The Big Sleep Review – Bogie Shines, Bacall Sucks

Inordinately fond as I’m of the late Hollywood icon Humphrey Bogart, it was pre-ordained that I’d watch The Big Sleep eventually.

From my local library, I borrowed the DVD of the 1946 film The Big Sleep in which Bogie co-stars with his then young wife Lauren Bacall.

The movie has a certain panache and style, I’ll grant you that.

But it most certainly does not deserve a place in the pantheon of the greats or the accolades heaped upon it over the years.

I suppose with the exception of the cute gal Dorothy Malone, who has a small but memorable part in the film, the rest of the cast and crew of The Big Sleep are long gone to the eternal home in the sky.

Bogie has been gone 58 years and his wife Bacall joined him in August 2014. And, oh, the film’s director Howard Hawks passed away in 1977.

Like most movies from that distant era, The Big Sleep is in black and white and filmed almost entirely within the studio lot. In this case, it was the Warner Brothers’ lot.

Humphrey Bogart is Philip Marlowe, a private detective, a character not uncommon in film noir movies from that era.

Marlowe has been hired by the old, paralyzed and dying General Sternwood to solve a blackmail problem involving his younger daughter Carmen Sternwood (Martha Vickers).

Bacall – Pathetic

Laureen Bacall plays the general’s older daughter Vivian Ruttledge.

Bacall is one of the weakest elements of the movie.

Oh, she manages to look sultry alright but the woman struggles to act.

Hopelessly bad in all aspects but her sexy figure.

Most of the time, Bacall is too stiff and seems incapable of emoting even the tiniest bit.

If Bacall is bad most of the time, she’s terrible in the mercifully few romantic scenes.

How this mediocre actress came to be cast opposite Bogie is no great mystery.

I’d venture to say it was either nepotism or a tawdry trick on the part of Warner Brothers to capitalize on the public fascination over the Bogie-Bacall love story and marriage.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in all these decades of movie watching, it’s that 90% of movies pander to the rabble who wouldn’t recognize class if it walloped them in the face.

Convoluted Plot

But the bigger problem with The Big Sleep is its convoluted plot that left me gasping for air with all the murders (at least five).

Don’t be surprised if you wonder as I did, “What the heck is happening here?”

Based on Raymond Chandler’s eponymous novel, the screenplay was written by William Faulkner (yeah, the famous writer), Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman.

I wonder if it was a case of too many writers wrecking the plot.

The romance angle between the cynical Marlowe and sultry Vivian also gets short shrift in the plot.

On the plus side, there’s Bogie and a few nice lines.

Bogart is in solid form as the cynical private dick (as detectives were then known) never short of snappy lines whether in confronting Vivian, Carmen or the gaggle of bad elements.

The scratchy plot notwithstanding I will confess to finding Bogart as pleasing as ever.

If you’re a Bogie fan like me, you’ll pleased to know that most local libraries in the U.S. stock Big Sleep in their DVD collection.