Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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The difference between Spade and Marlowe?  I agree with an earlier poster, Marlowe seems more respectful and polite to his clients than Spade would be.  It's been awhile since I've seen Sleep, so I didn't remember that Carmen Sternwood was so overt in her flirting.

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The big sleep is the kind of film noir that I am right at home with. The shiny, ggold sign showing Sternwood suggests we are visiting a wealthy household, the POV shot of the door bell,ringing is a nice film noir touch as well. The voice of the protagonist is first heard off camera, not a voiceover, not a narrative, more like something you would see onstage. Being introduced to the main character this way is intriguing and suggestive of something mysterious.

This beginning sequence is very theater-ish...again film noir borrowing from other artistic endeavors. Bogart enters stage left, butler leaves stage right, Carmen enters stage center ... And then we have the playfulness in the music, clueing us into Carmen's character and preparing us for what is about to transpire between these two characters.

And the terse, snarky dialogue gives us insight into their personalities. Marlowe is serious and playful...he shows that he knows how to play and calls himself Doghouse Reilly (who is that ? A reference to something popular at the time?) and he refers to himself as a shamus..I love it, he then follows up by saying a private detective, in case you didn't know what a shamus was.

It's amazing how Marlowe arrives impeccable dressed and by the end of the clip, he is a stinking mess! All accomplished very plausibly in mere minutes.

Just can't get enough of this stuff!

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Bogart's Marlowe looks very well dressed and confident.  He is witty.  When one of the daughter's says "You're not very tall,"  he replies "I try to be.".  He is a ladies man.  He is also polite.  He is a private eye, and has been to college. 

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In reviewing the opening of "The Big Sleep" today, we are asked to compare Bogart's portrayal of Philip Marlowe with his portrayal of Sam Spade.

 

At least in these two pictures, I find Marlowe much more irreverent than Spade, more willing to crack wise ("Doghouse Reilly") but how much of that is due to Bogart, how much is due to Chandler, and how much is due to Hawks is the question. In all likelihood it's the serendipitous merging of all three talents (and the passage of four or five years in between the films also had its effect).

 

The opening interview with General Sternwood is one of my favorite scenes. The fact that Marlowe has to get more and more casual, removing his jacket and rolling up his sleeves to stand the heat, and ultimately succumbing to it with sweat puts him off balance early on, but also shows how he can make it through hell. It also gives the audience a palpable sense of the scene. One feels hot and uncomfortable just watching it.

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Humphrey Bogart embodies the role of Phillip Marlow with ease, style and confident humor. He observes the family coat of armor and elegance of the home in one swift look. Marlow gives Carmen the "once over" in a way that only a man who's had experience with woman can. He gently rejects her flirtations in a keen and humorous fashion, not letting her know he thinks she's a joke.He takes on a a more serious, concentrated attitude when he meets General Sternwood. He starts to feel the heat in the greenroom, squirms a bit, but listens very attentively. Hawks was genius in filming this scene..Marlow discloses that he briefly went to college and worked for the District Attorney but was charged with insubordination. One sentence tells us so much about him.

Marlow is open and direct with a a pleasant demeanor. He shows his intelligence when he discloses the research he's done on the family prior to the meeting.

Marlow is wittier, more approachable and personable compared to Spade's rough edges and questionable moral compass.

Hawks designed this opening scene with the intention of providing viewers with the basic information needed to know some of the main characters and to comprehend the entangled story to follow. Great noir.

 

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

..and yet, power-blue worked quite well ;)

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The nod to 1st person was Bogie's hand on the doorknob in the opening seconds. The dialogue is so noir: crackling and witty and a little naughty. I love "you ought to wean her, she's old enough." The way Bogie plays the part gets the audience on his side from the beginning. He's been around the block (does anyone else think he looks older than 38?) and he's no pushover, but he's amused by the childish antics of the Sternwood daughter and takes them in stride. But when he speaks to the General, he seems genuinely sympathetic to his situation and shows him a great deal of respect and honesty.

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The entrance of this main character is certainly less mysterious than most films noir, with the simple opening of the front door, although I feel it is very natural, and a good example of Realism in Film Noir.  The first thing we notice about Marlowe is how much he is noticing about this millionaire; he looks at the furnishings, the decor, the everyday stuff. We are learning a great deal about his character just by witnessing him enter the home. The encounter with the daughter shows his sense of humor and cynicism altogether in one.

Howard Hawks does a great job leading us in to that first person POV narration, again, constructed in a very natural and realistic way; conversationally. Sternwood simply asks Marlow, "Tell me about yourself", and the response is his life background, snapped out in 30 seconds. Bogart was terrific at handling a great deal of dialogue like it was just a breath of air. Then brilliantly, Sternwood asks Marlowe to give him the low-down on himself. He is essentially assessing his skills as a Private Detective. Marlowe's response is impressive. In that same few seconds that Marlowe had to "check out the joint", we equally also had that same time as the audience. We immediately feel inferior to the perceptiveness that abounds in this character. We are eager and willing to follow him through this case, observe with him, learn with him and from him. We know very little about how very complicated this story is about to become, but I believe it is hinted at here with this feeling of inferiority that we have towards Marlowe immediately from the start.

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The opening scene definitely doesn't give you a sense of Marlowe's weaknesses like the Chandler novel. Mr. Sternwood asks Marlowe to describe himself and the response is pretty dry and straight forward.  Chandler's first person narrative has more of a confessionary tone. 

We do learn that he is educated and knows it's not always a good thing.  He doesn't hold college and the representation of book-smarts in too high regard in contrast to experiential knowledge or "street smarts".  Marlowe says, 'I'm 38, went to college and an can still speak English when I need to'. 

From this clip alone, it is hard to tell the differences in Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. While there are subtle differences as you get to know each of the two detectives, it is because Bogart is so iconic that viewers blend Spade and Marlowe together. It would seem that Spade is a little more ready to jump to the darker side of the law for a few good payoffs than Marlowe would be, but to elaborate beyond the two clips would spoil things for others. 

In the noir context, you have a pretty typical plot point: The private eye male lead walking into a spider web. It is the younger daughter who begins the spinning of that web.  The flirtation and entendres are stereotype with the seductive tones that beg questions of each character as to how desperate each one might be, and in what way. Marlowe doesn't come across as desperate as Spade does in the Maltese. The conflict that Marlowe will find himself in is alluded to in the way that Sternwood asks him to go ahead and elaborate on how wild his daughters are. And of course, Marlowe just had a dose of that a second ago. 

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In this opening scene, Marlowe is depicted as well-dressed, polite, and almost debonair (especially in his cool flirtation with Carmen). His interaction with General Sternwood furthemore paints him as a good listener, intutitive and thorough in his research and assessment of the Sternwood family dynamics, and also empathetic with the aging man. [The heat symbolism is clear]. He's more cautious than distrusting, and he isn't as forward with women. Carmen flirts but he sees the trouble that would like ahead, unlike Spade who would date his own partner's wife. Unlike Spade's character, Marlowe is not rough or crass or forceful in any way, shape, or form. His power doesn't come from his overt physicality, brutishness, or unpredictability but from his cool head, his likability, and composure as a seasoned private detective.

 

As for the Sternwood home, I see the contradiction. The family plaque is all gilded and embellished, but the marble pillars and sweeping staircase seal the deal in conveying it as a home of the wealthy and unthinking. Carmen is reckless, hitting on a man she doesn't know, and reminds me of the long, graceful statues you might see on a crypt. She almost dances over to him, though she seems like she might be under the influence. Despite his polished appearance, Marlowe does not fit into this world.

 

In the larger context of noir, The Big Sleep entrance provides another facet to the new detective emerging in films noir. In the 1930s, we had private detectives like the Charles' (Thin Man) or literary greats like Holmes or Poirot. They were polished, elegant, and had an explicit or implicit European quality. They solved mysteries in posh clubs and manors, but the American P.I. was different. Marlowe is somewhere in the middle, trying to be glossy like a high-end detective but inevitably appearing more roughened without sheen but plenty of wit, cynicism, and an eye for deception and facade.

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The opening of this film is less intense than many films noir and is even humorous.  It has no flashbacks to help us and no voice overs.  In film noir jargon, the term "big sleep" is referring to death so we are curious about the characters and who is going to "sleep".

 

We know that Bogart is the star character, Marlowe, and he is currently a detective because he is a former employee of the district attorney's office, fired for being insubordinate.  We see a hand ringing a fancy doorbell and find out that the detective is calling on a wealthy client and we want to know why.

 

As Marlowe is waiting to be ushered in, he meets a pretty, young woman who flirts with him.  He gets a kick out of it but is not really impressed.  We get a feeling that she might be the reason he was summoned to this mansion.

 

Bogart is less hard boiled as Marlowe than he was as Sam Spade.  We learn than Marlowe is a no nonsense, down to business type but he is not starting out as the tough guy with a chip on his shoulder.

 

 

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Marlowe is established rather quickly in the opening of The Big Sleep. He has been personally requested by a General, so it's likely he is very timely and efficient with his detective work. Marlowe is also very fast in his first encounter with a potential Femme Fatale, named Carmen. Although she works him faster than he does her, he gets right in there playing the game telling Carmen his name is "Doghouse Reilly." The banter in between Marlowe and Carmen is quick and snappy, which is the type of dialogue we previously heard in The Maltese Falcon.

 

I see more similarities in between Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. Both detectives are fast and efficient in their work and are friendly and quite popular with women. The detectives are quick with their dialogue, which again makes use of a flowing chatter amongst characters. However, a difference I did notice, is Spade is rather cynical, calculated, and rough around the edges. Marlowe doesn't appear to have these "qualities", but that remains to be seen, as I have yet to view The Big Sleep.

 

The Big Sleep has the classic noir elements; a fast talking detective (who is in need to solve some sort of mystery), and a potential Femme Fatale who graces Marlowe with her presence within the 30 seconds of the film. Let the games begin!

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As Philip Marlowe, Bogart is more relaxed than in his portrayal of Sam Spade. His Marlowe slumps in the shoulders, **** his head and smiles more easily. Where as Spade was calculating and observant like a cat ready to react, Marlowe confidently lumbers, assessing people and his surrounding with amusement. Bogart differentiates the two roles beautifully.

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It's ironic that Hammett is often viewed as the more dapper and refined pulp novelist out of himself and Raymond Chandler, even though Chandler's Philip Marlowe marks a more nuanced take on the P.I. compared to Sam Spade. Spade is a man who works his explosive temper and animalistic into his investigating regimen, a trait Bogart captures perfectly. And with years of playing one dimensional gangsters who died more times than not, Bogie had his fair share of temperamental mugs.

 

Jump ahead five years to 1946, and Bogart is an established superstar. His little quirks had settled in tenfold, and things like the holding of the belt or the tugging of the ear had become part of his M.O. And this subtly sly tone oozed it's way into his portrayal of Marlowe. The iconic character is equally at ease in the presence of thugs and hoodlums as he is with millionaires and tycoons, and this opening scene hits upon that immediately.

The greenhouse effect is a fun little touch, as is the great exchange with Carmen (Martha Vickers), which gives us our first peek into the banter that Marlowe will dish out for the next two hours. She's about as sexually subtle as a sledgehammer, but he doesn't bat an eye. Instead, Marlowe mocks her for her promiscuous playfulness. There are definitely glimpses in The Maltese Falcon and Murder, My Sweet, but this screen portrayal is the detective we all wish we could be. He's just so damn cool.

 

It's also quite funny that while the General Sternwood scene is so exposition laden, we don't really walk away with too much of that information retained. We instead remember things like the orchids or the refills of brandy, not so much that Sean Regan double crossed the General and took a powder. And there we have the magic of Howard Hawks, the master auteur who can simultaneously entertain and confuse all at once. I've never loved a movie that confused me so much as The Big Sleep, and while I piece together more and more every time I see it; I always have to start from scratch. One of these days I'll get it figured out.

 

And I know I'm getting long winded here but I couldn't pass up an opportunity to rank all the screen Marlowes from best to worst. Here's my list, I'm curious what everyone else's is!

 

1) The Big Sleep (1946) - Humphrey Bogart

2) Murder, My Sweet (1944) - Dick Powell

3) The Long Goodbye (1973) - Elliott Gould

4) Farewell, My Lovely (1975) / The Big Sleep (1978) - Robert Mitchum

5) Marlowe (1969) - James Garner

6) Poodle Springs (1998) - James Caan

7) The Lady In The Lake (1947) - Robert Montgomery

8) The Brasher Doubloon (1947) - George Montgomery

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In these early moments of "The Big Sleep", we see that Humphrey Bogart's Philip Marlow is perceptive and well informed by how much he already knows about General Sternwood and his family prior to visiting them. We also see that he has a sense of humor from his encounter with Carmen Sternwood. She throws flirtations at him--"you're not very tall, are you?"--and he throws them right back at her--"well, I tried to be." These factors make him feel much more approachable than Sam Spade. Spade ultimately does the right thing and all, but his character is cold, detached, and intimidating. We don't get those vibes from Marlowe. We understand he's probably strict as he is a private detective AND played by Humphrey Bogart, but he feels much more likable than Spade. 

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This opening scene establishes Bogart as Marlowe in a few different ways. We see that he is very observant and attracted to the daughter as she comes downstairs and that he has a playful side to him as he doesn't just brush her away immediately after she becomes playful with him. We also see he has some wits about him with his ability to banter with her. Then when in the hotroom we hear him describe himself openly even parts that may be less than desirable and more likely to be hidden. Namely his insubordination. This shows he is a man of action and doesn't wait for permission from superiors.

 

The comparison between Marlowe and Spade to me is that Marlowe seems to be more polished of the two detectives and less likely to react to a situation that could put him in a tough spot. He seems to think more but doesn't let people bully him around.

 

The Big Sleep seems to be on many people's must watch list which leads me to believe that although I've never watched it I'm excited to watch it and learn more about the groundbreaking performance from Humphrey Bogart

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I've never loved a movie that confused me so much as The Big Sleep,

 

Yes, exactly! I'm not sure how many times I've watched this film but I always take away something new. Bogie has always been a favorite. He is the quintenssential private eye and this opening scene sums it up.

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It's funny, but, every time I watch "The Big Sleep" I make a conscious effort to tell myself, you're going to watch this movie very closely, catch every detail, no interruptions, and, I'm still confused at the end of it.

 

It's all over the page with emotions; suspense, humor, romance, violence, murder, mystery, it's no wonder it's confusing.

 

In watching, "The Cheap Detective", it's hard to look at "The Big Sleep" as seriously as it's meant to be taken.  I can just see Ann-Margret and Sid Caesar in the scene.

 

It's an okay movie, not one of my faves.

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It's ironic that Hammett is often viewed as the more dapper and refined pulp novelist out of himself and Raymond Chandler, even though Chandler's Philip Marlowe marks a more nuanced take on the P.I. compared to Sam Spade. Spade is a man who works his explosive temper and animalistic into his investigating regimen, a trait Bogart captures perfectly. And with years of playing one dimensional gangsters who died more times than not, Bogie had his fair share of temperamental mugs.

 

Jump ahead five years to 1946, and Bogart is an established superstar. His little quirks had settled in tenfold, and things like the holding of the belt or the tugging of the ear had become part of his M.O. And this subtly sly tone oozed it's way into his portrayal of Marlowe. The iconic character is equally at ease in the presence of thugs and hoodlums as he is with millionaires and tycoons, and this opening scene hits upon that immediately.

The greenhouse effect is a fun little touch, as is the great exchange with Carmen (Martha Vickers), which gives us our first peek into the banter that Marlowe will dish out for the next two hours. She's about as sexually subtle as a sledgehammer, but he doesn't bat an eye. Instead, Marlowe mocks her for her promiscuous playfulness. There are definitely glimpses in The Maltese Falcon and Murder, My Sweet, but this screen portrayal is the detective we all wish we could be. He's just so damn cool.

 

It's also quite funny that while the General Sternwood scene is so exposition laden, we don't really walk away with too much of that information retained. We instead remember things like the orchids or the refills of brandy, not so much that Sean Regan double crossed the General and took a powder. And there we have the magic of Howard Hawks, the master auteur who can simultaneously entertain and confuse all at once. I've never loved a movie that confused me so much as The Big Sleep, and while I piece together more and more every time I see it; I always have to start from scratch. One of these days I'll get it figured out.

 

And I know I'm getting long winded here but I couldn't pass up an opportunity to rank all the screen Marlowes from best to worst. Here's my list, I'm curious what everyone else's is!

 

1) The Big Sleep (1946) - Humphrey Bogart

2) Murder, My Sweet (1944) - Dick Powell

3) The Long Goodbye (1973) - Elliott Gould

4) Farewell, My Lovely (1975) / The Big Sleep (1978) - Robert Mitchum

5) Marlowe (1969) - James Garner

6) Poodle Springs (1998) - James Caan

7) The Lady In The Lake (1947) - Robert Montgomery

8) The Brasher Doubloon (1947) - George Montgomery

 

Great observation about Bogie's signature quirks, which comics incorporate in their impersonations of him. One other Bogie-ism: that clinched-teeth grimace he does after a tough turn of events or when he's ended up on the wrong end of a "knuckle sandwich."  

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I agree with Janeko's response here. Carmen might be a woman, physically, but her behavior is bizarre and immature. In the course of the narrative she is drugged and sexually exploited. Her need for male attention is pathological and unhealthy, and it repeatedly puts her and others into dangerous positions. She might be calculating, in her own sick way, but she is undoubtedly disturbed. Chandler wasn't afraid to write female characters who were greedy or amoral--I think it's significant that his last note regarding Carmen is that she is in serious need of psychological help. If she were just a greedy, promiscuous woman, I doubt he'd give her that kind of treatment or sympathy.

 

 

There's a difference between being smart and being successful. Marlowe is a very smart man, but he doesn't have the tolerance for game-playing and manipulation that you'd need in order to survive in the politically-charged climate of working for the DA.

 

Besides that, Marlowe is very much his own person. Working where he can basically create and enforce his own moral code is much more suited to his personality. He's not the kind of guy who likes taking orders--especially if he considers those orders to be unreasonable or coming from a place of greed or corruption.

 

 

There's also a difference between having book smarts and street smarts. Not slamming higher education; it's a beautiful thing, but Marlowe's back story would probably include a "satori" moment when he realized that upward mobility was not for him. He's a free-range guy, not a team player. As for psychoanalysis, that whole crew should be "put on the couch"--and I don't mean the casting couch. ;)   

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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!

 

Bravo!!

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Bogart as Marlowe seems to be more cerebral.  You can sense him taking everything in and analyzing it.  We learn that Marlowe went to college, got fired from his last job for insubordination and that he is a private detective or shamus.

 

Spade seems to survive more by his instincts and plays rougher than Marlowe. 

 

The opening of The Big Sleep contributes to film noir in establishing the layout of the film right from the opening.  There is no wasted energy.

 

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This scene starts the film beautifully. The hardboiled private eye starting his case and the sexy siren turning his head. Marlowe isn`t taken in by her, but he does enjoy the view. It`s amazing that Martha Vickers wore so much more than actresses nowadays and was still so much sexier. Notice how the set decorators really earned their pay in the 1940s.

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The BigSleep - what can I say about it. As I've stated before, I found Film Noir from the novels of Chandler and Hammet. The opening scene here holds pretty close to the novel. (see opening paragraphs below) Marlowe enters and within a few minueswe see that he likesto crack wise and yet when it comes ot a case he does his research. He likesto toy with those around him to see what he can find out. Trust me I can go on and on, but I would be repeating what others have already stated.

 

I would like to say that for those of you who are confused by the movie don't feel bad, Chandler took two of his short stories and slapped them together to get the novel. Even he admitted he does know who actually killed the chauffer. Also the ending had to be changed to fit the Hays Codes rules.

 

The openng paragraphs to the Big Sleep:

“It was about eleven o'clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark little clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.” 

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