RogerBW's Blog

The Big Sleep 26 July 2021

1946 noir, dir. Howard Hawks, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall: IMDb / allmovie. The general hires the private eye to deal with his daughter's blackmailer…

Many people despise the 1931 and 1936 adaptations of The Maltese Falcon for not being the 1941. For me it's the other way round: I enjoy this film less because it isn't the 1941 Maltese Falcon, and just as in those other cases I can see that it's an unfair comparison.

But I think the problem is that where Falcon has a relatively straightforward plot Sleep has multiple instances of criminality all pulling in different directions; Hawks famously cabled Chandler to ask just what did happen to Owen Regan the chauffeur, whether he was actually murdered and if so by whom, and Chandler didn't know. This is much more a film of incident: here are Bogart and Bacall smouldering at each other, here is Bogart punching a guy in the face, here is more Noir Stuff happening. The usual approach to this kind of thing is "turn your brain off and enjoy it", and that's a thing I don't like to have to do.

I'd like to give a nod to Dorothy Malone, the Acme Bookshop girl; she was in a few bigger parts, notably Written on the Wind, but somehow she never seemed to get the breaks.

Still, I've seen the 1945 cut as well – the one with the 20 minutes of material that was excised to make room for more Bogart/Bacall smouldering in the wake of To Have and Have Not, including an explanation of the Plot So Far – and it's a worse film. Sleep just isn't that great as a story (apart from anything else, it has nothing approximating a moral dilemma for, well, anyone really); as a vehicle for these two stars it's much more enjoyable.

But even the original cut has the upbeat ending. In the book, Marlowe does not end up in a clinch with Vivian; they part, and he wists after Mona Mars, and never sees her again either. But, hey, Hollywood…

It's all right in close-up, but shuffle the scenes out of order and it would be nearly as good. I can't love it.

Once more if you want more of my witterings you should listen to Ribbon of Memes.

Tags: film reviews

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