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The Big Sleep

The Big Sleep(1946)

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The Big Sleep (1946)


Private Detective Philip Marlowe accepts what appears to be a simple case of tracking down the man who's blackmailing spoiled rich girl Carmen Sternwood. Instead, his investigation leads him down a trail of crime, seduction and murder that exposes the corrupt underbelly of Los Angeles. It also leads to an explosive romance with Vivian Sternwood, who'll do anything to protect her sister, even if it means having to commit murder.

Producer-Director: Howard Hawks
Screenplay: William Faulkner, Jules Furthman, Leigh Brackett
Based on the novel by Raymond Chandler
Cinematography: Sid Hickox
Editing: Christian Nyby
Art Direction: Carl Jules Weyl
Music: Max Steiner
Cast: Humphrey Bogart (Philip Marlowe), Lauren Bacall (Vivian), John Ridgely (Eddie Mars), Louis Jean Heydt (Joe Brody), Elisha Cook, Jr. (Jones), Regis Toomey (Bernie Ohls), Sonia Darrin (Agnes), Bob Steele (Camino), Martha Vickers (Carmen), Dorothy Malone (Girl in Bookshop), Charles Waldron (General Sternwood), Theodore von Eltz (Geiger).
BW -118m.

Why THE BIG SLEEP is Essential

Even before To Have and Have Not was released in 1944, it became clear that Warner Bros. had a huge hit on its hands, a major new star in Lauren Bacall, and a hot romantic team in Bacall and Humphrey Bogart. Naturally, the studio wanted to recapture the magic, so they immediately put The Big Sleep (1946) into production, with Howard Hawks once again directing.

With its interlocking murder investigations that reveal a world of decadence and corruption and its world-weary private eye hero, The Big Sleep is considered one of the screen's greatest films noirs. Based on a private-eye novel by Raymond Chandler, the film has a convoluted plot. Bogart is detective Philip Marlowe, hired by a dying rich man to get rid of a blackmailer. The rich man's two beautiful daughters, Bacall and Martha Vickers, are constantly getting into trouble...and getting Marlowe into trouble as well. Even such distinguished writers as William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman couldn't make sense of the story. Chandler claimed that Hawks even sent him a telegram, wanting to know who had committed one of the murders. Chandler had no idea. But it didn't really matter. It's not the plot that makes The Big Sleep crackle, it's the witty dialogue, and the potent chemistry between Bacall and Bogart.

The Big Sleep was finished in early 1945, near the end of World War II. The studio wanted to get its war-themed films in theaters as soon as possible, so The Big Sleep sat on the shelf while those films were released. Meanwhile, Bacall's third film, Confidential Agent (1945), had been released, and she'd gotten terrible reviews. Even the fact that Bogart had finally divorced his wife and married Bacall couldn't take the sting out of those bad notices.

Bacall's agent saw The Big Sleep, and urged studio chief Jack Warner to make changes that would exploit the Bogart-Bacall chemistry, and add more of the "insolence" that had made her a star. Warner and Hawks agreed, and brought in Julius Epstein to write new scenes. Most notable was a sexy double-entendre conversation about horse racing. Among the scenes that were dropped was one that clarified plot points. Released in 1946, the new version was as big a hit as To Have and Have Not. The original 1945 version of The Big Sleep was only available in rare 16mm prints until 1996, when it was restored by Bob Gift of the UCLA Film & Television Archives. The new print premiered in Los Angeles in July 1996 and has aired on Turner Classic Movies (TCM).

Most critics consider Humphrey Bogart's interpretation of private eye Philip Marlowe the best in film history, ahead of such contenders as Dick Powell in Murder, My Sweet (1944), George Montgomery in The Brasher Doubloon (1947) and Elliott Gould in Robert Altman's revisionist The Long Goodbye (1973).

The Big Sleep marked the start of a long association between Hawks and screenwriter Leigh Brackett. She would also work on his Rio Bravo (1959), Hatari! (1962), Man's Favorite Sport? (1964, uncredited), El Dorado (1966) and Rio Lobo (1970).

by Margarita Landazuri & Frank Miller

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The Big Sleep (1946)

Pop Culture 101 - THE BIG SLEEP

Along with Murder, My Sweet (1944), The Big Sleep (1946) created a vogue for Raymond Chandler's work in Hollywood. It would be followed by film versions of The Blue Dahlia (1946), The High Window (as The Brasher Doubloon in 1947) and Lady in the Lake (also 1947).

In a bow to the General Sternwood character, Lauren Bacall played Lew Harper's wheelchair-bound employer in Harper (1966) which starred Paul Newman in the title role of the detective thriller.

The original 1945 version of The Big Sleep was only available in rare 16mm prints until 1996, when it was restored by Bob Gift of the UCLA Film & Television Archives. The new print premiered in Los Angeles in July 1996 and has aired on Turner Classic Movies (TCM).

Director Howard Hawks and writer Leigh Brackett would imitate Eddie Mars' death scene, in which he's shot down by his own henchmen after walking into a trap he'd set for someone else, in El Dorado (1966).

The Big Sleep was remade by director Michael Winner in 1978. He gave his film a contemporary setting and cast Robert Mitchum as Marlowe, Sarah Miles as Charlotte (originally Vivian), Candy Clark as Camilla (Carmen) and James Stewart as General Sternwood. Other actors featured in the remake included Joan Collins, Oliver Reed and John Mills. It was unanimously panned by the press.

Director Howard Hawks's work on The Big Sleep triggered a shift in his approach to filmmaking, leading to more leisurely, loosely plotted films in which character development and individual scenes take precedence over narrative coherence. He would later say, "I never figured out what was going on, but I thought that the basic thing had great scenes in it, and it was good entertainment. After that got by, I said, 'I'm never going to worry about being logical again'" (Quoted in Doug McClelland, Forties Film Talk.

The Big Sleep was way ahead of its time stylistically. Hawks's carefree approach to the mystery plot anticipated the work of such free-wheeling European directors as Jean-Luc Godard and Franois Truffaut.

by Frank Miller

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The Big Sleep (1946)

Trivia and Other Fun Stuff on THE BIG SLEEP

Philip Marlowe's habit of feeling his earlobe while in deep thought was something Humphrey Bogart incorporated from his own behavior.

Although Raymond Chandler thought Martha Vickers stole the film as Carmen, she failed to capitalize on her performance. Few directors besides Howard Hawks knew how to get such unbridled sexuality past the censors, and she herself preferred playing nice girl roles. Hawks had great hopes for her (and allegedly even had an affair with her), but eventually lost all interest in grooming her for stardom.

Re-shooting scenes a year later meant having to recast one role in The Big Sleep, Eddie Mars' wife, Mona. Originally played by Pat Clark, the role was re-shot with Peggy Knudsen.

Leigh Brackett was inspired to write her first detective novel -- No Good from a Corpse, the book that won her the job writing The Big Sleep -- after seeing Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon (1941).

Gangster Eddie Mars' henchmen, Sid and Pete, are named for Bogart's frequent co-stars and off-screen friends Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre.

Bogart had to wear platform shoes to appear taller than his two leading ladies, Lauren Bacall and Martha Vickers. That may be the reason both women taunt him about his lack of height.

The film's box office success put Hawks in a position to demand an unprecedented level of freedom for a Hollywood director, allowing him to incorporate his own production company and shop projects to the highest bidder. Other directors would follow suit.

The Big Sleep marked the second teaming of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, who had burned up screens two years earlier in To Have and Have Not (1944), also directed by Hawks. They would hook up again for the film noir Dark Passage (1947) and the gangster drama Key Largo (1948).

The Big Sleep was one of only two Warner Bros. films on which future Nobel Prize-winner William Faulkner received credit as a screenwriter. The other, To Have and Have Not, also starred Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall and was directed by Hawks.

by Frank Miller

Famous Quotes from THE BIG SLEEP

"You're not very tall, are you?"
"Well, I, uh, I try to be." -- Martha Vickers, as Carmen Sternwood, sizing up Humphrey Bogart, as Philip Marlowe.

"Nice state of affairs when a man has to indulge his vices by proxy." -- Charles Waldron, as General Sternwood, offering Bogart, as Philip Marlowe, a drink.

"I need hardly add that any man who has lived as I have and indulges for the first time in parenthood at the age of 55 deserves all he gets." -- Waldron, as General Sternwood.

"Then she tried to sit in my lap while I was standing up." - Bogart, as Marlowe, describing Carmen's behavior.

"So you're a private detective. I didn't know they existed, except in books -- or else they were greasy little men snooping around hotel corridors." -- Lauren Bacall, as Vivian Rutledge, to Bogart.

"You ought to wean her. She's old enough." -- Bogart, commenting on Vickers.

"I don't like your manners."
"And I'm not crazy about yours. I didn't ask to see you. I don't mind if you don't like my manners. I don't like them myself. They're pretty bad. I grieve over them long winter evenings." -- Bacall, as Vivien Sternwood, sparring with Bogart.

"So you do get up, I was beginning to think you worked in bed like Marcel Proust."
"Who's he?"
"You wouldn't know him, a French writer."
"Come into my boudoir." -- Bacall, as Vivian, inspiring Bogart to show off his class.

"My, my, my, such a lot of guns around town and so few brains. You know, you're the second guy I've met today that seems to think a gat in the hand means the world by the tail." -- Bogart.

"If you can use me again sometime, call this number."
"Day and night?"
"Uh, night's better. I work during the day." -- Joy Barlow, as the taxi driver, coming on to Bogart.

"Did I hurt you much, sugar?"
"You and every other man I've ever met." -- Bogart trying to make nice with Sonia Darrin, as Agnes.

"Speaking of horses, I like to play them myself. But I like to see them work out a little first, see if they're front runners or come from behind, find out what their whole card is, what makes them run."
"Find out mine?"
"I think so."
"Go ahead."
"I'd say you don't like to be rated. You like to get out in front, open up a little lead, take a little breather in the backstretch, and then come home free."
"You don't like to be rated yourself."
"I haven't met anyone yet that can do it. Any suggestions?"
"Well, I can't tell till I've seen you over a distance of ground. You've got a touch of class, but I don't know how, how far you can go."
"A lot depends on who's in the saddle." -- Bacall and Bogart, discussing horse racing, among other things.

"Too many people told me to stop." -- Bogart, explaining why he refused to drop the case.

"What's wrong with you?"
"Nothing you can't fix." -- Bogart and Bacall, facing the future together as the film ends.

Compiled by Frank Miller

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The Big Sleep (1946)

The Big Idea Behind THE BIG SLEEP

The Big Sleep was the first novel to feature Raymond Chandler's most famous detective, Philip Marlowe. The book actually combined two earlier Chandler stories, "Killer in the Rain" and "The Curtain," both of which had appeared in the famous Black Mask mystery magazine. The world-weary private eye living by his own sense of honor won high praise from such authors as Somerset Maugham and J.B. Priestley.

The film version was made to capitalize on the success of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall's first film together, To Have and Have Not (1944). After the earlier film's successful first preview, Warner Bros. studio head Jack Warner told its director, Howard Hawks to come up with another vehicle for them. Hawks suggested Marlowe's novel, telling Warner it was like an earlier studio hit, The Maltese Falcon (1941), which had helped make Bogart a star. Warner had actually considered filming the novel earlier, but had decided against it because there were too many censorship problems in its depiction of pornographers, nymphomaniacs, homosexuals and corrupt cops.

Hawks bought the rights to The Big Sleep for $20,000 then sold them to the studio for $55,000.

After reading Leigh Brackett's first novel, the hard-boiled detective story No Good from a Corpse, director Howard Hawks called her agent to arrange an interview and was rather surprised to see a short 29-year-old woman walk into his office. It didn't alter his original opinion, however, and he hired her to work on the screenplay with William Faulkner.

Brackett only had one meeting with co-writer William Faulkner. He told her they would each adapt alternate chapters of the original novel, then went off to work on his own. They finished their first draft in eight days, and Hawks patched together their various scenes.

Bogart read the script and objected to some lines he thought were too genteel for the character. He assumed they had been written by Brackett because she was a woman. When he went to request re-writes from her, she told him they were Faulkner's lines. Then she proceeded to make the dialogue even more hard-boiled and tough. As a result, he nicknamed her "Butch."

In one major departure from Chandler's novel, Hawks decided not to have Bacall turn out to be an accomplice to murder (and omitted the murder victim from the story as well). That allowed her to enjoy a final clinch with Bogart while at the same time capitalizing on the couple's success together in To Have and Have Not and their romantic relationship off-screen.

Whether it was wish fulfillment or his desire to increase the film's sexual tension, Hawks decided that every woman in the film would find Marlowe irresistible and try to seduce him.

While casting the film, Hawks was impressed by a glamorous photo of model-turned-actress Martha MacVicar. She had started acting in horror films at Universal (Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, Captive Wild Woman, both 1943), so he had Warner Bros. buy up her contract and then taught her how to exploit her sexuality to the maximum as the nymphomaniacal Carmen.

by Frank Miller

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The Big Sleep (1946)

Behind the Camera on THE BIG SLEEP

Although they had fallen in love on the set of To Have and Have Not (1944), Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall had stayed apart since then because of his marriage to actress Mayo Methot. Their reunion for The Big Sleep rekindled the romance, however, causing more trouble for Bogart at home as he repeatedly left his wife and then moved back in hopes that she could get her drinking under control. He also started drinking more heavily himself. Despite this, it only hindered a few days of production.

Bogart's indecision over whether or not to leave his wife triggered a bout of nerves for Bacall, whose hands shook whenever she had to light a cigarette or pour a drink during the filming.

Director Howard Hawks did not approve of the Bogart-Bacall relationship. He had discovered Bacall, still had her under a personal contract, and felt rather paternal toward her. In addition to lecturing her about staying away from her co-star, Hawks and his wife tried to fix her up with other men, including Clark Gable.

Southern novelist William Faulkner never adjusted to life in Hollywood. While working on the script for The Big Sleep, he told Hawks that the studio atmosphere was stifling him and asked if he could work at home. Hawks agreed. After a few days without hearing from the writer, Hawks called his hotel, only to learn that Faulkner had checked out and gone back to his native Mississippi. When Hawks called him there, Faulkner protested, "Well, you said I could go home and write, didn't you?"

With two writers working separately on the script, Hawks ended up with a film that was too long to shoot. Faulkner proved to be an excellent collaborator though he returned to Mississippi before the film was completed. Then Hawks brought in frequent collaborator Jules Furthman to further edit the script and make other changes during filming.

Hawks and the writers tried various endings for the story. In one, Carmen (Martha Vickers) attempts to fake a suicide only to discover that her gun is loaded with real bullets rather than blanks. Next, they had Carmen confess to her crimes and walk into an ambush by gangsters. Finally, they wrote it so that Marlowe decided, on the basis of a coin toss, to allow her to leave the house and walk into the ambush. When the Production Code committee objected to the violence, Hawks asked how they would end the film, and they came up with the idea of Bogart forcing the gangster chief out of the house, where the criminal was shot by his own gang. Hawks was so impressed he offered to hire them as writers.

As was the case with most of Hawks's films, The Big Sleep was great fun to make. According to Lauren Bacall (in By Myself) they even got a memo from studio head Jack Warner saying "Word has reached me that you are having fun on the set. This must stop.""

Raymond Chandler's original novel was so convoluted that, according to legend, neither Hawks nor any of the writers could figure out who killed the Sternwood's chauffeur. Finally, he wired the author for an explanation. Chandler suggested one killer, but Hawks wired back that he was nowhere around when the murder took place. Chandler wired back, "Then I don't know either." The story may have been invented by Hawks, however, as the film's initial cut features a scene, written in the first draft, in which Marlowe explains all of the murders, including the chauffeur's, to the district attorney.

Dorothy Malone was just starting out in movies when she played the bookstore clerk who seduces Bogart. She was so nervous making the scene they had to weight the glass of liquor she offers him to keep her hands from shaking.

During shooting, Hawks added the strong implication that Marlowe and the bookstore clerk are about to make love as the scene ends. There is no such indication in the novel, but Hawks was so struck with the 19-year-old Malone's mature sexuality that he decided to make the scene steamier.

By the time the film's projected completion date arrived, November 28, 1944, Hawks had shot less than half the script. Although Bogart's marital problems had caused some delays, the main problem was Hawks's continual re-writing. While the studio closed for the Christmas holidays, Hawks and Furthman shortened the script so they could finish the film more quickly and economically, cutting whole scenes to free up sets. He finally finished the film on January 12, 1945, 34 days behind schedule. Because he had kept secondary sets as inexpensive as possible, however, he was only $15,000 over budget.

When the film previewed in February, audience response was good, but the Bogart-Bacall pairing didn't have the same impact as in To Have and Have Not. The problem, many felt, was that they didn't have enough scenes together.

Although Bacall shot another film, Confidential Agent (1945), after this one, Warners' decided to release it first, arguing that the later film was more topical and needed to come out during the final days of World War II. They also felt it showcased Bacall more effectively. The film turned out to be a disaster, however. At the urging of her agent, Charles Feldman, Hawks and the studio built up her part in The Big Sleep and re-shot a scene in which she wore an unflattering veil. The original version was only shown to U.S. soldiers stationed overseas.

Philip Epstein, co-author of Casablanca (1942), helped Hawks write the new scenes. His goal was to create more sexual chemistry between the stars, playing on the insolence Bacall had shown in To Have and Have Not. His work included the famous horseracing scene, filled with double entendre that sailed right by the industry censors enforcing the Production Code. In later years, Hawks would claim to have written it because the re-takes were forcing him to miss the races at Santa Anita.

In re-cutting the film, Hawks also removed the scene in which Marlowe explains the crimes. The film's success supported his growing conviction that audiences didn't care if a plot made sense as long as they had a good time.

In the year that passed between finishing the first version of The Big Sleep and shooting the new scenes, Bacall and Bogart had gotten married. This had strained their relationship with Hawks, who sold his personal contract for Bacall's services to Warner Bros. Hawks didn't even want to direct them in the new scenes unless they promised not to get "mushy all the time." (Hawks quoted in Joseph McBride, Hawks on Hawks.

The new scenes went into production on January 21, 1946, and were completed a week later. The film's new version previewed successfully on February 8.

Warner Bros. executives were so impressed with Lauren Bacall's work in The Big Sleep and the success of her previously released To Have and Have Not that they renegotiated her contract, raising her salary from $350 a week to $1,000.

The film's taglines labeled it "The Violence-Screen's All-Time Rocker-Shocker!" and "The picture they were born for!"

by Frank Miller

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The Big Sleep (1946)

The Critics' Corner on THE BIG SLEEP

The Big Sleep opened to record business at New York's Strand Theatre, taking in $84,000 in its first week. It brought in $3 million in box-office rentals during its initial release, making it Warner Bros.' third-highest grossing film for 1946. It marked the seventh hit in a row for producer-director Howard Hawks.

"The Big Sleep is a violent, smoky cocktail shaken together from most of the printable misdemeanors and some that aren't -- one of those Raymond Chandler specials which puts you, along with the cast, into a state of semi-amnesia through which tough action and reaction drum with something of the nonsensical solace of hard rain on a tin roof. Humphrey Bogart and several proficient minor players keep anchoring it to some sufficient kind of reality." -James Agee, The Nation.

"Except perhaps for the showgirls in a Metro musical, there has never been assembled for one movie a greater and more delightfully varied number of female knockouts. But whereas Metro showgirls at least look content, every woman in The Big Sleep is feverishly hungry for love - and though every one of them would prefer Humphrey Bogart, they settle instantly for anybody." - Cecelia Ager, PM.

"In The Big Sleep, [director Howard] Hawks transcends the private-eye genre with his personal attitude towards apparently unmotivated violence as still another manifestation of the unnatural order with which man must copeThe Big Sleep is notable for its gallows humor and its sense of hopeless enclosure within an ominous cosmos." - Andrew Sarris, "You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet"."'s the dialogue and the entertaining qualities of the individual sequences that make this movie....The action is tense and fast, and the film catches the lurid Chandler atmosphere. The characters are a collection of sophisticated monsters...All of them talk in innuendoes, as if that were a new stylization of the American language, but how reassuring it is to know what the second layer of meaning refers to." - Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies.

"In adapting the Chandler novel for the screen, many details were altered and the directly political material erased, but an essential pessimism and cynicism remained. An atmosphere of corruption was pervasive, and more than an investigation of a crime, this is an investigation into modern treachery." - Doug Tomlinson, The International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers.

" contains the sharpest, toughest, wittiest, sexiest dialogue ever written for detective film...Hawks perfectly conveys Chandler's corrosive yet enticing Los Angeles." - Danny Peary, Guide For the Film Fanatic.

"If one had to select a representative of the dozens of thrillers produced in Hollywood during the Forties, one would turn instinctively to The Big Sleep, just as one would probably choose Raymond Chandler, its author, as the most characteristic crime writer of his generation...All the familiar Forties trademarks are there: a Max Steiner score that drowns even a thunderstorm as Marlowe tracks his man to a dingy house by night; the wide-shouldered girls (Dorothy Malone and Martha Vickers); and the sudden, chilling murders that catch almost everyone by surprise. The Big Sleep is professional movie-making at its best and at its most entertaining." - Peter Cowie, Eighty Years of Cinema.

"One of the finest mainstream noir-thrillers ever made...Hawks never allows the plot to get in the way of his real interest: the growing love, based on remarkably explicit sexual attraction, between Bogie and Bacall...the story is virtually incomprehensible at points, but who cares when the sultry mood, the incredibly witty and memorable script, and the performances are so impeccable." - Geoff Andrew, TimeOut Film Guide.

"Hawks has given story a staccato pace in the development, using long stretches of dialogless action and then whipping in fast talk between characters. This helps to punch home high spots of suspense, particularly in latter half of picture." - Variety Movie Guide.


In The Encyclopedia of Movie Awards (St. Martin's Paperbacks: 1996), writer Michael Gebert named Lauren Bacall Best Actress of 1946 for her performance in The Big Sleep.

The Big Sleep was voted onto the National Film Registry in 1997.

Compiled by Frank Miller & Jeff Stafford

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teaser The Big Sleep (1946)

Director Howard Hawks told Warner Brothers' head Jack Warner it was going to be easy. He had already blocked out half the movie ahead of time and could easily get around the censor's objections and have the whole picture ready by the end of the year. Confidence like that begs for complications and Hawks got it in spades. However, The Big Sleep (1946), meant to cash in on a popular team while they were hot, would not be released in its finished form for almost two years.

Warner was looking for another property to pair Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall after their hit To Have and Have Not (1944). Hawks, who had also directed that movie, suggested a novel by Raymond Chandler who was hot in Hollywood at the moment after Billy Wilder had used a Chandler screenplay for Double Indemnity (1944). Unfortunately, that meant Chandler was unavailable to adapt his own book because he was under exclusive contract to Paramount, so Hawks hired the man who had re-written To Have and Have Not during filming, future Nobel Prize for Literature winner William Faulkner, and paired him with Leigh Brackett, the author of another tough-guy detective novel Hawks had recently read. The director was a little taken aback to discover Leigh also happened to be a woman. Nevertheless, he decided to give the 28-year old authoress a try, launching her as one of the most important women screenwriters for action-adventure movies with work on such movies as the classic western Rio Bravo (1959) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980).

Faulkner set the writing method, dividing Chandler's novel by its chapters with Faulkner and Brackett adapting alternate chapters without consulting the other. In that manner they spun out a draft that squeaked by the censors in just two weeks and Hawks began shooting on October 10 with a Christmas 1944 release a clear possibility. Shortly things began to go wrong. First, the script was still a little vague. Bogart asked at one point who was supposed to have killed the character Owen Taylor. Hawks didn't know, the screenwriters didn't know and, when they telegraphed Chandler to ask him, he said he had no idea! Faulkner and Brackett put together a scene in which Bogart's character Marlowe figures out the murder with the help of an investigator from the D.A.'s office.

Then the real reason for all that heat between Bogart and Bacall boiled over. The married Bogart had ended the affair with Bacall that began on the set of To Have and Have Not and returned to his wife to try to salvage his marriage. It didn't work and Bogart went on a bender that delayed shooting through the Christmas holidays. Meanwhile Hawks took over some of the scripting duties, re-writing in the mornings in an effort to eliminate scenes and speed the picture along. It sounds like a harrowing experience but it must have had its pleasures. At one point Jack Warner sent a famous memo down to the set: "Word has reached me that you are having fun on the set. This must stop."

The fun didn't stop until January 12, 1945 when Hawks brought production to a close. Cut together over the next few months the movie had its world premiere for servicemen in the Philippines in August 1945. Warner Brothers delayed the U.S. release under the mistaken impression that Confidential Agent (1945) was a better lead for their new star Lauren Bacall. That turned out to be a mistake when the picture flopped and now the studio was desperate for a touch of that To Have and Have Not magic. However, preview audiences did not find it in The Big Sleep as it was then cut, complaining that there were too few scenes with Bogart and Bacall together. Cast and crew were rounded up, some new scenes were written by Philip Epstein and six days of reshooting took place in January 1946. Twenty minutes of the 1945 version, including the labored-over explanation for Owen Taylor's death, were cut and replaced with eighteen minutes of new footage and retakes. This 1946 cut became the final classic which was one of Warner Brothers biggest hits and kept the teaming of Bogart and Bacall, now legal after their May 21, 1945 wedding, as popular on the screen as it was in their new home.

Director/Producer: Howard Hawks
Written by William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman, Philip Epstein based on the novel by Raymond Chandler
Cinematographer: Sid Hickox
Editor: Christian Nyby
Music: Max Steiner
Cast: Humphrey Bogart (Philip Marlowe), Lauren Bacall (Vivian Rutledge), John Ridgely (Eddie Mars), Martha Vickers (Carmen Sternwood), Dorothy Malone (Acme Bookstore clerk), Regis Toomey (Bernie Ohls).
BW-114 min. (1946 version), BW-116 min. (1945 version).

by Brian Cady

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teaser The Big Sleep (1946)

One of the screen's greatest whodunits was a Hollywood mystery in its own right. Originally completed in 1945, The Big Sleep sat on the shelf as Warner Bros. waited for the right time to release it. There was a glut of feature production in Hollywood during World War II, leading to similar decisions at other studios. Anticipating these factors, costume designers avoided passing fads so the films would remain timeless, and most such films made it into theaters with few changes. With The Big Sleep, however, the studio decided to make major changes in the original, which had only been seen by U.S. servicemen overseas. The original cut was then filed in the vaults, leaving true film buffs hungry for a look at the picture that could have been.

The Big Sleep was originally produced as a follow-up to the successful teaming of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, the latter making her film debut, in To Have and Have Not (1944). When studio head Jack Warner asked producer-director Howard Hawks to suggest a follow-up, he immediately thought of Raymond Chandler's first novel about flinty, honorable private eye Philip Marlowe. Warner had actually considered the story earlier, but like most in Hollywood, thought Chandler's work unsuitable because of censorship problems. In The Big Sleep alone, he would have to convince the Production Code Administration to pass a story involving pornography, nymphomania, homosexuality and police corruption. In addition, the story's ending suggested that Marlowe had gotten away with murder.

Hawks got most of his material past the censors by treating it suggestively, leaving a lot of the sexier stuff in the viewers' minds rather than on-screen. He also got around the problems with the ending by simply asking the Production Code representatives to write it themselves. When they came up with the final fadeout, he offered them jobs as writers.

Reuniting Bogart and Bacall was a great idea for box-office, but initially provided some problems for the stars. Although they had fallen in love making To Have and Have Not, they had stayed apart since then so that Bogart could salvage his marriage to actress Mayo Methot or at least get her to quit drinking. When they re-teamed for the new film, Bacall was so nervous around him she could barely keep her hands still. And before long, they were back together, as he entered a cycle of leaving his wife, returning to give her one last chance and leaving again. But even though the turmoil was causing Bogart to drink more than usual, it only slowed down production by a couple of days.

What really slowed production down was Hawks' penchant for re-writing. He often kept the company waiting while he and Jules Furthman redid the day's scenes, and then started shooting late in the afternoon. By the time the picture shut down it was 34 days behind schedule. Thanks to Hawks' economy in other areas, however, it was only $15,000 over budget.

The Big Sleep previewed in February 1945. Although audience response was good, people were disappointed that they hadn't recaptured the magic of Bogie and Bacall's work in To Have and Have Not -- they just didn't have enough time together on-screen. Bacall's agent, Charles Feldman, suggested re-shooting the film to build up her role, but Warner ignored him. Bacall had another big vehicle she had finished right after The Big Sleep, Confidential Agent (1945), a wartime espionage film co-starring Charles Boyer. Since her role was larger in that picture, and the film was more timely, Warner decided to put The Big Sleep on the shelf until Confidential Agent had played out. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a disaster. Although the film got some decent reviews, Bacall's work was largely panned. The good impression she had created in To Have and Have Not was almost destroyed. Feldman pressed his case again, and this time Warner agreed. Philip G. Epstein, who had co-written the script for Casablanca (1942) prepared some new scenes, which Hawks shot in November and December of 1945. The film premiered in the U.S. in 1946 and scored a smash hit with audiences and critics.

There was one big loser in the film's renovation -- actress Martha Vickers, who played Bacall's younger sister, the sultry, depraved Carmen Sternwood. Hawks had been so impressed with the model-turned-actress that he had convinced Warner's to buy her contract from Universal. Then he had worked tirelessly with her, teaching her how to turn on the sex appeal (some say he also had an affair with her). The few in Hollywood who saw the original film thought she stole it from its stars. But in expanding Bacall's part, the studio had to cut something, and that included some of Vickers's best scenes. In the time since shooting The Big Sleep, she had failed to live up to the potential shown in that film, partly because Warner's stuck her in a series of colorless good girl roles. She quickly faded from the Hollywood landscape.

The original version of The Big Sleep remained a mystery for decades, with only a few 16mm prints in circulation. In 1996, however, Bob Gift of the UCLA Film & Television Archives supervised a restoration of the original, which premiered in Los Angeles in 1997, 52 years after it was originally finished. The original not only restores several scenes with Vickers and other characters, but it lays to rest one of the most colorful stories about the film's creation. Hawks had always told interviewers that the murder mystery was so complicated nobody could figure out exactly who killed whom. When the writers couldn't tell who murdered the Sternwood's chauffeur, Hawks called Chandler for advice, only to learn that he didn't know either. At least that's the story Hawks liked to tell. But the original 1945 version includes a scene in which Bogart explains the case to the police, including a complete list of murder victims and their killers. Hawks cut the scene because he didn't think audiences really cared if the plot made sense as long as they had a good time. Besides, it gave him a great story to tell later about the film's confusing plot.

Producer-Director: Howard Hawks
Screenplay: William Faulkner, Jules Furthman, Leigh Brackett, based on the novel by Raymond Chandler
Cinematography: Sid Hickox
Art Direction: Carl Jules Weyl
Music: Max Steiner
Cast: Humphrey Bogart (Philip Marlowe), Lauren Bacall (Vivian), John Ridgely (Eddie Mars), Louis Jean Heydt (Joe Brody), Elisha Cook, Jr. (Jones), Regis Toomey (Bernie Ohls), Sonia Darrin (Agnes), Bob Steele (Camino), Martha Vickers (Carmen), Dorothy Malone (Girl in Bookshop), Charles Waldron (General Sternwood), Theodore von Eltz (Geiger).

by Frank Miller

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