Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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

I was struck by the description of Marlowe's suit in the novel. Having seen the movie first I had different expectations.  Powder blue suit and blue shirt sounds so bright and cheery.  Bogart's suit is clearly not powder-blue.

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From the opening scene of The Big Sleep Humphrey Bogart establishes himself as a self-assured character, knows his way around the social pecking order without being intimidated and a man on a mission.  Within the first few moments of the film we learn Marlowe is professional, well mannered, observant, has a keen sense of humor and nobody's fool.  He handles his meeting with the young, flirtatious and attractive Carmen (Martha Vickers) as a curiosity and yet when he is observed by the butler in what would normally be a very compromising position he makes no apologies, feels no guilt and instead offers his summation of who and what she is..."She ought to be weaned, she's old enough."  Upon his meeting with General Sternwood (Charles Waldron) we learn he likes his brandy in a glass (as opposed to shaken, not stirred), he is college educated though he did not let that impair his professional work (meaning he has no airs about his accomplishments or value for titles).  He at one time worked in the district attorneys office where he was fired for insubordination telling us he goes about things his own way sometimes breaking the rules and he does his homework, as he is well informed about his perspective client's personal family history.

Compared to Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade is much more cynical, not as educated or subject to social protocols and more likely to punch someone out or call a spade a spade.  Sorry...  : )         

 

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In today’s clip from the opening of The Big Sleep, Howard Hawks (1946) we’re introduced to Philip Marlowe, Norris, Carmen Sternwood and Mr. Sternwood.  In addition we’re given some back-story about both Marlowe and Mr. Sternwood once Marlowe is seated in Mr. Sternwood’s hothouse.

 

The detective is common in noir movies, so is the wealthy client and so is getting romantically involved with the wealthy client.  Sternwood’s dilemma are his two wild daughters, both of whom jeopardize the family reputation as well as the family money.

 

Marlowe is both playful (with Carmen) and honest (with Mr. Sternwood).  You get the sense that he’s both in the moment and nobody’s fool.  Thanks to Marlowe, we’re taken into the world of the wealthy where vast sums of money inevitably invites trouble along the lines of drugs, pornography and blackmail.

 

Where Sam Spade differs from Marlowe is the former’s intensity and willingness to lie to get what he needs.  Marlowe is more on his own, no secretary or partner and more linear in his detective approach.  Both Spade and Marlowe are capable of navigating a twisty and cryptic plot to resolve who killed Spade’s partner and what happened to Vivian’s ex-husband, Rusty Regan.  Both Spade and Marlowe are their own men and neither likes the limitations of the law or the scrutiny of the police.  Both men are willing to use love as a pretense to obtain information.

 

As an aside, there is a Warner Brothers DVD (2005) that contains two versions.  There are a couple of scenes that differ and, if I recall correctly, there was one scene where Bacall’s wardrobe was changed.  It’s worth comparing both versions.

 

-Mark

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In this scene, I get the feeling that Marlowe is a polite person. That's based on the fact that even though he was warm in the hothouse, he still waited on General Sternwood to tell him that he could take his coat off and then politely said thank you. I also feel like he's fair and to use a quote from the video lecture this week, "a man of honor". I love Humphrey Bogart in this movie.

 

When I read the curator's note for today's daily dose and saw this... "Hammett describes Spade as 'look[ing] rather pleasantly like a blond Satan.' ", it made me immediately think of Dan Duryea. I'm not sure why, maybe because I've been watching a lot of film noir and he's in quite a few. :)

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I agree Marlowe is a very polite person as when the daughter pretended to faint in his arms, where as when Dick Powell played Marlowe in Murder My, Sweet he would have dropped her but not Bogart he seemed to like it.  If that were me my coat would have been off the second I walked into that hothouse. 

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Bogart's 'Spade' is an edgier creation - a more tightly-coiled character, always ready to block a punch or deliver one. Bogart's 'Marlowe', on the other hand, is much more relaxed and laconic. He'll block a punch, of course - only a little more lazily. Bogart portrays 'Marlowe' as even more world-weary than 'Spade' and much more accepting of himself. For that reason, 'Marlowe' seems a friendlier, more easy-going character. 'Marlowe' also seems more comfortable around women - I think 'Spade' would have found Carmen Sternwood's "fall" into his arms to be much less fun!

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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.

 au contrer......Carmen is a grown up girl.....she knows exactly what she is doing....she is looking for attention....she knows how to get it,.....generally from slimy and lecherous men, much to the chagrin of her daddy....

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I came late to the Big Sleep. since I've been a Bogart fan from early childhood and didn't discover the film until 20 years ago. The movie itself is really just a pastache of contrived nonsense; it's like trying to make sense of the Beatles lyrics during their druggie period.

 

The confusion begins with a dense narrative by Chandler and is exacerabated by the repair and alterations to the previewed version in order to improve the performance of Ms Bacall (at the expense of Martha Vickers performance as the nymphomanical younger sister.) Oddly, I understand Vickers was a virginal 19 year old when they began shooting this film and couldn't follow Huston's stage direction to fake the big "O" because she hadn't experienced it yet and had to have the word explained to her by Regis Toomey (who played the DA). She supposedly gave a great performance, but the scene never made final cut.

 

This scene between Marlowe and the General is really straight narrative from Chandler, pretty much word for word. Hawks uses a realist approach in a very staged setting which causes us to listen carefully to the complicated back story. I'm not sure it helps, I've seen it a dozen times and I still can't make heads nor tails out of the film.

 

Bogart is really in his element here, mincing playfully as the would be book purchaser; then, moments later, picking up the pretty female book seller across the street for a quickie. He is an extension of the Sam Spade character from Maltese Falcon: never losing that worldly wise **** attitude, but always true to his own internal moral compass.

 

Although the verbal badinage between Bogie and Betty is welcome and her song turn on the blackly comic "Her Tears Flowed Like Wine" is nicely performed, Bacall is really just so-so in this film. Unfortunately she was really more pretty than talented. But none of it matters because it's just so much fun watching this coded perverse universe of porn merchants,  sociopaths and sundry depraved denizens of the night. Honestly, it makes the libidinous 1970s look like the VIctorian era!

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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.

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I think Bogart's portrayals of both Spade and Marlowe were equally comparable however my feeing Is that his portrayal of Spade was far superior. I think the head nod at the beginning of the sequence is an important contribution to the film noir style. This sequence gradually establishes Bogart as Marlowe and we learn that he is looking at everything in the room including Carman. 

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"Both pretty and both pretty wild."  The Big Sleep

 

Bogart's Marlowe is stereotypical of how I see the Shamus. He's making with the wise cracks without knowing who he is talking to. He eyes Carmen up and down when she first appears on screen and then again when she walks away. As Chandler wrote in "The Simple Art of Murder (1950), "I think he might seduce a duchess and I'm quite sure he would not spoil a virgin." But Carmen is almost child-like and at her age, that's dangerous.  He's been around the block enough to be teased and tease back; he knows a spoiled brat when he sees one and he knows to stay away. 

 

I found it a little odd that he is college educated. That would usually get you a better job than private detective. He can "speak English" when he needs to. There's a bit of cynicism and contempt in that that statement. Does he have regrets? 

 

If the Sternwood girls have reputations, how did the father let things go so far? One would of thought that blackmail would have been an issue earlier on with these girls' escapades.

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Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe ~ In Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon” and Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep” it’s all Humphrey Bogart.  I don’t think Bogart even gives the pretense of “acting.”  Of course, we do know he was able to take on a different character (or at least a character in different clothes) in “The African Queen.”  But who cares.  He’s Bogart and he’s unique.  The force of his personality brings us right into the story.  The aforesaid authors were lucky to have him bring their characters to life on the big screen. :)

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 au contrer......Carmen is a grown up girl.....she knows exactly what she is doing....she is looking for attention....she knows how to get it,.....generally from slimy and lecherous men, much to the chagrin of her daddy....

Carmen may know what she's doing but while physically grown up, mentally/emotionally she is a deeply disturbed person.  The problem with this is that sometimes the depth of the mental illness isn't recognized by a person till it's too late.

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"Both pretty and both pretty wild."  The Big Sleep

 

Bogart's Marlowe is stereotypical of how I see the Shamus. He's making with the wise cracks without knowing who he is talking to. He eyes Carmen up and down when she first appears on screen and then again when she walks away. As Chandler wrote in "The Simple Art of Murder (1950), "I think he might seduce a duchess and I'm quite sure he would not spoil a virgin." But Carmen is almost child-like and at her age, that's dangerous.  He's been around the block enough to be teased and tease back; he knows a spoiled brat when he sees one and he knows to stay away. 

 

I found it a little odd that he is college educated. That would usually get you a better job than private detective. He can "speak English" when he needs to. There's a bit of cynicism and contempt in that that statement. Does he have regrets? 

 

If the Sternwood girls have reputations, how did the father let things go so far? One would of thought that blackmail would have been an issue earlier on with these girls' escapades.

Sometimes people think that having a college education will enable them to get a job where they can make a difference in the world.  Then when out in the work force, they run into unanticipated, frustrating constraints and the need for game playing  that sours them on the job after a while. Maybe that's what happened to Marlowe.  He did get fired from the DA's office for insubordination, after all.

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you may like it. the first scene was a snoozer for me, it gets better and convulted

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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-- 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?

 

We learn that Marlowe is observant, takes in his surroundings; kind of a smart-aleck, kidding Carmen while observing her closely; kids with the butler (“you ought to wean her; she’s old enough”); but all business with General Sternwood. He relaxes after he sees how Sternwood is towards him (but not smart-alecky with him - respectful). Official Story: fired from the D.A.’s office for “insubordination”, but we suspect he smart mouthed the wrong person. He is not judgmental as he observes. Bogie had a habit of touching his ear when he was listening closely to someone in a scene. He does this while General Sternwood describes his life as an invalid and why/how he got that way. Marlowe’s description of himself consists of giving his age and that he went to college (not so common as it is now), his years in the D.A.’s office and that he knows Sean Regan (later in the same scene).

 

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

 

Spade is no-nonsense, defensive and temperamental (or perhaps only when it suited him as he claimed); Marlowe is mellower, friendlier, more easy-going and does not seem out for himself. He stayed friends with his connections on the force and in the D.A.’s office. Spade did not. Also Spade’s behavior was more devilish (affair with partner’s wife, for example and playing everybody against everybody). Marlowe has scruples (his handling of Carmen is an example – he isn’t reciprocating her flirting) and integrity (his conversation with General Sternwood about Sean Regan later in this same scene). Spade would have reciprocated Carmen’s flirting and he would have (and in fact did) allowed his integrity to be in question if it suited him.

 

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

 

We were asked to take notice of the opening as a “short nod” to first person POV – this would be Marlowe’s shadow and then thumb pressing the doorbell. Carmen is a femme fatale making her play for Marlowe. General Sternwood is the perpetrator of the plot (“I’m being blackmailed again,” he says later in the same scene.) Marlowe is the “new style” detective personified. He is the conduit through which the story moves as he encounters the main characters.

 

Can you see some costume dresser trying to get Bogart into a “powder blue” suit? And, frankly, it was probably really a soft blue/gray color (popular in the Forties) but Marlowe has to wise crack about wearing such a “feminine” color. This description works well in the book because we see he thinks he’s a snappy dresser and not the business suit type and that he has made an effort at looking his best. Being a black and white movie, it would have been futile to try the description word for word – the blue would have photographed gray and the shirt black. He would have looked more like a gangster than an honest detective. In the movie, Bogart is in a business suit and tie, both of which he sheds as he roasts in Sternwood’s hot house, making him look more the common man compared his surroundings and to the General’s rank and privilege.

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The Big Sleep is possibly my fav movie although Out of the Past would be the number 1 contender if I'd be allowed to promote a title fight... I really had to pay attention during both and still had questions ! It sounds like I should read the book so perhaps I'll look for a bookstore where I can stake out someone (G) and get my hands on a sweet 1st edition (of the 'book', of course) !

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"Both pretty and both pretty wild."  The Big Sleep

 

Bogart's Marlowe is stereotypical of how I see the Shamus. He's making with the wise cracks without knowing who he is talking to. He eyes Carmen up and down when she first appears on screen and then again when she walks away. As Chandler wrote in "The Simple Art of Murder (1950), "I think he might seduce a duchess and I'm quite sure he would not spoil a virgin." But Carmen is almost child-like and at her age, that's dangerous.  He's been around the block enough to be teased and tease back; he knows a spoiled brat when he sees one and he knows to stay away. 

 

I found it a little odd that he is college educated. That would usually get you a better job than private detective. He can "speak English" when he needs to. There's a bit of cynicism and contempt in that that statement. Does he have regrets? 

 

If the Sternwood girls have reputations, how did the father let things go so far? One would of thought that blackmail would have been an issue earlier on with these girls' escapades.

 

Well as he said,  when one has two daughters at his age,,,,,   He took on  Sean Regan to watch the girls,  but since Carmen killed him,  that allowed the gals to get back into trouble,  so Marlow had to be hired.

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In the opening clip of The Big Sleep, Bogie establishes himself as Marlowe by introducing himself to the butler, and then again (and in more detail),  when giving his credentials to General Sternwood. For the clip we learn that Phillip Marlowe is a well dressed, streetwise, seemingly good-natured smart-**** with ambition enough to want to impress "four million dollars."

 

Regarding any differences between Bogart's portrayals of Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe, I sure can't find any.  I mean, the part of Phillip Marlowe is scripted to be a bit more classy than Sam Spade, and that comes through in the movie, but (please don't hate) with rare exception (ie...The Caine Mutiny), I feel like Bogie usually plays Bogie.

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Even though Bogie played both Spade and Marlowe, and there are some similarities between them, the two characters are remarkably different.  It’s a testament to Bogie’s acting ability that he didn’t just do Sam Spade 2.0, as some actors might have been tempted to do.  Marlowe is more refined than Spade.  Spade is rough, gruff, and a bit abrasive.  Marlowe seems to have more skill talking to various people on their level.  Of course, both Spade and Marlowe can be pretty sarcastic.  I have a feeling that Spade would give as good as he got from Carmen Sternwood, at least within reason, but while Marlowe clearly appreciates Carmen’s looks and flirts with her a little, he doesn’t appreciate her falling into his arms.  Speaking of Carmen, she is trying to be all sexy and tempting, but it is way too ham-fisted and over the top.  She is petulant and bratty.  She reminds me a bit of Veda (although she is not nearly as bad as Veda).  Both are trying to be femme fatales, but they’re too young and inexperienced to pull it off.

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Chandler and Hammett: Those Jokesters...

 

One literary device that helps elevate Raymond Chandler’s and Dashiell Hammett’s writing from earlier detective story writers is their sardonic senses of humor. It helps flesh out the personalities of their characters in a most expedient and engaging way.

 

Poe may have invented the detective story, and Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and Conan Doyle may have greatly enriched the genre, but there’s not a decent laugh among ‘em.  Not so with Chandler and Hammett, to their everlasting credit. Their creations, Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe, are funny guys—especially when Bogart stoically delivers one of those sly one-liners with just a twinkle in his eye. That ability to disarm, even charm an audience underscores the colossal power of marrying great writing to great cinema.

 

The Maltese Falcon is filled with droll humor.  One example is when Miss Wonderly (Mary Astor) flits nervously about the room, trying to evade Sam’s (Bogart) interrogation. He sits quietly on the couch watching her dither with the fireplace, the mantle, etc. and then finally takes a seat.  When she stands up again, Sam, with mock disappointment, says (paraphrasing), “Oh, you’re not going to start straightening everything up again, are you?”

 

For me, The Big Sleep (Spoiler Alert!)  has an even better comedic gem.  Marlowe (Bogart) delivers it during a conversation with the millionaire, General Sternwood, as the father laments his younger daughter Carmen’s wild ways.  With dry, mock concern,  Marlowe comments, “Yes, she tried to sit on my lap and I was standing up.” Genius.

  

The operative word here is “mock.” Mock disappointment, mock concern, also mock bravery/bravado, and mock propriety, but it rarely feels like Chandler/Bogart is mocking the characters. Under the tough guy exterior, there is humanity—perhaps even covert empathy.  Chandler stealthily couches that  humanity/empathy  in Marlowe via the use of cynical humor. Down deep, Marlowe knows –as Hammett’s Sam Spade knows—that he inhabits an absurd and carnal world, and that he himself is only a few bad breaks away from the rogue’s gallery that comprises his clientele.  This understanding is never more apparent than when seen on film, as Marlowe and Spade travel  those dark alleys, sleazy hotels,  stark police stations, and grim crime scenes.  Despite this, they never lose their sense of humor. Sometimes that’s the only safe place to hide.   

 

P.S. About that plot: If you’re a first-time viewer, be prepared for a byzantine story line. Apparently even Chandler found it confusing. With literary lion William Faulkner as one of the screenplay’s co-writers, maybe that’s not so surprising. But don’t be put off: This is a must-see classic from beginning to end.

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In short, I see a distinct difference between Bogart's portrayal of Spade and Marlowe. As Spade, he plays the character with a hard edge and no nonsense. Marlowe, however, is more easy going, relaxed, and open to a flirtatious exchange with Carmen (though he would likely not go any further than that). Both are men of action, though their methods may not correlate.

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As Sam Spade, Bogart was as hardboiled as they got, impatient, rough, and wanting to do things his own way. He seemed to be interested in Brigid at first, then had to get rough with her.

 

In this scene as Marlowe, he does have a bit of humor, especially when he talks to the butler about Carmen after her coquettish behavior with him. He appeared to play along with her until she literally threw herself at him.

 

He is also respectful to the elderly General, accepting a drink. A sign of being easy going is when he takes off his jacket due to the humidity of the hothouse. He listens intently to what the General says, and seems genuinely interested in helping out.

 

Quite different from Dick Powell's Marlowe, who is much more hardboiled when he wrestles with Ann in his office and locks the door to ensure she doesn't leave till he gets answers.

 

Could Bogie be a  SOFT boiled Marlowe? It has been awhile since I saw The Big Sleep, better watch it again to refresh my memory.

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Bogart established as Marlowe/What we learn about Marlowe:

 

Bogart is established as Philip Marlowe by his unmistakable voice before we even see him; it can be no one else, and just hearing Bogart utter the words "My name's Marlowe" out of sight from behind the door is enough. He is dressed simply as himself rather than in a stylish light blue suit as the character Marlowe wears in the novel. We learn that Marlowe went to college; he is flirtatious, opinionated, straightforward, cynical, and observant and, most significantly (and unsurprisingly) insubordinate--and not in the least ashamed at having been fired from the D.A.'s office for it.

 

Difference in Bogart's portrayals of Marlowe and Spade:

 

I don’t see much difference in Bogart’s two portrayals. In The Big Sleep Marlowe seems a bit more polite and a less gritty than Spade in Falcon, and he has more of a sense of humor, but overall, “Bogartness” pervades both characters. (I find it interesting that in the novel, Carmen says to Marlowe, “Tall, aren’t you?” to which he replies, “I didn’t mean to be.” To fit Bogart, the line was changed to “You’re not very tall, are you?” to which he replies, “I try to be.”). The close similarity between the two characters was surely an advantage: Hawks seems to be purposefully and unabashedly trading on the audience's association of Bogart as hard boiled detective due to his prior turn in Falcon.

 

Contribution to the film noir style:

 

Bogart as the iconic private eye and Vickers as the troublemaking temptress set a noir tone immediately (in the book, she’s wearing slacks, not short shorts), as does the unsettling and oppressive heat of the conservatory. But while Hawks plays loose with the wardrobe, he wisely stays true to the text on which the story is based, and lets Chandler’s original writing lend all the appropriate dark undertones to the script. Consider these two great lines from the General: “I seem to exist largely on heat, like a newborn spider”; “[the orchids’] flesh is too much like the flesh of men…their perfume has the rotten sweetness of corruption.” (The original line in the book has  “a prostitute” instead of “corruption"). TBS is a highly effective example of text influencing film.

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