Saturday 11 February 2012


I've written about this before, but each time I watch The Big Sleep, I'm surprised people affect finding the plot so hard to follow. I was reminded of this as I watched it yet again on Air NZ to LA yesterday. The famous story about the screenwriters being unable to figure out one murder in Raymond Chandler's novel may have prompted this response, but, just for the record, here's the scorecard of the seven killings:

1. Geiger (blackmailer, pornographer) killed by chauffeur Owen Taylor to protect Carmen Sternwood
2. Taylor killed by Joe Brody (played by Louis Jean Heydt, pictured left, with the impressive Sonia Darrin as Agnes Lowzier, an appropriate surname) to get blackmail film he took from Geiger
3. Brody killed by Carol Lundgren (Geiger's chaffeur & lover, note the ambiguous name) in mistaken revenge
4. Harry Jones (replacing Brody as Agnes' dogsbody) killed by Canino to shut him up about Eddie Mars' wife
5. Canino, gunned down by Marlowe in self-defense, but also for Jonesy
6. Eddie Mars, shot by Marlowe but killed by his own men, set to trap and kill Marlowe
7. Sean Regan (already dead when story starts) killed by Carmen in the novel, but here left ambiguous, with Mars labelled the killer, although how he would not have recognised Carmen, if he were involved in blackmail, is hard to figure.

Bogart's Marlowe also seems to have sex-appeal like Stacy Keach's Mike Hammer. Women keep giving him the eye, and, because this is a Howard Hawks film (and taking place during World War II) they are often eyeing him more or less as equals. Which makes a great contrast to the way Martha Vickers' Carmen is presented--and an even bigger contrast to the way Chandler draws her, where she disgusts Marlowe. These Hawks-type babes, of whom Lauren Bacall, is an archetype, include:

1. Librarian (Carole Douglas) 'you're not the antiquarian book type'. This seems to have been Carole Douglas' only film role. 
2. Dorothy Malone's Acme Bookshop owner, who literally lets her hair down (after taking off her glasses) and whom, after their interlude, Marlowe calls 'pal', a very Hawksian touch
3. Countergirl (Deannie Best) who lights Marlowe's cigarette; the kind of male perogative women often exercise in Hawks' films
4. Taxi Driver (Joy Barlow) 'nights are better, I work days'
5. Hat check (Lorraine Miller) and Cigarette girl (Shelby Payne) at Eddie Mars' club and
6 Marlowe calls Mona Mars (Peggy Knudsen) 'my kind of gal', for the way she stands by Eddie Mars.

It might be interesting also to consider the over/under on how many of these women spent time on the Hawks casting couch. And on just how important Jules Furthman's one-liners are to the excellent script, written with Leigh Brackett, who probably provided a fair few herself, and William Faulkner.

 In my most recent viewing of the movie, in 2022, I noticed that Marlowe gives his cop friend Bernie Olds the wrong address for Geiger's house --it's quite clearly 460, but he gives a number in the thousands. Go figure.


Elisa said...

Mike, have you seen The Long Goodbye in the recent past? I'd be interested in your reactions to Elliot Gould as Marlowe along with the contrast between Altman and Hawkes.

Michael Carlson said...

It's been a while since I've seen it, but I like it very much. The contrast (which is esp interesting as Leigh Brackett worked on both screenplays) is not quite as dramatic as it appears at first. Altman's is a far more cynical film, Gould's Marlowe is far less adept than Marlowe's (far more real in that sense) and the ending of course is meant to be both more 'real' and ironic commentary on Hollywood detectives. But Hawks' Marlowe has an element of that as well: he was jazzed up somewhat when the picture was re-edited to emphasize the Bogart/Bacall relationship and speed it up...each in their own way is outstanding, as Greg Marmalard says to Dean Wormer...

Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the scorecard. I'll let you know if I can poke any holes in it.

Dan said...

Very informative and quite useful. But--many of the one-liners come straight from Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep.

Michael Carlson said...

Dan: some do and many don't. For example, Bogart tells Douglas he collects 'bottles and blondes'. In the novel the librarian is a male. Chandler's Marlowe is not the babe-magnet Hawks' is, nor would her want to be.