Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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The first person nod comes at the beginning when we see Marlowe looking at the front door and then seeing his hand ringing the doorbell.  From the moment he saunters into the front room, his confidence, his look, his actions are pretty much on the money in establishing Marlowe's character with that of the first line of the novel.

 

I find Marlowe much more flirtatious and humorous that Sam Spade.  In control and comfortable, but definitely not as hard edged.

 

What would film noir be without the hard-boiled, quick-talking detective the likes of a Sam Spade or a Philip Marlowe.

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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? 

 

You've probably seen the 1946 version. Outside of military personell in 1945 and some arthouses in the late 90s following the restoration, I don't think the original has really been shown much.

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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.

Pretty typical for Chandler, who was frequently drunk when he wrote: probably explains why so much of his plotting is pretty impenetrable.

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Not sure if anyone has mentioned this yet, but in comparing the dialogue to the book, it’s very similar except for two key lines. In the movie, she says “You’re not very tall, are you?” and Marlowe replies, “Well, I tried to be...” but in the book she says, “Tall, aren’t you?” and Marlowe replies, “I didn’t mean to be.” Then, in the film, she tells him he’s “not bad-looking” whereas in the book, she calls him “handsome.” The filmmakers were able to stay relatively faithful to the book, and keep the mood and tone the same, while, at the same time, altering just these small details so that Bogart would be able to fit the Marlowe character without any glaring contradictions with regard to his stature and appearance.

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Chandler's take on appearances and high style punctuate what our TCM Host has said about Noir--stylish people doing bad things stylishly!

 

I love the line about orchids, "Nasty things. Their flesh is like the flesh of men and their perfume is like corruption"

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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?

 

I learn that Marlowe is very keen and astute at analyzing his surroundings and can hold his own with anyone. The fact that he does not reveal his name to the daughter says a significant amount about him b cause this might be important later on investigation.

 

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

 

His character in the Big Sleep seems to be more subtle than he was in the Maltese Falcon. I believe Marlowe is more of a moral character than Spade. In addition, I believe he is more intelligent and thinks things out more before acting upon something. Once I see the movie, I will be able to give a better analysis.

 

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

 

The close up of the door along with Bogart's voice being heard before you actually see the character being seen on screen.

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just wanted to say that the boards here are the  most informative and interesting info on films noir 

and i am very grateful for this course.  

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Nod to the first person narrative: we see Marlowe's perspective as he knocks on the door. Very nice.

 

This scene sets up Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) as our common-man hero with a touch of heroic class. He is obviously impressed by the furnishings including the legs of Miss Sternwood (Martha Vickers). He handles her sexy-baby play acting in a manner suggesting that Mr Marlowe has been in this situation before. "You should wean her she's old enough" is one of my favorite lines.

 

The scene in the hothouse is an interesting allegory: Hell? The old man now has to enjoy his vices vicariously after a life of living fast. Marlowe may be looking at his future if he lives long enough. We get a pedestrian accounting of Mr Marlowe's past and he is revealed to be a classic Noir hero: a promising young man who's attitude caused him to be cast out of the DA's office. What more could we want from a Noir Detective?

 

The sweltering heat following the risque encounter result in Marlowe having to take his coat off: physical evidence of his discomfort as well as a metaphor for the dismantling he will take (going from Civilized Man to a thundering aggressive beast) going forward in this complicated movie (plotless some might say!).

 

It is interesting that the characters of Spade and Marlowe were described so differently in the books. I have always held Marlowe and Spade to be nearly identical characters. Will have to look more closely going forward.

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- The viewer “is Marlowe” as the door bell rings.  Before he even enters the foyer, Marlowe announces himself and who he is supposed to see.  He tells Carmen Sternwood he is a shamus, a detective.  When General Sternwood asks Marlowe for a self description, the viewer not only gets a mini-résumé, but the back story too; his trouble with the District Attorney’s office, his tendency toward insubordination.  We also learn that Marlowe has done his homework—he is a skilled professional.

- Bogart as Marlowe comes to the client and even displays deference to General Sternwood.  Bogart as Spade has the client come to him.  Spade is suspicious, even slightly patronizing to Miss Wonderly.

- The Big Sleep shows the protagonist detective can be a good guy who is “here to help.”

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One of the all-time great openings in film...noir or not!   Makes you appreciate great dialogue and repartee and wish there was more of it still around.  

 

Chandler, via Faulkner and Brackett..quickly establishes Marlowe as a confident man acutely aware of his surroundings.   He's observant, and eager to demonstrate it to all comers.   Marlowe is also flip and sarcastic, and doesn't matter with whom.   He's direct, but also cagey when he wants to be, and likes the action to come to him before deciding how best it should be handled.   

 

That's apparent with how he patiently, attentively listens to General Sternwood, letting the old man feel at ease and gradually get to the point.   Marlowe's blunt, not driven by money, but certainly not indifferent to it, either.   He's the kind of man who identifies a problem and solves it as quickly, and as simply, as possible.  

 

He's also playful, but likes to lead, and chastising; traits which flicker with Carmen but begin to flame when he meets Vivian, in the following scene.   

 

This is one of the Classic hardboiled noir's, despite the fact that Chandler never fully reconciled the plot in the novel and the Hollywood code made it even worse for Faulkner and Brackett to begin to make sense of it because of the sordid...and then taboo subject matter.  

 

As far as Bogart's approach to Marlowe as distinct from Sam Spade...

 

...he actually fits neither character physically.  {For example, in Chandler's novel, Carmen tells Marlowe "You're awfully tall."  In the film, because it was Bogie, the line is changed to "You're not very tall, are you?")   But Bogie more than makes up for the wrong physical appearance with how he portrays either character.  Confident, self-assured, blunt, but observant.   Marlowe's more engaging, more playful, quicker with the repartee, while Sam Spade keeps his cards close to the vest, showing nothing but what he wants others to see.  

 

And both Marlowe and Spade like to mix pleasure with business, but not willing to cross a certain line for it.   That's where the honor element comes in, so often at the core of most of our best gumshoes, whether written by Chandler, Hammett, Cain, Goodis, Spillane or Latimer...they live by a code, invariably their own, a personal sense of what is right or just, regardless what it costs their clients and, as often, themselves.   In ways, it's that inflexibility that makes them 'hardboiled'.       

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Richard,

 

I'm looking at a Knopf hardback copy (1966?) of The Big Sleep and it describes Marlowe's suit as being powder-blue not the power-blue in your Daily Doses e-mail description.  Any thoughts?

 

-Mark

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interesting that Spade and Marlowe were both fired by the D.A.

 

I think this is a common element for a lot of 'harboiled' detectives...from Spade and Marlowe all the way through to Jake Gittes in Chinatown or, to take it even further, Deckard in the futuristic Sci-Fi noir, Blade Runner.  

 

Most of the best private detectives are rogues and outcasts, ronin's, if you will, unwilling or unable to conform to the rules most play by, and certainly not willing to abide by the restrictions and conventions of tradition, law, order and society.   They live by their own code, their own rules, straddling a sort of twilight limbo between the world as it is and the truer world as they believe it should be.  Perhaps that explains why so many of their cases end badly.    

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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?
 
No actor was better at wearing a sardonic smirk on his face than Humphrey Bogart. Given that Chandler describes Marlowe as much more fastidious than the way Bogart looks, he may have been cast for his ability to display the mocking cynicism that Bogart was so good at. His ability to show Marlowe's personality without much dialogue is a great shorthand way to let the audience know what Marlowe's personality is all about.
 
The exchange between the butler and Marlowe is initially correct and polite, but after he encounters Martha Vickers, Marlowe makes some snide observations about one of the butler's employers, which would be inappropriate had the butler not walked in on Vickers lying in Marlowe's arms. The fact that the butler seems to agree with Marlowe's observation that Vickers should be weaned lets us know that she is a problem young lady who is spoiled, dependent and directionless. All of this background is given, again, without much dialogue.
 
Although Marlowe could have been embarrassed about "what the butler saw" he is self-possessed enough to recover or maintain his composure, dismiss the immature Miss, and tell the butler what he thinks of her.
 
As for Marlowe's reaction to Vickers, he quickly sizes her up for the narcissistic, spoiled girl that she is. Consequently, he treats her with the mockery and cynicism she deserves. Marlowe's veneer of correct politeness is nowhere to be found.
 
When Marlowe meets the rich, prospective employer, he is back to a correct and polite demeanor. Once the old man lets Marlowe know that he is old, sick and would probably welcome death, he tries to size Marlowe up by finding out if the shamus, as Marlowe calls himself, has done his homework before their appointment. Marlowe wants the job, but doesn't sugarcoat what he has to say about the Sternwood (the family name implies permanence and rectitude, but the actual Sternwoods are not at all what their name implies) family. So Marlowe is polite, observant, self-possessed, sardonic, and blunt. He can handle anything thrown at him, even if he is not the good looking man described by the author. No matter how many folks in this film want to say that Bogart is handsome, or looks like a prizefighter(!) it is not true. The fact that Bogart can deliver a great performance as Marlowe is a testament to his acting skills, despite the fact that his appearance doesn't live up to the dialogue in spots.
 
Do you see a difference in Bogart's portrayal of Marlowe compared to his performance as Spade in The Maltese Falcon?
 
As I recall Bogart's Sam Spade, he is much more hardboiled and unwilling to put the gloss of gentility and politeness on his personality for business' sake.
 
In what ways can the opening of The Big Sleep be considered an important contribution to the film noir style?
 
Carmen Sternwood's overt sexuality is unusual for the period. Although audiences were used to seeing femme fatales, they weren't as brazen about their sexual thoughts as she is. A better actress might not have been as wooden about her approach to Marlowe, however, Carmen is obviously consuming Marlowe with her eyes and thoughts. She isn't satisfied to let him know she is an available sex partner, but actually throws herself into his arms. 
 
Even in Double Indemnity's opening, when Phyllis Dietrich is only clad in a towel, and the double entendres are flying, Phyllis isn't the one throwing them around. She maintains the fiction that she is ladylike all the way through her initial exchanges with Walter Neff. I would say the Carmen character's bold approach to sexuality is at least a notch or two different from femme fatales up to this point.

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There is no doubt that Humphrey Bogart is Philip Marlowe, regardless of what Chandler had in his mind when he created the character. He is tough, cynical, sarcastic, quick-witted, fast-talking and he always wants to do things his own way (that's why he was fired from the D.A.'s office for "insubordination"). He is also professional and moral enough to put aside any emotions when he has a case to crack.

 

These are all characteristics that Hammett's Sam Spade (also portrayed by Bogart) also had, but we can observe they're different in some details. Spade is more cynical and less sentimental than Marlowe and seems a bit more interested in dames than him, who coldly rebuffs the nymphomaniac Carmen Sterwood in the opening scene. Marlowe, on the other hand, seems a bit more sophisticated and well-educated, although he can be as tough as Spade under the right circumstances.

 

I believe that these slight differences are a result of both the different writing style between Hammett and Chandler, but also the change in film noir style and Bogart's acting approach between 1941 and 1946. In 1941, film noir was in its infancy and Bogart just had his first starring roles, often typecasted as a gangster. Five years later, film noir had already films like Laura and Double Indemnity to be proud of, while Bogart was maybe the biggest star in Hollywood, starring in classics like Casablanca and To Have and Have Not, and his persona had become much more noble and sophisticated since the early 40's.

 

Along with The Maltese Falcon, this film is the best example of literary influence to film noir style. Although Bogart's portrayal of both Spade and Marlowe deviates from the novels that inspired them, his and the films' popularity made sure that the quintessential film noir detective had his clear origins in hard-boiled American literature. And that is, in my opinion, the most important contribution of The Big Sleep in film noir. The opening scene just emphasizes it in the most convincing way.

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The subtle differences in the character portrayals of Spade and Marlowe are a pleasure to analyze.

 

It would have been so natural for Bogart slip into familiar territory with a persona he had already mastered and therefore play the parts in the same manner. It is a testament to Bogart and Hawks that they did not go there.

 

As I see it, and so have so many others who posted, Spade is rougher and has more of a "Hard Knocks" education than does Marlowe who appears much more professional and sophisticated. Yes, Spade and Marlowe were both fired for insubordination but Spade remains at odds with the authorities where Marlowe still has a relationship with them. Spade attempts to keep up somewhat of a facade of who and what he is which he demonstrates in The Maltese Falcon with the tough exterior, sharp sometimes nasty quips and as needed seemingly volatile behavior. Marlowe is comfortable with who and what he is. When he meets with General Sternwood, he candidly explains his background, pros and cons, with no attempt to deflect (he probably also assumes that someone like the General would already know). Marlowe demonstrates he has done his homework in understanding who the Sternwoods are and while tactful, expresses his views without feeling a need to please. Spade is much more reactionary in nature and making moves the best he can as the situations present themselves. Marlowe appears much more aware and in control and therefore is more proactive in shaping the outcome. This quiet confidence is reflected in his clever banter with no need to be overtly nasty.

 

Although there are some gaps in the story, I love The Big Sleep and the chemistry between characters and actors is brilliant. Obviously the chemistry between Bogart and Bacall is legendary and never gets old.

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The shadow across the Sternwood door in the frame, the hand pushing the doorbell to the Sternwood residence, the self-introduction, “…My name’s Marlowe…” then the door opening - all this put us in the action and gives us the brief effect of a voice-over narration.  All the noir you want, all the time, right from the very beginning we see who Marlowe is and what he is doing. 

This guy Marlowe is not Sam Spade even though Bogart plays both characters.  As others have pointed out, this is a more refined, genteel man, a man who can live in a variety of circumstances and remain self-assured, confident, and likeable. He doesn’t like orchids and he doesn’t smoke when given the chance, that’s enough for me.  The best post in an earlier Daily Dose response about Marlowe’s clean, pressed clothes sums him up so well.  Here is Bogart being a different character, in a different movie, being an actor - as will be seen again later in the film at the bookstore when Bogart takes on a different persona to get to the facts he needs to know.

 

The opening to this film solidifies a few of the noir techniques, prerequisites of the noir ethos let’s say, like the off-camera views and perspectives, the seedy story-line materials, the not-quite right women, the darkness and light and shadows across the frame and everything within it.

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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.

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.

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Richard,

 

I'm looking at a Knopf hardback copy (1966?) of The Big Sleep and it describes Marlowe's suit as being powder-blue not the power-blue in your Daily Doses e-mail description.  Any thoughts?

 

-Mark

 

Just an unfortunate typo :-(  It is powder-blue, missed that in my final proofing of the Dose. Apologies. 

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I never watched the movie but I reread The Big Sleep a few weeks ago: it's very faithful to the book. In my opinion, it proves - if need be - how film noir is inspired by hard-boiled detectives like those Chandler and Dashiel Hammet created.

 

Humphrey Bogart exudes casualness in this opening scene and for me that's what makes establishes him as Philip Marlowe. He doesn't really match the lavish setting of General Sternwood's house, he allows himself some acerbic remarks about the Sternwoods that show he's not fooled by their varnish of respectability. I love the moment when he glances at the coat of arms before looking away and turning to Carmen who quickly falls in his arms (literally): he's no hero, he's not a knight in shining armor and he knows it.

 

Im my opinion, this opening main contribution to film noir can be found in Philip Marlowe's disillusioned look on the mansion and on the family who's about to hire him.

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As Marlowe, Bogart is more relaxed, still cynical but not with a chip on his shoulder, and even polite to the General.  I liked that we heard his voice before we saw his face.  I wonder if this was done to make us pause a bit before automatically filling in "Sam Spade" in our minds.  As for its contribution to film noir:  First we have the shift of POV to the audience; second, the sexually aggressive young lady.  Also, I'm wondering if there is formalism in the use of the hothouse.  It certainly seems that the General is kept in some kind of protective isolation, away from what's going on with his daughters. 

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Just finished reading The Big Sleep last evening and have been enjoying everyone's comments on today's "daily dose."  I've never seen the movie (don't know how I missed it)  and am looking forward to seeing it on Friday.  I haven't seen The Maltese Falcon in quite a while and haven't read the book.  I agree with the comments above that Bogart's Marlowe comes across immediately as intelligent, tough yet with a sense of humor and playfulness but who can take care of himself.  He is committed to doing his best for his clients, will bend the law as he sees fit but does have a moral code that he will not violate.

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I've never seen this movie, only heard of it through reading Lauren Bacall's book By Myself and Then Some. After seeing this opening scene, I immediately hit record on my DVR and can't wait to watch it tomorrow, along with Gilda, for the first time.

 

Just based on my initial introduction to Bogie's portrayal of Philip Marlowe, I think I like him better in this role than I did in The Maltese Falcon. Nothing against Bogie as an actor, I just think that Marlowe seems like a better character. Where Sam always addressed women with terms of endearment like "darling" or "honey", Marlowe does not address the woman (girl) he meets with any silky compliments. He seems a little more refined and cultured. While I wouldn't necessarily go so far as to say he respects women (I don't think I could assume that from only seeing a few minutes of his character), it's clear that Marlowe deals with women in a different way than Spade.

 

Marlowe also seems more cultured and well educated than Sam Spade. Spade was always gruff and less "professional" (if that is the right word) in his dealings with clients. As soon as Marlowe meets his potenital client, I could tell he was more intelligent, more professional, and probably had more upper class clients than those who might have come to Spade and Archer.

 

Overall, I'm really looking forward to watching this film for the first time tomorrow.

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I read both Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon and Raymond Chandler's in The Big Sleep.  My mother loved detective mysteries, so the books were in the house as I was growing up.  I can see how the hard-boiled detective stories were gateways to film noir; and how their world would look best in the hard, black-n-white cinematic world of film noir.  Even from my country upbringing, I imagined dark doorways and streaks of streetlight when I read the books.  

 

After all the daily doses and video lecture, I see how film noir is this perfect storm of converging creators (immigrants from Germany), world events (World Wars, Great Depression), and popular forms of art.

 
On a side note:  Humphrey Bogart may have looked nothing like Sam Spade.  However, he played the detective perfectly.
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