The Big Sleep


A prototypical detective film noir, The Big Sleep hit the theatres in 1946. A Howard Hawks film, in which Humphrey Bogart plays the shrewd, witty private detective Philip Marlowe, was adapted from Chandler’s 1939 novel.

The characters as well as the sets in the movie remind me of the legendary Sherlock Homes’ novel. Each character in the movie has a mysterious aura around them, be it the female protagonist Vivian Sternwood, or any of the victims in the movie. One cannot draw a definite character sketch of any character (except the protagonist) during the movie. What confuses the audience more is the brief appearance and then the rapid dispatch of certain characters. There is a conscious attempt in the movie to keep some information missing in order to intensify the bewilderment.

An extremely detailed plotting of events keeps the audience glued to their seats. With a multifaceted plot the audiences keep scratching their heads trying to figure out who was killed by whom, where and why. The plot has everything one wants; blackmailers, murderers, gambling, missing characters eloped and a nymphomaniac. The chemistry between the two lead actors, Marlowe and Vivian, is quite evident from their first meeting itself. However, at the same time, the audience cannot make up their mind about Vivian. Her presence at almost all the crime scenes makes the audience doubt her intentions.The atmosphere in the film is dark, paranoiac and suspicious which can be judged by the sets and the lighting of the movie. The smoke at the start of the film acts as a mystifying effect.Also, the shadow of the couple smoking shows that the whole plot is hidden behind dark elements. A lot of overcoats and hats are worn in the film, which again adds to the element of secrecy. The overcoats and the hats do not allow the character to come out in the open. It seems as if they are hiding their true colours and not portraying their true self.During the whole episode of Eddie Geiger’s death, the rain symbolizes the truth which is covered under dark clouds; nothing is clear. The sets of the casino scene, where Marlowe meets Mars in his cabin, are well thought out. Mars’ cabin is completely white but he is dressed in dark clothes. It symbolizes that the man commits all his crimes but covers them up with his white business. During this scene, there is a shot when a dog’s portrait in the mirror and Mars come in the same frame while he is talking. The director seems to be comparing his character to a barking dog. The whole conversation between Harry Jones and Canino has been shot keeping in mind Marlowe’s point of view. He is shown to be helpless, viewing the whole episode on the other side of the wall. Marlowe encounters the whole episode through a rippled glass window through which the silhouetted figures of Jones and Canino can be seen.The movie develops from a blackmail plot to a murder, actually a multiple murder mystery, to finally a love story, when Marlowe finds his love in the end. Although very well thought of, there are certain things in the movie which don’t make sense to an audience which has no background reading of the book on which the movie is based. For example, the reason why Lundgren killed Joe Brody was not clear. Another example is when Marlowe catches Lundgren after killing Brody and takes him to Gieger’s house, saying “You’ve got a key. Let’s go in”. Here the audience doesn’t know exactly what the relationship between Lundgren and Geiger is, which tends to be confusing. Also, till the end, the audience is confused about Sean Regan.Nowhere in the film is the exact reason for the blackmail mentioned. Certain characters just get lost in the movie and are not mentioned again. For instance, the client of Marlowe i.e. General Sternwood never gets back with Marlowe and inquires about the proceedings of the case.The Geiger house is almost used as an epicenter of every event. All the events are directly or indirectly related to it. The mystery starts from there (Geiger’s death) and ends there too (Mars’ accidentally killed by his men). The plot starts building up from that place and the climax also takes place in that house.The dialogues of the film are a must mention. From the dialogues, one can easily draw a rough character sketch. Marlowe’s one liners makes the audience giggle at times, or smile at his sarcasm. However, there is no conventional humour in the film.There are certain dialogues in the film which reminds us of the Casanova British agent, James Bond, and his women. More than the dialogues, there is a lot of resemblance in both the characters. Their charm, way of talking, attraction to beautiful women – is identical.This makes us come to the action in the film. The film definitely has a suitable amount of action in it, but not so much that it gets the label of an ‘action’ film. Out of the seven killings, only four happen on screen (Geiger’s murder happens when Marlowe is in his car waiting outside his house, he doesn’t encounter the murder.)The title of the film The Big Sleep refers to death. There are killings, blackmailing and crime happening while the whole world is watching and doing nothing about it. The film suggests that the world is asleep — a big sleep.Aakanksha Ahluwalia[Image courtesy:]