Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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I agree with others on this post that Phillip Marlowe seems to be quicker with the quips and a little more book smart than Sam Spade ( although both are very intelligent) . While skeptical , he is not as cynical as Spade.

I like Humphrey Bogart and was impressed with the nuance differences in his portrayals. As Sam Spade his face was generally more stern and set. As Marlowe he was more relaxed.

I would like to make an observation on how movies can affect literature for the reader. In the podcast about Powell's rendition of Marlow one of the moderators pointed out that we all think of our own idea of the character's voice as we read. I think film can have an effect on this perception. I'm currently reading The Maltese Falcon for the first time and I have to say I hear Humphrey Bogart's voice. I also have a hard time picturing Sam Spade as described in the book. ~I see Humphrey Bogart instead.

Conversely, when I read the short quote from Philip Marlowe in Daily Dose I heard Dick Powell's voice. This is probably because while I like Humphrey Bogart I like Dick Powell's rendition of Philip Marlowe.

A Philip Marlowe book is next on my list so we'll see if it holds true throughout.

Has anyone else found this to be true?

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I think Spade is more world weary, he's been kicked around a bit and knows life doesn't always pan out the way we want it to. As Marlowe he gives his age as mid thirties (hard to believe) but not quite as jaded as Spade, more optimistic that things will turn out ok.

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The film is faithful to the genre in that it establishes Marlowe as a complicated man..an educated, restrained , yet street smart (he is not taken aback by Carmen's forward actions) man. We get plenty of background during the conversation with Sherwood, even as we learn about Sherwood himself.. Compared to Spade-this detective is smoother, "classier", and restrained...yet retains the vocal patterns and confident all- knowingness of Spade.

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I think the opening describes Marlowe as a detective, college graduate who had a decent job before and got fired, a typical Bogart character. Bogey seems so one dimensional that he can be Sam Spade or even Rick Blaine, the bar owner from Casablanca. But that's my opinion. The dialogue with the girl, he was checking her out as much as she was trying to play him and only when the butler returned is when Marlowe pooh poohed her.


The contribution to noir style? We start with POV at the doorbell introducing Marlowe, the somewhat foreboding background music gave some mystery but during the part in the greenhouse where the old man talks about the orchids. It was a bitter cynical take on his world. No tricks of light and shadows. For me this is the point where noir starts to take form. Everything builds from here.


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The film is faithful to the genre in that it establishes Marlowe as a complicated man..an educated, restrained , yet street smart (he is not taken aback by Carmen's forward actions) man. We get plenty of background during the conversation with Sherwood, even as we learn about Sherwood himself.. Compared to Spade-this detective is smoother, "classier", and restrained...yet retains the vocal patterns and confident all- knowingness of Spade.

At this point Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe can be interchangeable.

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Whether it is the character or the actor, Bogart as Spade seemed to be having more fun, looser and more playful, than Bogart as Marlowe. Immediately, Marlowe strikes me as a bit more serious, though, of course, not without his witty repartee. At first glance here (haven't watched The Big Sleep in full yet), the character of Marlowe seems more suited to my vision of Bogart - brooding, smart, serious.

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When he stops and looks at the wall art, in the opening scene, you know that he is looking at everything..........and then

the scene of the young sherwood, and you know that Marlowe is on a mission and will not allow silly things get in the way.

Bogart plays Marlowe with the art of understatement and delivers powerful imagery of what you would want as your P. I>

 

Spade was more dangerous and used women more, he was more noir ish if you will.  Marlowe is the working guy trying 

to get to the end of game of cat and mouse without dying.  Needless to say, the Maltese Falcon is the best noir ever so

comparison is hard.  Bogie is over the top in Sam Spade role and Marlowe is controlled like key largo role.

 

The Big Sleep makes you go back for more, you keep trying to find the code of this plot.  Twisted is all you can say.

I love the scenery in this film, images that reflect true noir and stay after the movie is over.  The outside casino scenes,

the little man scenes, the camera/beads scenes, etc etc.  Love it.

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I'm trying very hard to keep my bias out of this one...I've said before I don't care for Bogart in this role...I think Dick Powell did a much better job of capturing Marlowe...I will say that Bogart is trying to make a different character here from his Sam Spade. It comes off as softer, I don't know if that's the right word for the vibe I'm getting but Spade seemed more cynical and less playful when Bogart portrayed him in the Maltese falcon. The detective we see here seems less intense...like "Spade-light" or something...it seems very intentional. But that's sort of the problem I think...Bogart is trying so hard in this film to not be sam spade that it doesn't come across as natural the way Dick Powell did in "Murder, My Sweet" 

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The scene opens with Marlowe's shadow on the door of the Sternwood mansion.  He's already a dark presence.  Marlowe enters an ornate hallway reeking of wealth.  His loose stride and posture is in contrast to the formal hallway. He is polite enough to take off his hat.

 

The flirtatious daughter descends the stairs.  Her brightness and energy are also in contrast to the surroundings.  She comes on strong to Marlowe but clothes the come-on in childishness.  He's not thrown off and not uninterested.  He handles the situation adroitly showing he's in command regardless of the situation.

 

His meeting with Sternwood is beautifully executed.  The scene in the hothouse conveys Sternwoods physical situation.  The dialog is great.  Sternwood's unvarnished self knowing and worldliness is delightfully direct.  Marlowe for his part shows he knew a lot about the Sternwood situation before arriving.  So know we know he's comfortable confident and smart.

 

I was reminded of Dana Andrews in Laura.  Detectives are not particularly impressed by the rich and powerful.  A subtle way of telling us there's always something under the shiny surface.

 

I can't see much difference in Bogarts portrayals of Spade and Marlowe.

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This is masterful directing on the part of Howard Hawks. All four characters are drawn expertly. The dialogue is close to Chandler, except for the part where she mentions his height. The book Chandler was evidently taller. Martha Vickers is a treat and is one of the most underrated actresses of the day. I often wondered what happened to her career. The set design details are superb, too. The big question, of course, is: Who killed Owen Taylor?

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I think the opening paragraph in Chandler's novel is one of the finest I have ever read. For some reason, the mention of the "black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them" has made an unforgettable impression on me as being a stroke of writing genius. Frankly, I have been looking to buy a pair of socks like that ever since I first read the story more than thirty years ago, ha ha! Still looking . . . 

 

I wish Howard Hawks had had Bogart do a voice-over of the opening paragraph as he approached the mansion. Instead, Hawks used the visual cue of the mansion interior, with the gigantic wood carving of the Sternwood family armorial bearing to show us that Marlowe was calling on four million bucks 

 

Anyway, as for the prompts:

 

 -- 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? In the opening sequence, we learn quite a few facts about Marlowe, including his name, his profession, his reason for being at the Sternwood mansion, and that he is a college-educated man. We also learn quite a bit about his personality and character. We learn that he is insubordinate, adept at making cynical wisecracks, and thick-skinned (reference his responses to Carmen when she observes that he is not very tall and when she accuses him of making fun of her).

 

-- Do you see a difference in Bogart's portrayal of Marlowe compared to his performance as Spade in The Maltese Falcon? Bogie's portrayal of Spade revealed him to be a detective who held professional duty as most important, yet was not above having intimate relationships with his ex-partner's wife, a beautiful bookstore clerk he had just met, and one of his clients (whom he nevertheless hands over to the cops, because professional duty tops love, right?). Bogie's portrayal of Marlowe revealed him to be a detective who maintained more distance between himself and others than Spade did (his relationship with Lauren Bacall being the only exception), and someone who was prone to making humorous, cynical quips about others. Spade made some excellent quips also ("What do you want me to do, learn to stutter?), but they were always more in the form of put-downs than funny wisecracks.

 

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

The opening is effectively a "running start" into the action of the film. No "backstory" is provided. It starts with a shot of a Sternwood name plaque, a shadow on the door, the ringing of a doorbell, and then Marlowe telling the butler "My name is Marlowe. General Sternwood wanted to see me." A few moments later, we learn that he is a shamus, and we are off and running. I think quick starts such as this became a hallmark of fim noir style.

 

- Tom Shawcross

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For me, the opening dialogue sets the tone, little glimpses and hints like cards being dealt on the table; the cards will be turned over eventually revealing our characters.

 

"who's that?"

"Miss Carmen Sternwood sir"

"you ought to wean her, she's old enough.."

"yes sir"

 

"how do you like your brandy sir?"

"in a glass"

 

"you didn't like working for the District Attorney, eh?"

"I was fired...for insubordination. I seem to rate pretty high on that"

 

 

Just in the first few minutes, the brief dialogue between Marlowe and Carmen, the butler and the General gives a little insight to the type of man Marlowe is (as well as the other characters). Many classic lines in this movie. I believe this was one of Bogart's strengths as an actor; his delivery. When I first saw this movie, the opening immediately captured my attention.

 

I've always loved the dialogue in these films, at times clever or witty and often times both. In addition to acting, directing and cinemetography, there's nothing like good dialogue to seal a great movie.

 

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In the first seconds Howard hawks uses the first person narative when, as the door is opened, Bogart simply says, "my name is Marlowe". This is similar to the opening scent in Melville's Moby Dick when the novel's powerful, but simple, opening line, "call me Ishmael", is spoken. This perhaps suggests the influence of literature on film Noir.

 

Bogart is established as Marlowe, a polished, college educated private detective type who is still enough of an outsider to have been fired from a position in the D.A's office, for insordination. (No other reason would make sense for a private eye to be fired in a Noir film !!!!!! Remember these charactors are always tough guys). Marlowe is quick witted and funny and responds to Carmen Sternwood's suggestive body language, seductive facial expressions and language, with a coolness and a "gives-as-good-as-he-gets" reparte that is engaging for the viewer. Example:Carmen  "you arn't very tall are you"? Marlowe: "I tried to be." And Carmen: What's your name"? Marlowe: "Reilly, Doghouse Reilly." This tells us right away that this film is going to be fun as well as serious. Bogrt both puts himself down with his chosen name but could evoke sympathy from Carmen, which Bogart might use later for personel as well as professional purposes. Bogart looks back over his shoulder at Carmen as she walks seductively away, suggestiog that he is more than mildly interested.  What opening sparks!! Great acting and great directing in both close ups and mid-distance camera shots.

 

The dialogue of the general in the greenhouse when he speaks of himself and the orchards is revealing of the Noir style. Bad, self pitty, dark, dying, sinster themes. "The flesh (of the orchards) is rotten like the flesh of men," and "The perfume (of the orchards) has a sweetness of corruption," and "I like a man who drinks."

 

Spade is a street smart, mean private eye who is a bit "rough around the edges". Marlowe is a much more sophisticated type and is polished in his dialogue, dress and manner.

 

The film makes a contribution to the Noir genre, as all Noir films do, in its originality of story, characters, acting style, and direction, while maintaining the characteristics that makes it Noir in the first place-dark mood, boy-bad girl attraction, etc.

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I'm trying very hard to keep my bias out of this one...I've said before I don't care for Bogart in this role...I think Dick Powell did a much better job of capturing Marlowe...I will say that Bogart is trying to make a different character here from his Sam Spade. It comes off as softer, I don't know if that's the right word for the vibe I'm getting but Spade seemed more cynical and less playful when Bogart portrayed him in the Maltese falcon. The detective we see here seems less intense...like "Spade-light" or something...it seems very intentional. But that's sort of the problem I think...Bogart is trying so hard in this film to not be sam spade that it doesn't come across as natural the way Dick Powell did in "Murder, My Sweet"

"Spade ~ light" I LOVE that!

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"Spade ~ light" I LOVE that!

I'd agree. In fact, the first few minutes could be almost any film; I'm reminded of Cary Grant going to Katherine Hepburn's door in The Philadelphia Story. Bogart here holds back, all right. Little of the brashness yet the hard-boiled detective veneer does show in his response to the sister's rather uninhibited introduction. Somewhat subdued, yes, but there. 

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I wonder which version TCM will screen--the original version which was not the initial release or the revised version which was the initial release.

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I wonder which version TCM will screen--the original version which was not the initial release or the revised version which was the initial release.

 

Probably the 1946 edit, which is the official version. That also seems to be the one most people prefer.

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The scene doesn't do a lot for me. I've seen other films where the detective went to visit a rich person, and inevitably, there is a pretty lady wearing something seductive. No wonder I haven't seen this movie, nor will I.

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Wk 3 The Big Sleep

 

 -- 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?  He tells the butler who he is--that's the homage to the usual voiceover because he does it from the other side of the door.  We don't see him.  What I gathered:  He has an appointment.  He has singleness of purpose, he is casing the place, doing his job even before he’s hired:  he is so focused on taking in the surroundings, that he doesn’t move when the butler almost bumps into him, and when the butler goes around him he doesn’t counter to accommodate.  He is man on a mission to gain as much intel as he can before he meets his client.  When Miss Sternwood turns her back on him he says “good morning.”  He has good self-esteem.  He doesn’t get defensive when she tells him he’s not very tall.  He counters with “I try to be,” completely disarming her.  He acknowledges Miss Sternwood’s flirting, and still remains professional, enjoying the moment without giving in to it. He’s honest, responding truthfully about liking bourbon in any way (“in a glass”), and not liking orchids, and there’s a moment when he’s describing the daughters when he says they’re both pretty, and then he thinks if it would be prudent to continue to tell the hard truth.  He decides yes.  Then he says, “and both pretty wild.”  By how he answered about the daughters, he is diplomatic as well.  That’s a moment when he is “called on to speak English when my business demands it,” and it did, and he did.” He could’ve called them “tramps,” or “loose” or worse, but chose “wild.”  He is articulate.  He went to college, has experience working with the DA.  A rebel.  Fired for insubordination, but you get the sense that his insubordination must have been founded, because he seems like the kind of man who wouldn’t put up with bureaucratic/political machinations and nonsense.  This is further supported by the fact that the chief of inspectors in the DA’s office recommended him for this job.  By the way he presents himself, I would trust that he could get the job done for me.  I would hire him.  I can trust him to be my guide through this cinematic enterprise.

 

-- Do you see a difference in Bogart's portrayal of Marlowe compared to his performance as Spade in The Maltese Falcon? Marlowe seems unflappable. He seems successful, at the top of his game.  Spade seems distracted, and although seemingly competent, he appears to have seen better days. Marlowe: Clean-shaven, pressed suit.  Spade: Stubble. Rumpled.  Marlowe: Did the background work on the client beforehand.  He is prepared and professional.  Spade: Flies by the seat of his (wrinkled) pants. Philip Marlowe is a college graduate, poised, and gritty by necessity not by nature.  He looks freshly showered and shaved.  Now normally he might not have expected to take his jacket off at a job interview so it was possible he might not have worn a freshly ironed shirt.  When he unexpectedly has to take his jacket off in the heated greenhouse, the sleeves and back are without wrinkle or stain.  A prospective client is interviewing Marlowe. As someone who wants the work, he puts his best foot forward.  Spade usually sits in a power position with his clients.  He doesn’t feel he has to impress.  If he took his jacket off, his shirt would most likely be wrinkled, and he wouldn't apologize for it.

 

-- In what ways can the opening of The Big Sleep be considered an important contribution to the film noir style?  It establishes the protagonist as someone who is professional, and doesn’t always play by the rules but is worthy of the trust to get the job done.  It establishes that the women in this type of film are going to be as aggressive as the men.  When she falls into his arms on purpose, she doesn’t need him to catch her, she’s just testing him to see if he can.  When he does, she calls him “cute,” as if he’s a plaything, which is what men are in the hands of a femme fatale. The misogynistic point of view is present when he refers to Miss Sternwood as an animal of some sort who needs to be “weaned.” The music sets the tone; bowed cellos and basses create the feeling that something serious will be discussed on this visit. It keeps us in suspense.  With the exception of when Marlowe leaves the foyer and enters the greenhouse, which is a hard cut, the camera always follows this protagonist, he never moves out of frame.  It establishes the author’s pessimistic view of life in an opening monologue, this time delivered not by the gumshoe, but his client.

 

See this clip of Daffy Duck's "Supersnooper," which is a direct parody of this opening scene-the clip starts late, try to find the entire cartoon which has this entrance almost frame-for-frame!  The femme in this is like Miss Sternwood, but her hair is longer, she sounds more in timbre like Veronica Lake, voice not as deep as Bacall.  Enjoy!

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ex2aBI8nxcY

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I read this book a few years ago, and was shocked by a lot of it's subject matter. Or, should I say, shocked for how brutal it was for it's time. A pre-code version of this would be a nasty little thing.

 

The movie cuts out a lot of the inner monologue establishing Marlowe's attempts to fit in with his wealthy client, but it's still there in the action and dialogue. From Bogart's body language, to the way Carmen sees through his ironed suit and assumes he's a fighter. He's out of place and hoping to make a good impression. But he isn't that worried; he still speaks directly and bluntly.

 

This Marlowe is a much more amiable person than Spade was. He leans in to listen to General Sternwood, he's much more engaged and friendly in his conversations. He also has more of a sense of humor, spouting the same pulpy dialogue but with a bit of a wink instead of a glower.

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The scene doesn't do a lot for me. I've seen other films where the detective went to visit a rich person, and inevitably, there is a pretty lady wearing something seductive. No wonder I haven't seen this movie, nor will I.

 

What are you doing here?

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Off topic, but can I just point out my favorite fact about this movie? When working on the script, the writers(including William Faulkner!) couldn't figure out who killed one of the characters, so they called the book's author Raymond Chandler. After getting irritated, Chandler read through the book and admitted he didn't know who killed the person either, so in the movie it's just never explained.

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I wonder which version TCM will screen--the original version which was not the initial release or the revised version which was the initial release.

I'm intrigued to know that too: the 1946 version seems better received than the original 1945 version, it make me wonder too which I've seen in the past? 

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Bogart, as Marlowe, alludes to his fresh-looking hat when our young, brazen female character affronts his lack of height.  We are reminded of Chandler's description of a detective pointedly dressing up in order to meet with millionaires appropriately.  Bogart's Marlowe is aware of his artifice.  "I try," he says, gesturing with his hat.

 

I really do stand in awe at the way film noir drops its viewers into the middle of action, in the fashion which Hemingway called "tip-of-the-iceberg."  Speedy exposition instantly increases suspense and dread of things to come.  The Big Sleep's opening clearly represents that.

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I'm trying very hard to keep my bias out of this one...I've said before I don't care for Bogart in this role...I think Dick Powell did a much better job of capturing Marlowe...I will say that Bogart is trying to make a different character here from his Sam Spade. It comes off as softer, I don't know if that's the right word for the vibe I'm getting but Spade seemed more cynical and less playful when Bogart portrayed him in the Maltese falcon. The detective we see here seems less intense...like "Spade-light" or something...it seems very intentional. But that's sort of the problem I think...Bogart is trying so hard in this film to not be sam spade that it doesn't come across as natural the way Dick Powell did in "Murder, My Sweet" 

If I were drinking, I would have just spat all over my keyboard! 

 

Powell a better Marlowe? Better than Elliott Gould perhaps! I do admit that Bogart doesn't fit my mental picture of the guy particularly and that I did warm to Powell (a tad) when I re-watched Murder, My Sweet, but I think we'll have to agree to disagree on this one: Powell just didn't have a strong enough jaw to take the beatings that Marlowe all-too-frequently had to!

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