books while a freshman in high school. It was the edition published to coincide with the release of the Warner Bros. production, with stills from the movie. Even then, its pulp pages had turned a toasty brown, but nothing could diminish the vitality of the writing. My first attempt to watch the movie on late night television came a cropper, with my awakening on the living room floor to a test pattern on the Magnavox. I've watched it many times since, however, always with pleasure. The plot may be confusing and hard to follow, yet that only seems to make the scenes more potent and surprising in their denouements. It's as though, however often I see it, something different might happen the next time.

I understand that Chandler was pleasantly surprised by Dick Powell in "Murder, My Sweet," though he also remarked that Cary Grant was more in line with his mental image of Marlowe. Bogart was very different from Grant, at least physically--both had a way of channeling an inner darkness to good effect, and Bogart could display a surprisingly light touch--but Chandler accepted him without reservation. He was someone who could suggest an inner strength or toughness without having to act tough. In comparison, Chandler dismissed Alan Ladd as a small boy's idea of a tough guy.

Probably it's unfair to rate Bacall with Martha Vickers. The parts are very different. Vivian Rutledge was supposed to be a fundamentally decent woman, trying to protect her father and a sister who was probably crazy. Decency imposes certain restraints. Carmen Sternwood, as a sexed-up nut case, gave Martha Vickers a much showier role, but she couldn't be allowed to steal the show. The additional footage given Bacall in the general release version, to show the developing rapport between her and Bogart, was good for the story as well as for her. In the novel, Marlowe throws Carmen out his apartment, after she tries to seduce him, then tears apart his bed to remove the imprint of her "corrupt" body. Bogart is able to suggest his disgust with her much more effectively, with just a hardening of his eyes and tone of voice.

Still, I wouldn't carry a brief for Bacall. There must have been something about her, if she could captivate the likes of Bogart and Howard Hawks, but it isn't revealed on screen. Even in "To Have and Have Not," her sexiness is of an entirely synthetic variety, a nice girl imitating someone's else's idea of an alluring woman. In most of her films, she displays striking good looks while waiting for the other person to stop talking, so that she can say her line. From the standpoint of collaborations between Bogart and Hawks that never happened, maybe it would have been better had Bacall wandered out on an ice flow, a la Garbo in "Flesh and the Devil."


11:20 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

I watched The Big Sleep way back when I was 16 or so on channel 38 from Boston. Starting as late as it did -- 11:00PM -- I fell asleep on the couch for about 10 minutes around the 90-minute mark (including commercials). When I woke up, I had no idea what was going on. I stuck with it, but without much enjoyment.

3:22 PM  

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