Review of “The Big Sleep” (1946)

from YouTube

Alas! Svengoolie was a rerun last night, so we opted for a bit of noir, The Big Sleep, which neither the dearly beloved nor I had seen.


Ill, elderly General Sternwood (Charles Waldron) hires private detective Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) to settle some “gambling debts” his daughter Carmen (Martha Vickers) owes to a bookseller named Arthur Geiger (an uncredited Theodore von Eltz). He also mentions the disappearance of one Sean Regan, a hired man whom Sternwood regards almost like a son. Why would Regan up and leave just like that?

Carmen has already introduced herself to Marlowe; she’s a childlike temptress given to—really—sucking her thumb. “You’re cute,” she tells Marlowe. After Marlowe agrees to help the General, the General’s other daughter, Mrs. Rutledge (Lauren Bacall), asks to see him before he leaves. She wants to know why her father hired Marlowe. Does he want him to find Sean Regan? Is there some other…difficulty? Marlow maintains that’s between him and her father.

Marlowe first tries to find Geiger at his place of business. The proprietor, Agnes Lozelle (an uncredited Sonia Darrin), tells him he’s not in. He quizzes her about some rare first editions. Her answers lead him to believe the bookstore is a front for some illegal business.

When he later follows Geiger to his home, he hears a woman’s screams and gunshots.  Running toward the house, he sees two cars pull away. Entering the front door, he finds a man dead on the floor and Carmen Sternwood sitting in an ornate chair near the body, higher than a kite. He accidentally triggers a statue head of the Buddha so that it swings open to reveal a camera. The camera has no film. The implication is more blackmail material; someone recorded Carmen killing Geiger over her gambling debts. The two men in the cars that drove off have the compromising film.

Marlowe hustles the barely coherent (“You’re cute.”) Carmen into his car and takes her home. This includes a de rigueur slap across the face. Once home, he instructs everyone that she was there all evening. He returns to Geiger’s house to find the body has disappeared.


The plot is convoluted and rather hard to follow, perhaps in part because of the nature of the movie itself. It was drawn from a Raymond Chandler novel of the same name that was a mash-up of two earlier unrelated short stories. Complicating things was the Hayes code, limiting things movies could depict. In the book, Geiger’s bookstore was a bookstore that sold illustrated books of a type illegal at the time, which could not be mentioned in a movie. The book also depicted a same-sex relationship, which didn’t exist. A viewer would have to read between the lines, even if they knew what to look for.

The film is atmospheric and very noir-ish, which is more important than the plot. Snappy Chandler-ish dialogue fills the movie, as does a high body count. Most deaths are off-screen. The characters are interesting. Among them is the gangster, Eddie Mars (John Ridgely), who seem friendly enough for a gangster, and just a whole passel of thugs—some violent, some just hanging around ready to extort as the opportunity arises.

Among the writers are William Faulkner, who has apparently taken a respite from Yoknapatawpha County, and Leigh Brackett, the Queen of Space Opera, coming in from the cold to write this. The story is that they asked Chandler at one point who killed the person whose car is fished out by the Lido Pier.

“I don’t know,” was his helpful answer.

But wasn’t it cool to watch the cops pull a Packard out of the drink?

If the roller coaster ride of threats, deaths, and beatings is light on coherence, it is entertaining. I liked this movie. It’s fun watching Bogey and Bacall bait each other. However, enlightened attitudes toward women do not abound.

I could not find this available for free, but it is available for rent or to buy here.

Title: The Big Sleep (1946)

Directed by
Howard Hawks

Writing Credits
William Faulkner…(screenplay) &
Leigh Brackett…(screenplay) &
Jules Furthman…(screenplay)
Raymond Chandler…(novel)

Cast (in credits order)
Humphrey Bogart…Philip Marlowe
Lauren Bacall…Vivian Rutledge
John Ridgely…Eddie Mars
Martha Vickers…Carmen Sternwood
Dorothy Malone…Acme Book Shop Proprietress

Released: 1946
Length: 1 hour. 54 minutes

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

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