The Big Sleep

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(1946, directed by Howard Hawks)

- inducted 2018 –

“The enduring legend, this one. Astride the During and After of WWII, in two semi-distinct versions: linear for the troops, doing the appropriate narrative heavy lifting, and then the sexed-up and drifty theatrical release, when studio heads, publicists, and a nation flush with the Now Whats of the postwar era decided that salacious wordplay yoked to the unqualifiable interrobang that is star quality was what America needed.

“Bogey’s take on Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, the deadpan dick with a sense for trouble and a lady magnet somewhere on his person, is what every American instinctively hopes to be: perceptive, valuable, charming, chaotic good, and gifted with deductive reasoning as well as never coming off like too much of an asshole to be useful. Bacall is patrician sensuality incarnate, using cigarette smoke as a weapon like she was Bertha Dorset with her sharpest shunning hat- was there ever a film to feature such sexually-fraught smoking before? She’s got a gift for language, and when she and Bogey get down to verbal business, you’ve got all the words lining up to be accomplices (courtesy of Leigh Brackett, William Faulkner, and Jules Furthman). And the tale is full of everything we ostensibly love about mysteries, but freed from having to make everything cohere.

“The central mystery is messy, for sure (just ask Schrodinger’s chauffeur), with a lot of the original text’s more lurid and exciting details excised. But it’s okay, the film itself says to the viewer, what Will Hays doesn’t know won’t hurt him, and so we make a deal with the film, and it creates its own way of speaking the unspeakable. In a way, The Big Sleep is a great way to teach straight people about queer subtext, as Martha Vickers’ exquisite performance as troubled sister Carmen is steeped in letting us know that there is much more happening with her than the film is allowed to show or tell. And truthfully, is there anything not made better by the presence of Elisha Cook, Jr.?

“Howard Hawks has made so many classic films that it boggles the mind. Even compromised, rethought, reshot, and revamped, he and his cast deliver a mystery that’s eminently revisitable. After years of black and white propaganda and accepting things at face value, here is this fantastic object that teaches us the joy of grey.”

~ Jason Shawhan

Principal cast: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Ridgely, Martha Vickers, Dorothy Malone, Peggy Knudsen, Regis Toomey, Charles Waldron, Charles D. Brown, Bob Steele, Elisha Cook Jr., Louis Jean Heydt
Screenplay by: William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman
Based on the novel by Raymond Chandler
Executive producer: Jack L. Warner
Cinematography by: Sidney Hickox
Art direction by: Carl Jules Weyl
Wardrobe: Leah Rhodes
Film editing by: Christian Nyby
Original music by: Max Steiner
Makeup by: Perc Westmore
Special effects by: Roy Davidson, Warren Lynch
Produced by: Howard Hawks (uncredited)
Sound by: Robert B. Lee, Gerald W. Alexander (uncredited), Robert G. Wayne (uncredited)

Duration: 114 minutes
Languages: English
Filmed in black and white
Sound mix: Mono (RCA Sound System)
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1

Produced and released in USA by Warner Bros.
Premiered in Atlantic City, New Jersey on August 22, 1946

Awards and honors:
- National Film Registry selection, 1997
- Selected as one of Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies,” 22 June 1997