Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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Don't blame you.  Didn't like Montgomery's Lady in the Lake, either; which is a shame.  It's a really good book.   

 

So true. It's really enough just to be Bogart. The more I watch him, the more I want to. I definitely see why he snagged young Lauren. He's just too cool. Wish he'd been able to make more movies. :^(

Try Montgomery in "The Saxon Charm".

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I agree with your comment. The brief opening scene dialogue sets up the character of Marlowe and the people he will be dealing with. There's one piece of dialogue that is interesting to me looking back in history. Marlowe is college educated. In that time, college wasn't an expectation for the vast majority of people. The economic situation didn't make college a necessity to get a fair wage that would support a family. College degrees were for certain professions. I think when Marlowe says that he 'still can speak English" he is making sure that he is 'relate-able' to the Colonel.

Hi.  Dialogue isn't always a good indicator in revealing character.  People lie, to each other and to themselves.  Better to watch what they do or say when they're off guard, perhaps in the heat of the moment. Look for motivation: what do they want, how do they go about getting it?  The fact that they lie tells us something useful.

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The Big Sleep……I watched that movie about 10 times I think before I could actually figure out the plot!  That movie is a chaotic mess!!!  Okay now to discussion-

 

The comparison between Spade and Marlowe is fairly distinct for me.  Obviously we don’t have our fair-haired man of the devil here, but Bogey pulls off the suave affect needed, and deals successfully with Carmen, his first female challenge in this film.  There is one thing to note here…..no one but Bogey could have been paired up with Bacall in this movie and we all know it.  Fortunately Bogie is the kind of actor that can take on the challenge of not looking physically like the character from the novel, but putting on the demeanor that makes him believable. 

 

Marlowe’s cool and suave demeanor is a definite contrast to that rough and tumble Spade.  He played Spade so well in Maltese Falcon -  he was no nonsense.  He didn’t play games and spoke straight from the gut and he sure did like making monkeys out of cops although he had respect for the good ones. Sam Spade was the kind of man that didn’t give respect easily and when a man earned that respect he felt good about it.

 

 Marlowe is a little smoother, a little more silver tongued, he will “play the game” to get what he wants, but just as much the private eye as Spade and determined to get to the bottom of a matter for his employer.  He is more one of those people that allows people to just keep talking or going until they show their behind and he can quietly and efficiently nail them.  Later in the film though we will see his sinister side come out as he sends his would-be killer to his own demise…..very chilling. I think if were to compare his nature to the animal world, he would be a cobra, quietly observe, hypnotize the victim into thinking he/she is safe and then……strike.

 

 In this scene he is dressed nicely (and lookin’ good I might add) because he is going to an impressive estate to meet a very rich guy.  The butler absolutely cracks me up when he comes out of the arboretum and sees Carmen in Marlowe’s arms.  It doesn’t faze him one bit……I’m thinking this is normal activity and the butler is quite used to it!!!!  Very cute and very humorous, we all have to wonder what butlers have observed in the homes of the curious rich over the years….

 

Carmen’s character….what an annoying little girl….did she master that role or what???  Bogie’s character just plays right along with her little game partly because she’s cute and he’s interested but more I suspect because he knows she is probably the reason he’s there….he needs to observe and learn. So Carmen makes her first impression and then we head to the arboretum…..

 

Here we encounter a sniveling shell of a man…well- a very rich sniveling shell, so everybody listens to him and obeys except of course his rebellious and spoiled daughters…..the way he immediately launches into the details of his pathetic life as a “poor little rich boy” is beyond nauseating to me….I have to wonder if this was the intention of the director……if so, he is the master…..I bow down to him….

 

The lighting in this scene is upbeat and feel-good to me even when we are in the arboretum, although I get the feeling of slowly strangling while watching Bogey struggling to be pleasant, talk compassionately with this man and attempt to hide his obvious discomfort……(I’m thinking they had to have a seriously hot light pointed right at him during that scene….LOL)….their discussion leads us to believe that this job is going to be a routine job of dealing with some small time blackmailer whom Marlowe will easily deal with……it is not to be so. 

 

If only our clip had lasted about three minutes longer we would have had the pleasure of watching one of the most fiery scenes ever produced between Bogey & Bacall……what a steamer!!!! The electricity between these two is just unmistakable…..it’s there in every movie they made together…..oh well, I’ll just have to watch it……again…..I think I’ve watched this movie about 15 times.

I think he dresses well not so much to impress but because he has great self-respect

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Great observation on Carmen.  Interesting that Chandler has her sucking her thumb when she falls into Marlowe's arms like that.  Then goes on to describe the thumb as looking more like a finger.  She is very child-like and it's almost as if she has never grown mentally or emotionally as she has physically.

In the film, she's not sucking her thumb, she's tonguing her hair.

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We know he is Philip Marlowe because he introduces himself as such at the door, and the butler then addresses him as Mr. Marlowe.

    He is not overawed by the obvious luxury of the house, despite the fact that the high-soaring vertical lines dwarf his body.  The ceiling is too tall to be included in the shot, but a very large, probably priceless, crystal chandelier dips in at the top of the frame.  Nor is he thrown off by the lubricious taunts of the girl, but willing to play along up to a point.  He keeps his balance and doesn’t humiliate her.

In sum:  Marlowe does not lose his cool easily.

    As to the contrast between Marlowe and Spade as portrayed by Bogart, they are two entirely different people, and proof that Bogart was a very skilled actor, not a type.  His technique is so good we don’t see it, a characteristic of all master artists in all fields of art.

    Marlowe appears externally relaxed.  He is urbane, polite, respectful and dignified, even capable of smiling.  His eyes express empathy as he listens to the General.  He seems unflappable. Marlowe doesn’t get down in the muck.  Bogart controls his facial muscles, no tics.

    Spade on the other hand wears almost everything on the surface.  He is dark in atmosphere, cynical, moody, embittered.  There is nothing smooth or urbane or upbeat about him.  He is clever, knowing and unyielding.  He expects the worst.  Yet he has that core of innate honor that Chandler pointed out as an absolute requirement for a noir anti-hero.  His facial tics are ever present, and even used to intimidate.

    The two carry their bodies differently.  Marlowe moves through space easily, his body has plasticity.  Spade is wound up so tight that you can feel his joints struggling to articulate.  Their shoulder carriage is very different.  So, different bodies, different psyches, different histories.  If they served, Marlowe was an officer (he feels like a captain), despite his egalitarian ways, and Spade was a grunt, or more likely a tough noncom.

    I’d like to say something about the musical score because it is programmatic and matches motifs with character and action.  In the scene with Marlowe and the girl, she is sexy woodwinds, he counters as a flute, and, as she approaches, a light warning.  She drops into his arms with a harp arpeggio, she is supported there by violins tutti.  Earlier as Marlowe enters the mansion, the tympani’s slow, admonitory figure warns us that we must be alert.  Again, when Marlowe enters the hothouse, the full orchestra suggests danger, then, as Marlowe moves into the hot spider’s nest under a low glass ceiling, the music fades under dialogue without resolving..

    As to noir representation: this is a place that is black and white with shadowy corners.  It is not real. It goes beneath reality to present to us its undercarriage. This is a story in which anything can happen and no one is automatically trustworthy.  Most of what is going on is under the surface, where one must dive but try not to drown.

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Marlowe is introduced as his own man.  Contemptuous of his college education, he quips that he can still speak english.  He was fired for insubordination.  These things we learn after he has responded to Carmen Sternwood with amusement, tolerance and good humour, as well as a dry wit in his comment to the butler about weaning her.  Observant and impartial until he's made up his mind, Bogart wears the Marlowe character well. We see a straight shooter, a forthright individual stepping into a house of contradictions.

 

In contrast to the Sam Spade character played in The Maltese Falcon, Bogart's Marlowe doesn't convey the seen-it-all street smarts that Sam Spade does.

 

I think this opening sequence presents a series of facades that Marlowe must penetrate, and it is this that contributes to Film Noir style. The initial POV footage showing us the brass door plate; the grandiose entry hall and dignity of the butler as an introduction to the grand house; the contradictions presented by Carmen Sternwood; and the accomplished General Sternwood, repressed by his health and forced to ask for the help of a private investigator. This is all very discordant and hooks the viewer. We want to see where this goes, what's behind the facades.

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I'm impressed with the way that Marlowe remains non plussed by the strange things that happen once he enters the Sternwood home. He rolls with things. When Carmen falls into his arms he remains on the job, so to speak. He's neither appalled or seduced by her behavior. He's then shown into a hot house, which seems like Sternwood's attempt to place Marlowe in an uncomfortable position--quite literally--so that Sternwood remains in charge and in control. But instead of being shaken and put off by the general's environment, Marlowe takes things in stride. His refusal to be thrown off guard silently indicates the strength of his character.

The Sternwoods are *weird* for sure. But Marlowe takes it in stride, while acknowledging in a matter-of-fact way that he's not going to be snowed by anything. The comment about him "not particularly" liking orchids is less wry than his comment to the butler about Carmen needing to be weaned, but it's a second example in a very short time of his unwillingness to pretend he likes something he doesn't.

 

Also, he takes off his jacket, he likes his drink "in a glass"--completely unpretentious. Marlowe seems less bitter than Sam Spade, more well-adjusted. 

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Bogart's Philip Marlowe is much more open than his Sam Spade. Spade never tells anyone anything that he doesn't have to, starting with the police who question him about Miles Archer all the way to the end of the movie. The only two times he seems to enjoy himself are when he's punching Joel Cairo and when he's just yelled at Kaspar Gutman. I think Spade is a sadist who accidentally falls in love with Brigid.

 

But Marlowe enjoys himself much more. There's more whimsy in the name "Doghouse Reilly" than Spade allows himself through all of The Maltese Falcon.

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In the opening scene of The Big Sleep, the audience learns a lot about how the family Bogart will be working for is like; somewhat strange and leaving Bogart and the audience with a lot of questions. I found it very mysterious the choice to have Bogart deliver his line of who he was behind the front door so you do not see him until the butler invites him in. This adds a lot of intrigue into the scene, and is a contrast to the entrance of Sternwood's daughter, Carmen.

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Humphrey Bogart plays Philip Marlowe as a smartly dressed and quick thinking man with a great sense of humour who adapts to a very strange introduction to the Sternwood household, first meeting the seductive Carmen and then being interviewed in a sweltering hothouse by General Sternwood.  Marlow is very attractive and very likeable from the onset.

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Jamesjazzguitar, thanks for the explanation, very interesting! Funny thing is, I'd forgotten all about that scene with Carmen--I watched The Big Sleep recently (on DVD, not TCM) and that scene wasn't there--but it did have one of the other deleted scenes, so now I'm super-confused about the various versions of the movie, lol. But that's really interesting re: Eddie Mars--next time I watch, I'll watch it from that perspective. :)

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There are two strong elements that help to build a great dramatic tension on these first moments of the film. The first one is when Bogart meets one of the millionaire's daughter. She is really a femme fatale, althouogh a little young for the main prototype. Next, we see the characterization of the detective himself. And one thing that is really peculiar is that Marlowe isn't as dark and bold as other detectives of noir. He is more gentle, observer and even polite comparing himself to them. The one who is being at the attack position is Mr. Sternwood, and that along his daughters make Mr. Malowe almost a bait on the story. After all, it only increases the story itself to a higher lever of inteligence, not mentioning the superb Howard Hawks direction.

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There are two strong elements that help to build a great dramatic tension on these first moments of the film. The first one is when Bogart meets one of the millionaire's daughter. She is really a femme fatale, althouogh a little young for the main prototype. Next, we see the characterization of the detective himself. And one thing that is really peculiar is that Marlowe isn't as dark and bold as other detectives of noir. He is more gentle, observer and even polite comparing himself to them. The one who is being at the attack position is Mr. Sternwood, and that along his daughters make Mr. Malowe almost a bait on the story. After all, it only increases the story itself to a higher lever of inteligence, not mentioning the superb Howard Hawks direction.

 

The femme fatale in The Big Sleep is Agnes.   The two men in the film that partner with her, end up dead.

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It's established that Humphrey Bogart is Philip Marlowe with a clever homage to first person p.o.v. and voice over naration. We learn quite alot about Marlowe in this sequence: his name, that he notices pretty girls who show off their legs, he likes to flirt, he's quick witted and has a sense of humour - even about being short (which is rare for a man), he's a private detective here on buisiness, although he doesn't mind looking he prefers a more mature woman, he's respectful and polite to the retired General, professional, not particular about his alcohol, he "scrubs up well", he doesn't care about orchids or I suspect flowers generally, he doesn't need to agree to win favour - he's  confidently honest, 38 years old, "went to college" probably didn't graduate, "can still speak english"- he can move between the well heeled posh society and the gutter hoods, he used to work for the D.A.'s office and is still on good terms with the chief inspector even though he was fired for insubordination - either the other guy was being a jerk or Marlowe was standing up for something he believed and wouldn't back down even to save his job, "I seem to rate pretty high on that"- he's always getting himself in that sort of situation, he does his homework and though he hesitates (not wishing to offend his employer) speaks plainly.

 

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

Spade seems a harsher man, more jaded, with a colder heart: sleeping with his partner's wife then when Archer dies he gets the secretary to help him avoid her. He lets Mary Astor seduce him and then shops her to the police (though they were both using each other). Spade is an antihero.  Marlowe seems a more well rounded and honourable man, able to fit in with polite society yet remain independent. He flirts with Carmen but sees her for what she is and doesn't take advantage of her serving it on a platter. He fits perfectly Chandler's description of a detective in the last 2 paragraphs of his essay The Simple Art of Murder. Marlowe is more hero than antihero and like Chandler says "If there were enough like him, I think the world would be a very safe place to live in, and yet not too dull to be worth living in."

 

The opening of The Big Sleep is an important contribution film noir style because it has Howard Hawks directing, Bogart's acting, and Chandler's writing, seperately each is genius but together they can take your breathe away. This film is iconic, its style, dialogue, characters and that notorious plot, so confusing it even baffled the author and the screen writers - yet we all still love it. The mood seems often lighter than the subject matter, and Bogart's Marlowe finds a happy medium between Sam Spade and Nick Charles.

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Marlowe's recap to the General includes the line, "...and can still speak English when my business demands it."  Two methods of speaking, two personas, depending upon which is needed at the time.

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To Canvas Students and All "The Big Sleep" Lovers---  My favorite noir of all time. Not surprising as my first four are "To Have and Have Not", "The Big Sleep" "Dark Passage" and "Key Largo". The pattern here is obvious, Ms. Perske's "look" in those four films have been a source of enchantment for over 40 years now. I prefer the sassy, "dressed to kill" Lauren to the more plain, domesticated version of her in "Key Largo", where both her worldly ways and sexual allure are obviously not accentuated in that film, but her feminine perfection still shines through. Even though my copy of "TBS" has minor technical flaws ( soft, ill defined blacks, lack of crisp focus, varying degree of visual quality), it is still my favorite film. The opening sequence @ The Sternwood's, with Carmen's ( for its day) revealing shorts and risque behavior, and the masterful performances of Bogie and Charles Waldron as General Sternwood are superlative, those few opening minutes put the hook in me on my very first viewing those four decades ago. Once I saw Ms. Perske "drinking her lunch out of a bottle", looking so achingly perfect in every regard, and snidely verbally sparring with Bogie, I was hooked forever. IMO it is Hawks, Bogie/Bacall,and everyone involved at their very, very best. Oh, how I wish there were more. If anyone thinks I might have a flawed transfer of the DVD, (it is from the TCM four disc Bogie/Bacall box set, with the 1945 pre-release version on the A side, and the 1946 revised version on side B) please let me know. I would purchase a version that has been "remastered" gladly, so any comments on your DVDs quality would be much appreciated. THANKS,  RJM

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Before we actually see him, Marlowe is asked by the butler, "Whom shall I say is calling?" and Marlowe states his name. Once inside, he is greeted by a young woman wearing very short-shorts, who behaves in a sexually provocative manor and falling into his arms, showing us once again how noir films served to expand the parameters of "The Code". Bogart's performance as Marlowe seems a bit more relaxed and cordial than his Sam Spade of several films ago. The snappy repartee throughout the script served to establish a standard for  film noir and keeps us listening ever more intently.  

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*SPOILER ALERT*

 

Yes I remember that scene, with Brody pacing around...seemed like Brody was the best suspect, but I remember reading (and then reading again recently that--who was it? Howard Hawks? called...Raymond Chandler, I think, (maybe it was William Faulkner? I've heard several different versions), and asked who killed the chauffeur and even he didn't know. But Brody makes the most sense, thanks for explaining that. :-)

 

 

now I have another question--I'm confused by your comment about the production code. I thought in the movie, Carmen killed Sean Regan, right? Because doesn't Marlowe say something to Vivian about they're going to say it was Eddie Mars (but we all know it was Carmen) and Carmen will have to be "sent away" somewhere where she can't hurt anyone else or herself.

Stargazing- May I put forth 2 alternate scenarios? Yes, Brody's story did not seem well grounded in reality, and his fidgety rendering of it to Marlowe did him no favors. I have two alternate murder suspects for 2 different characters: 1) The chauffer- remember Vivian said he was in love with Carmen. We have no idea what the man looked like or how he carried himself, but I think Carmen's awareness of her sexual allure probably inflated her ego to enormous proportions, given her childish temperment. If she was approached by the chauffer, who she considered in a lesser leauge than say Marlowe or scores of other men she could have at her whim, she may have become insulted and lashed out. She could be very cruel in her childishness when she didn't feel she was being treated fairly. I think it just as likely that Carmen killed the chauffer, giving Eddie Mars yet another reason to blackmail General Sternwood. 2) As for Geiger: I think the most likely candidate for his killer is Eddie Mars. I may be wrong, but I feel there are not so subtle hints that Geiger was a homosexual. If his young thuggish companion was his lover, and he obviously thought Brody, not Mars, killed Geiger. That is why he killed him. We all know he did it, and Marlowe even says as much ( "by the way Joe, you killed the wrong guy. Brody didn't kill Geiger"), as he throws him out of the car. I think Geiger and his young friend were lovers, and Joe mistakenly lashed out at Brody for Geiger's murder. Why else, if they were not lovers, would he be so enraged as to kill Brody? He had no interest in Carmen, the film, or the blackmailing of General Sternwood, at least that we know of. I think both scenarios make sense, what say all of you? Mars kills Geiger, and Carmen kills the chauffer. I've watched both 1945 and 1946 versions many, many times and they seem as plausible as any other theories. Fun to speculate though, is it not? I would love to hear other thoughts on my suspects.  Thanks, RJM 

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Marlowe is established as a cool,clever,methodical detective with an eye for a pretty face. He's been around the block a few times; so he can clearly see through a seedy dame when he meets one. He's alert and has his eyes and ears opened at all times---he's nobody's fool, he'll tell you exactly how he feels whether you like it or not; even if he loses his job because he's been 'insubordinate.'

 

The difference(s) seen between the two characters is that Sam Spade is more like the alter ego of Phillip Marlowe.

 

The opening of "The Big Sleep" pays homage to the film noirs,in that, it flows with our investigation up to now. We see the elements of the noir and imagery of what we come to know a noir detective to be. Marlowe, in this film, has a facade of a well dressed, educated,smooth detective with a conscience;with dark undertones that let's us know that he is no angel in the things he says and does.We are also given the femme fatale; an array of fast dialogue and a feeling that something bad is going to happen. In addition to the film being a literary adaptation of a novel.

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In a matter of a few minutes, Phillip Marlowe gives a brisk biography of himself, while establishing his identity and persona to the audience. He is “38, went to college, can still speak English when [his] business demands it, used to work for the district attorney’s office… was fired for insubordination,” and very knowledgeable of the Sternwood family and their reputation.


 


Marlowe is also insolent, doesn’t mince words, flirtatious, is amused by his own snide comments, etc. Yet, he is still decorous in not taking off his coat in a humid area or making comments about his employer’s until given permission to do so, not easily offended (at least with comments about his height), direct, knows his business, and quickly earns the trust of his employer.


 


The only comparison I can make off the top of my head between Bogart’s Spade and Marlowe is that Marlowe has better taste in picking out long-term love interests. Aside from that, since I haven’t seen The Maltese Falcon in a long time and without a specific set of clips or descriptions, I can’t make an accurate comparison between Bogart’s Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe.


 


The Big Sleep is one of the many examples of being jumbled, convoluted maze of allusions and euphemisms to avoid the wrath of the production code- that oddly enough still manages to captivate (in a good way). This could be due to the colorful cast of characters and performances, Bogart and Bacall’s crackling chemistry, Howard Hawks’ direction, the score of flippant dialogue and double entendres written by William Faulkner, etc. Whatever the reason(s), it works.


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