Smoke and Seduction in The Big Sleep

Film noir at its zenith.

The iconic film couple Bogie and Bacall star in the greatest film noir of all-time – ‘The Big Sleep’. Humphrey Bogart plays private detective, Philip Marlowe. Lauren Bacall plays Vivian Rutledge, a sultry young socialite whose father hires Marlowe to deal with a blackmail case.

There is excellent acting from a stellar cast including Martha Vickers and Dorothy Malone. The film is directed by Howard Hawks and based on the novel by Raymond Chandler. William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman co-wrote the screenplay. It premiered in the U.S. on 23rd August, 1946. Bogie and Bacall made the film before they were married.

Bogie and Bacall share a laugh on the set of 'The Big Sleep'.

Bogie and Bacall share a laugh on the set of ‘The Big Sleep’.

Film noir is the art form most representative of the 40s – a tumultuous time dominated by dangerous political uncertainty and the death and disaster of war. Film noir depicts a shadow world, where there is no clear dividing line between good and evil, populated with realistic, flawed, complex characters.

Bogie and Bacall in 'The Big Sleep'.

Bogie and Bacall in ‘The Big Sleep’.

‘The Big Sleep’ is arguably film noir at its artistic zenith. The film’s plot concerns murder, blackmail, sexual intrigue and mysterious disappearances. Philip Marlowe is hired by General Sternwood to handle a blackmail case against his youngest daughter, Carmen.

However Marlowe soon becomes waist deep in a murky underworld. The film is populated by a rogues gallery of characters who look like the police line-up but whose motives are hard to read.

We don’t actually find out who the bad guy behind all the trouble is until towards the end of the film. The complex plot of ‘The Big Sleep’ is legendary. When Howard Hawks asked Raymond Chandler, “Who killed the chauffeur?”, Chandler replied that he had no idea.

'The Big Sleep' cast with director, Howard Hawks.

‘The Big Sleep’ cast with director, Howard Hawks.

Lauren Bacall is the quintessential film noir heroine in ‘The Big Sleep’. Her character Vivian Rutledge is “spoilt, exacting, smart and ruthless” in addition to being beautiful and seductive. Bacall plays this role to perfection.

Likewise as Philip Marlowe, Humphrey Bogart is the quintessential film noir hero. In ‘The Maltese Falcon’ as Sam Spade, Bogart played one of the most iconic private detectives in film history. Here he plays a similar character, building the Bogart mystique of the world-weary, tough guy who must circumvent his way through a world filled with ambiguous characters to cut to the truth.

Iconic shot of Bogie and Bacall in 'The Big Sleep'.

Iconic shot of Bogie and Bacall in ‘The Big Sleep’.

The shadow cast by war and the resulting danger meant little value was placed upon false propriety. This is reflected in General Sternwood’s honest assessment of his daughters’ characters- he says, “they have all the usual vices besides those they’ve invented for themselves.”

Bogie and Martha Vickers in 'The Big Sleep'.

Bogie and Martha Vickers in ‘The Big Sleep’.

Carmen Sternwood is both a femme fatal and a naïve, childlike young woman. Philip Marlowe tells Carmen’s father  “she tried to sit on my lap when I was standing up”. General Sternwood says Carmen is “still a little child who likes to pull the wings off flies.” However Carmen is not honest and open, her father says he can’t ask Carmen about the case because if he did all she would do is “suck her thumb and look coy”.

She tried to sit on my lap when I was standing up.

“She tried to sit on my lap when I was standing up.”

General Sternwood meets Phillip Marlowe in his sunroom which has a greenhouse atmosphere- a metaphor for the heady, heated atmosphere of the film whilst the orchids are symbolic of the seductive danger which lies ahead.

Bogart and Dorothy Malone in 'The Big Sleep'.

Bogart and Dorothy Malone in ‘The Big Sleep’.

Bogart is at his most attractive and charming in this film. He has the irresistible combination of tough guy sex appeal and an irrelevant sense of humour. He is quite the ladies man in the film charming a parade line of beautiful girls.

One famous scene sees Bogie appear to have a sexual interlude with a beautiful bookstore clerk on a rainy afternoon. Despite the bevy of beauties who catch Bogart’s character’s eye in the film, and Bacall’s character’s insolence towards him, it’s clear they have met their match in each other.

Bogie and Bacall.

Bogie and Bacall.

‘The Big Sleep’ is acclaimed for Bogie and Bacall having the most powerful chemistry in film history in this film. Most noticeably in the iconic scene where they exchange sexual banter. Bacall described the scene as ‘sex by inference’. In a conversation about horse racing filled with sexual double entendres, Marlowe asks Vivian, “I don’t know how far you can go?” and she says “A lot depends on who’s in the saddle.”

The spark between Bogie and Bacall is so strong there is literally a flash of lightning during their interchange in her bedroom. Bogie ends the scene by saying, “Those are harsh words to throw at a man especially when he’s walking out of your bedroom”.

Bogie and Bacall lightning in The Big Sleep

‘The Big Sleep’ is truly a ‘must-see’ film. It is undoubtedly one of the greatest films of all time. It represents film noir, one of the most important art forms of the twentieth century, at its finest. Bogie and Bacall’s electrifying chemistry in ‘The Big Sleep’ is unrivalled.

Not only is ‘The Big Sleep’ a masterpiece, it’s enjoyable to watch- Humphrey Bogart is extremely likable as our wry tough guy hero and Lauren Bacall is hot as Hades. There is an exciting, fast-paced plot with romance, intrigue and violence. Watch ‘The Big Sleep’ and you will be in no doubt why Bogie and Bacall are among the most iconic movie stars of all time and why film-making was golden during the 1940s.

Bacall's suit from 'The Big Sleep' in The Smithsonian Museum of American History in 2012.

Bacall’s suit from ‘The Big Sleep’ in The Smithsonian Museum of American History in 2012.


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