Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Darkness #12: Calling on Four Million Dollars (Opening Scene of The Big Sleep)

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Here's the last Daily Dose for Week 3 and its theme "What Influenced Film Noir?" It is the opening scene of Howard Hawks' 1946 film The Big Sleep. This Daily Dose will be released on Thursday Morning, June 18th. If you don't get it automatically sent by email, remember all Daily Doses are archived at Canvas, and can be reached through this link: https://learn.canvas.net/courses/748/announcements

 

Let the discussions begin!

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My first thought about this was to compare Spade with Marlowe: Spade seems brasher, tougher, possibly more cynical and opportunistic; Marlowe seems quicker with the quips but generally more polite, taking time to listen, and less aggressive. 

 

Interesting to see the two Bogart portrayals so close together: I grew up loving Chandler's books and had a very definite mental image of Marlowe. To me I was happy with Bogart as Spade and not so much as Marlowe. Watching this clip has made me re-consider (for the moment)...in any case he's a vast improvement over Dick Powell! The shame is though that Robert Mitchum only ever got to play Marlowe when he was really too old for the role, I would have loved to have seen him as Marlowe at his prime. 

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Marlowe is a tough guy with a keen sense of sincerity who doesn't mind throwing around a double entendre or two. he seems very comfortable in his own skin and also seems to know more than he lets on. Marlowe is a more gentle man compared to Spade yet can stand his own ground. Its hard to compare the two yes there are differences and similarities but the characters are on there own.

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I love the noir convention of revealing a main character, rather than just seeing him/her right away. We see only Marlowe's hand, then hear his voice behind the large door, and then he steps into the scene as if stepping onto stage. In fact, the landing at Sternwood is like a stage, with its plush curtains on either side, and then a step down into the rest of the house. Marlowe's entrance is accompanied by a flourish of ominous music as he moves into the world of this troubled family.

 

From the first moments, we learn that Marlowe is observant, flirtatious, witty, rebellious but at ease. He is smart and clever like Sam Spade, but, as they say, "Without the edge." 

 

Another convention used here is the angled lines of the greenhouse - on the doors, the ceiling, and the walls. There is a wonderful visual metaphor when he enters the room and we follow him behind the thick, jungle-like plants. He is entering a hot, dense world of what the Colonel describes as "the rotten sweetness of corruption." Delicious.

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We see the brief nod to the first person perspective when the Sternwood door is shown and Marlowe's shadow is cast on it.  Then we see Marlowe's hand press the buzzer.

 

Marlowe, as portrayed by Bogart, seems to be more laid back than Sam Spade.  He cracks wise and has a sense of humor.  We find out in his conversation with Gen. Sternwood that he can be insubordinate.  He is also a good listener.

 

Hawk's shows the temperature in the hothouse through Marlowe.  Sternwood is wrapped up like it is freezing.  Marlowe is given permission to remove his jacket, which he does.  Then during the course of his conversation with Sternwood, Marlowe loosens his tie, rolls up his sleeves, his shirt progressively becomes more crumpled and damp with sweat.  Sweat is also on his forehead.  He does not complain. 

 

Both Spade and Marlowe are good detectives but I find Spade to be more ruthless.

 

 

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I've only seen this movie once, and quite awhile ago.  I was surprised to hear that Phillip Marlowe went to college.  In the TCM quotes, he even mentions Marcel Proust.  I can't imagine Sam Spade mentioning Proust even if he knew who he was.  Bogart's Sam Spade seems more "street smart" than "book smart.  Both characters have the snappy patter that I associate with film noir.

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Truth be told, the opening lines from Chandler's novel seem to match what we see on screen. It's almost like a hidden narrative as we see the impeccable and confident Bogart stride onto the scene. I also think his interaction with Carmen also tells something about his character, for he shows attraction to her, but he's not about to succumb so easily to female charms, especially on the line of duty. He seems to know what his job entails and how people might try to trip him up, so he appears to be cautiously on his toes throughout the opening scene.

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Bogart is Bogart. He brings his charisma with him. Serious hard-boiled and honest. You get what you see. Essentially he is channelling Chandler's Marlowe as Spade except that Marlowe was a loner who never had a partner while Hammett's Spade is not above having an affair with his partner's wife. The irony is that Hawks has Marlowe as a much darker figure at the end - willing to bend the law and kill for a dame. Hawks plays up the amour fou angle while Chandler kept it at a low simmer. Hawks should have used a Bogart voice-over of Chandler's monologue. In the book it immediately establishes that while Marlowe is happy to dress snappy for the occasion he retains a healthy cynicism - and he is too serious to tolerate a dizzy baby sister for too long. Visually while Hawks is faithful to the book here, his mis-en-scene is not really notable.

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In this opening scene we learn that Marlowe is polite with a quick wit. We also learn he is a college grad with a tendency toward insubordination. He is more polished than Spade whose education was on the street.

What's with the hothouse-is Marlowe on the "hotseat" with this job? I liked Sternwood's description of orchids and that they are his excuse for the hothouse-he needs heat he has no blood left-who has drained him of his blood?Lots of symbolism in this opening scene.

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Here comes Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe looking smooth as ever.  We know we are going to be infor a good ride.  With Bogart we are in good hands.At this point Marlowe is very measured.  No over the top here.  Marlowe wants to be comfortable and in control of a situation, but the greenhouse is just a tad too warm.  Note Marlowe squirming just a little and pulling at his collar.  We see a brief encounter with a femme fatale.  Marlowe knows better.  She is a faux femme fatale (or F cubed).  Enjoy the ride!

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He's a college-educated (not as common for working class men in that era) smart-**** detective. He thinks fast on his feet, but his mouth gets him into trouble sometimes.

 

It's contribution to the genre is rendering plot almost secondary to ambience and character.

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 -- How does this opening sequence establish Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe? What do we learn about Marlowe in these first few moments of the film? 

 

From the start, we wait for the face behind the voice, "I'm Phillip Marlowe". The hall of the mansion is spacious. Marlowe notices his surroundings. He checks out young Miss Sternwood, but I've a hunch he's wishing she would go away. He's there on business. Besides, Bacall would be much more in his league than young Carmen, as he would soon learn.

 

-- Do you see a difference in Bogart's portrayal of Marlowe compared to his performance as Spade in The Maltese Falcon?

 

Marlowe is more seasoned than Spade. Calmer. Spade is more icy and edgy. There professions are similar, their personalities are not.

 

-- In what ways can the opening of The Big Sleep be considered an important contribution to the film noir style?

 

Again, the voice without a face, purposefuly done. The depth and 'distraction' of the mansion. The vixen. And oh yeah, all that sweat.

 

One of my favorite films.

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Marlowe seems quicker with the quips but generally more polite, taking time to listen, and less aggressive. 

 

It always struck me that Marlowe seemed to really actually like and care about people, especially ones who he felt were decent. There are quite a few moments in the books (and their movie adaptations) where you see him strike up genuine friendships with people he has only just met (I think it's in Farewell, My Lovely that he is immediately friendly and trusting of a man he meets hanging out on the docks). The flip side to that is that he is more vulnerable, in some ways, than Sam Spade--he is more likely to feel injured by betrayals and disappointed in people when they do wrong.

 

Something that really struck me watching this scene again (because I've seen the movie several times) is just how disturbingly child-like Carmen is. I know that people have called her slutty, and Marlowe refers to her as being "wild," but the  way she flirts is like the way that a girl of 11 or 12 would flirt: the way she ignores him at first with her hands clasped, her pouting, literally falling into her arms. These are behaviors I associate with immature girls who understand the idea of flirting and romance, but have kind of a clunky way of going about it.

 

I know that Marlowe could be really put off by Carmen (and in the scene in the book where she sneaks into his bed, he is so angry with her and disgusted), but I always felt sorry for her. She's clearly very troubled, she is taken advantage of and exploited by others, and no one in her life really steps up to protect her until after pretty horrible things have happened.

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Humphrey Bogart's Marlowe is the best of them all, real (Dick Powell's) or imagined (Robert Michum's). Perfectly self-possessed, he enters the Sternwood home as any professional would, only to meet a disconcerting Carmen Sternwood who briefly takes him aback with her seductiveness. Bogart's Marlowe is never at a loss for words. He instantly discovers her naivete by using the term "shamus" (interestingly, of Yiddish extraction) to see if she knows what that means. When she doesn't, they both know she's just a kid who'd rather be an experienced, grown-up doll. When she falls into Marlowe's arms this briefly takes him aback, but he asserts himself immediately when, upon the butler's entry, he asserts they "ought to wean her." Norris's (the butler's) microscopic pause upon re-entering the room is  brilliant: He's seen stuff like this before, and, oh, no, here it is again. Credit director Howard Hawks's brilliance here: no one ever worked better with Bogart than Hawks, who was not above trying to seduce actresses (Lauren Bacall, unsuccessfully) and (Dolores Moran from To Have and Have Not, successfully) was noir's most talented master of mise-en-scene.

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 How does this opening sequence establish Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe? What do we learn about Marlowe in these first few moments of the film? 

 

Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe in the opening scene comes off as someone very quick to answer and play along given any situation.  He seems to be sizing up everyone he meets.

 

 

-- Do you see a difference in Bogart's portrayal of Marlowe compared to his performance as Spade in The Maltese Falcon?

 

Its been a while since I have seen both movies.  I would say based on what I recall that Spade appeared to be more professional P.I. type, and Philip marlowe more street wise and quick witted.

 

 

 

-- In what ways can the opening of The Big Sleep be considered an important contribution to the film noir style?

 

Anything with the character of Philip Marlowe one of the main names that comes up when anyone mentions detective movies or characters has a very important contribution or link to film noir.

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“Good morning.”

 

“You’re not very tall, are you?”

“Yeah well, I try to be.”

 

“Not bad, but you probably know it.” The girl said as she flirtatiously bites a strand of her hair.

“Thank you.”

 

“What’s your name?”

“Reilly, Doghouse Reilly.”

 

“That’s a funny kind of name.”

“Think so?”

 

“What are you, a prizefighter?”

“No, I’m a shamus.”

“What’s a shamus?”

“It’s a private detective”

 

“You’re making fun of me.”

“Uh-uh.”

 

She fell straight back into Marlowe’s arms. He had to catch her or let her fall. So he caught her.

“You’re cute.”

 

The butler walks in the room to see Marlowe holding the girl.

No reaction. “The General will see you now, Mr. Marlowe.”

The girl sashays away.

 

“Eh, who was that?”

“Miss Carmen Sternwood, sir.”

“You ought to wean her. She looks old enough.”

“Yes sir.”

 

Philip Marlowe is no push-over ready to fall for a young flirting girl with dubious intentions.

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post-47719-0-15066600-1434633038_thumb.jpg

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I love the noir convention of revealing a main character, rather than just seeing him/her right away. We see only Marlowe's hand, then hear his voice behind the large door, and then he steps into the scene as if stepping onto stage. In fact, the landing at Sternwood is like a stage, with its plush curtains on either side, and then a step down into the rest of the house. Marlowe's entrance is accompanied by a flourish of ominous music as he moves into the world of this troubled family.

 

From the first moments, we learn that Marlowe is observant, flirtatious, witty, rebellious but at ease. He is smart and clever like Sam Spade, but, as they say, "Without the edge." 

 

Another convention used here is the angled lines of the greenhouse - on the doors, the ceiling, and the walls. There is a wonderful visual metaphor when he enters the room and we follow him behind the thick, jungle-like plants. He is entering a hot, dense world of what the Colonel describes as "the rotten sweetness of corruption." Delicious.

This is very well said. Great insight here.

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In novels and in movies, the most effective way to reveal character is through good dialogue like that in the opening scene of "The Big Sleep." In the span of only a few minutes, viewers learn a lot about Marlowe and the other characters by how they speak to each other and interact. Many fans of crime fiction count writers who are excellent with dialogue - George V. Higgins, Elmore Leonard, James Ellroy, Richard Lange - among their favorite novelists. Good dialogue always makes a story memorable.      

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We learn in the first few moments that Marlowe is a fish out of water in a hot house of inequity. Gen. Sherwood likes him and immediately confesses all to his new 'bro', Bogie gives his signature, cynical sneer that is his response. When he removes his outward guise/or suit coat because of the heat we are struck by his open shirttails and askew collar. We know that we are ready to get down to the nitty gritty.

 

Bogie isn't 'in fact uated' by the pretentious nature of the 'home' and he is brutally honest when he tells the Gen. that his daughters are, well...wild.

 

Suited up on the trail to greed, Bogie as Spade is still refining his portrayal of the "shamus," as Maltese Falcon is an earlier version. As Marlowe in The Big Sleep he has perfected his painful wince and embodies the character of the wounded, self-mocking loner. Enter the femme fatale in Sleep; his disdain for the indulgent Sis is only matched by his innuendos with his sparring partner, Bacall.

 

Plot is not so important in this full blown Noir, character and juxtaposition keep our interest.

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I have this movie on DVD, and haven't watched it in awhile so I don't remember much about this movie. 

 

Phillip Marlowe is established as a well-dressed, blunt-talking private detective but with the sophistication of a college-educated man. 

 

It's also been awhile since I've seen The Maltese Falcon so I can't make an adequate comparison between Marlowe and Spade.

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Bogart as Marlowe is quieter, more assured of himself, than Bogart's portrayal of Sam Spade was. Spade was edgy, talkative, because he didn't have a lot of information, his way was to go around questioning but never really knowing until near the end. He has many of the qualities of the crime-detective genre in that way.

 

Marlowe does his homework, and is more sophisticated because of that, both in dress and repartee. He is able to carry on with the younger daughter, but also with the general, talking about brandy, smoke and orchids. He can respond to both of them on their level.

 

This is especially apparent later in the film when he is investigating the book shop and asks about the Ben Hur edition. Then goes across to another bookstore and asks Dorothy Malone in that scene, she knows, they didn't. Which gets Marlowe a place to watch the other book store, and as the camera moves away...more.

 

Marlowe can be as deadly as Sam Spade, but he goes about it differently. There is a sophistication that develops with these noir PI's it seems, from Spade, to Marlowe to Hammond. They have more, but that means they want more.

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Marlowe is the kindler, gentler,world- weary Spade, He doesn't trust people but he's kinder and politer and he can spot a femme fatale right away.

That being said, The first time I tried to watch The Big Sleep I feel asleep during his General Sternwood conversation 3 times.

The Big Sleep is classic detective noir, It took me watching the pre-release version to figure out what the heck was going on

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We learn early on that Bogart is very much in his element. He's cool, calm and collected. We also learn that Marlowe is smarter than people's first impressions. He clearly has done his homework as he knows the people he is investigating.

 

 

Marlowe is more of slow burn character where as Spade is much more of a head cracker. both characters use great dialogue and observe what is around them to their advantage. Spade is more prone to leap into trouble where as Marlowe is a bid more steady and cautious.

 

The opening of the film is important because it immediately sets the action going for the film through great dialogue that is crisp and quick in tempo and as a result things get moving pretty quick. We also have a lead women who we see in opening is very much a tough, no nonsense kind of dame. The camera work is also in the style of noir. The musical accompaniment also works to establish the genre.

 

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There are several instances that introduce us to Marlow. Before he even enters the picture, we know his name. He lets the younger daughter know his profession, and also makes it clear that he can match wits with her. He's much more direct and professional with the General, giving not just his name, but his background as well.

 

As Sam Spade, we're introduced to who and what he is more by the setting than the dialogue. As Phillip Marlow, the dialogue rather than the setting brings him to life.

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When it comes to Bogart, I cannot be very objective I am afraid... He is one of those actors that are simply natural in what they are doing, they don't need to act. However, that doesn't mean that their interpretations of all different roles are the same. No, there is a difference between private eye Spade and Marlowe. Spade seems to me more "street wise" and “playful” than Marlowe, who is more steady and serious. I suppose that the opening scene is somewhat standard to "detective-mystery" films, except that it doesn't feature the scene of the crime committed before the detective meets his client. Plunging clueless into the story, with no pretext, is the very reason why this scene is simply remarkable. Along with the protagonist, we have no idea what awaits us behind the door of the mansion.

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