Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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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? 


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


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


 


This is classic, definitive Bogart in one of his best and in my opinion, most compelling roles.  The Big Sleep wastes no time with preambles or setups - the viewer is thrust right into the action; nothing overly dramatic, but cleverly written and chock full of witty dialogue that reveals who Phillip Marlowe is and why he is at the Sternwood mansion, much of it humorous and full of double entendre.  A simple meeting between a private detective and his prospective client tells us all we need to know - about Marlowe, General Sternwood (loved his honest observations about his own life and circumstances), and his daughters ("both pretty, and pretty wild.").  


 


Bogart's Marlowe clearly knows his job and how to execute it; and the exchange between him and General Sternwood gives the viewer background information about Marlowe that wasn't evident or revealed in other movies featuring this character. To me, this is yet another, perhaps more stylized way of pulling the viewer into the story, unlike The Letter that begins with the murder, or D.O.A., in which the protaganist states to police that he wants to report his own murder.  It's smoother, quickly moving the person watching into the action.  Bogart's portrayal of Marlowe differs from Spade, though; both characters are strong, tough and honest with a solid value system, which are stock noir characteristics for the protaganist; but Marlowe is more polished, civil and professional, whereas Spade is potrayed as a bit grittier, someone who knows his way around the dark, dank urban environment he inhabits and has "edges" to his personality who puts himself in the middle of a group of greedy, dangerous individuals who are in search of the black bird - and have no compunction about committing murder to get it.  Marlowe, on the other hand, moves easily between urban and suburban settings, both of which are equally dangerous and are inhabited by individuals who live and operate in both worlds.


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I've been putting off watching the movie The Big Sleep because I am 87% of the way into the novel (according to my Fire).   :)  Really looking forward to seeing the movie version.  The book is my first hard-boiled detective novel.  I think I am hooked.

 I read the book as well; I think you'll like it, and probably enjoy comparing it to the movie.

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I would never conjure up Humphrey Bogart when hearing the description "blond Satan" - instead I'd think of Dan Duryea (as another poster suggested), Richard Widmark, or even Richard Jaeckel. If casting today, likely Neal McDonough (anyone who saw him on Justified will know immediately why "blond Satan" is a perfect description!).

 

But that said, Bogie's combination of street smarts and wry humor make this Marlowe a very appealing protagonist. He's comfortable in his own skin, an astute observer, and less likely than Spade to let emotion or anger guide his actions. He's amused by the flirtations of the **** daughter, and likely flattered, but he won't insult her in her own home - at least not to her face (cue the quip to the butler). He's respectful to the old man and even honest, but he also clearly did his research before walking through the door. And his self-deprecating humor with Bacall (on his size and his now sweat-soaked appearance) shows that he can think on his feet and adapt to the situation (or conversation) to glean information.

 

Where Spade was imposing, Marlowe is more disarming and clever.

 

As for Noir contributions, this is yet another with classic detective pulp roots, but in addition to the snappy dialogue there's an overt seediness to the plot - drug use, prostitution, pornography - that was ribald for the period. You also have the classic plot device of the protagonist getting involved in a situation that he thinks he's a step ahead of only to find himself a step behind. And as the audience, we are led (and sometimes misled) right along with him.

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Note that there are two versions of The Big Sleep;  One shown only overseas to those in the armed forces during the war.  That version was help back because Jack Warner felt the movie was too dark for general release during the war.  After Bogart and Bacall got married Hawks was asked to reshoot certain scenes and add additional B&B romantic ones.    It took me seeing both versions and reading the book to figure out 'what is what'.     TCM has shown both versions of the film,  one after the other,  with a host that mentions their differences.   

 

Technically the reason for the delay was because the war was ending and Warner wanted to release all of their war films before that happened, so The Big Sleep was held back. It's also worth noting that Howard Hawks was not unhappy with the reshoots.

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I've been putting off watching the movie The Big Sleep because I am 87% of the way into the novel (according to my Fire).   :)  Really looking forward to seeing the movie version.  The book is my first hard-boiled detective novel.  I think I am hooked.

 

They are both (book and movie) really, really good. The Big Sleep is one of those rare cases where I think both versions are equally great and both exemplars of their medium.

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Technically the reason for the delay was because the war was ending and Warner wanted to release all of their war films before that happened, so The Big Sleep was held back. It's also worth noting that Howard Hawks was not unhappy with the reshoots.

 

 

There's a special feature documentary: The Big Sleep Comparisons by UCLA's Robert Gift on many DVD/Blu Ray editions of the film that detail some of the backstory to the changes between the 1945 and 1946 version of The Big Sleep, with analysis of the differences between the two.  

 

This won't necessarily clarify a lot of the plot problems however, that plague Chandler's novel and even greater degree both versions of Hawks' film.   Reading the novel will shed some light on some of the key elements that were impossible for Faulkner, Brackett and Furthman to retain because of the restrictions of the Hollywood Code.    Mitchum's 1978 'remake',  is more faithful in that regard, though the setting moves from LA to London and isn't as good a film.       

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I am very glad the topic of “Spade” vs. “Marlowe” has come up. While the characters are distinct, in the films, it is Humphrey Bogart’s personality that dominates. In fact, I think Bogart’s Spade and Marlowe both have some similarities to Rick Blaine.

It’s great to talk about films noir as art, but one should always keep in mind that at the time they were being made, the producers were more interested in making money than being the subject of an online course 60 years later. Bogart was cast in “The Big Sleep” because he was successful (profitable) in “The Maltese Falcon,” and the producers would be quite happy if he did the same thing.

Having read the books, the characters of Marlowe and Spade definitely vary.  Marlowe has a very strict moral code but is depressed because he lives in an immoral world. Spade is having an affair with Archer’s wife and will do just about anything for a buck. Marlowe is a reluctant hero, who would rather not work but is constantly dragged into things.

I think this scene is a little misleading about Marlowe’s character. He respects General Sternwood. Sternwood is a moral, honorable war hero with two irrepressible daughters. Marlowe (who is also described as tall and blonde in the books) puts forth his best effort for Sternwood. As the story unravels though, Marlowe will be once again dragged away from helping Sternwood, into some much more sordid business.

I think the biggest contribution to film noir here does not really come from the film or the characters but from the writing of Raymond Chandler. Chandler was not a prolific writer (compared to someone like Erle Stanley Gardner) but every word and image was chosen with great care. His descriptions, witty banter, and metaphors set the standard for film noir. In addition to the Philip Marlowe stories, Chandler was responsible for “Double Indemnity” and “Strangers on a Train.”

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We learn more about Philip Marlowe in how he act and interacts with others than in what he say's about himself. With Carmen, we see wit and playing with what he's dealt, easily trading one liners, spinning stories, and catching the "fainting" girl without batting an eye. With the general, he easily slips into indulging vices and taking off his jacket, going with the flow that the general sets. Through these interactions, we see a no-nonsense man with wit and adaptability, going with the flow without losing himself.

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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?

 

He's a working man and has shined up to make an impression. He's good at observing details. From what I read he's educated and somewhat sophisticated. Getting the impression he's a ladies man.

 

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

 

From what I recall Spade's Bogart is a little more hardened and Bogart's Marlowe not as quick to react. My impressions are based on the movies and not just the characters. Bogart tugged on his earlobe a ridiculous amount of times in The Big Sleep

 

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

 

POV does exist no matter how little time it is used as a device. The angular shadows and music. Humphrey Bogart established himself by repeating this style and character. The fast quips and the double entendres all can be considered important to the contribution to the film noir style. If certain styles in the Hollywood depictions are done repeatedly points to its successful usage. Popularity had an impact and we can see historically they always stuck with what sold. It's the lesser known film noir gems being investigated that intrigue me.

 

Pretty choked I missed the whole morning from recording and afternoon on the 19th's marathon. Really annoyed I missed grabbing Gilda :( but did manage Border Incident. Another couple of titles also so at least will have some watching this week.

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Well the first way Hawks establishes Bogart as Marlowe is by him saying his name at the door. Besides that, he is wearing the clothes Marlowe describes in the chapter. He is unimpressed by the wealth,though he says he's calling on four million dollars, not on the person who has the four million dollars. He is very attracted to women and has no problem flirting with them, even if they are the daughter of the man he has come to see. He is unembarrassed at the butler seeing him holding the daughter and makes a sarcastic comment about "weaning her" afterward. He clearly does not care what others think. Marlowe and Spade are very similar but it seems that Spade was more guarded than Marlowe; Marlowe comes across as a little more carefree with his attitude or opinions. 

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As everyone else has noted, Bogart plays Spade as "two-fisted"; an imposing figure not afraid to use his muscle to get to a resolution of his case. Marlowe, on the other hand, while still a hard-boiled "working stiff", is a bit more cerebral in his approach; he uses his intellect and wit as his muscle.

 

Also noticed, when General Sternwood's daughter came out, the camera lingers on her a moment, moving up and down her figure. When it returns to Marlowe, you can tell he had been doing the same, as his eyes are clearly at the bottom of her long legs and working their way back up.

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After Howard Hawks’ shot of a hand ringing a doorbell, a brief acknowledgement of Philip Marlowe’s first person persona in the Chandler novel, the film’s opening sequence shows Bogart’s Marlowe clean-shaven, neatly dressed; a man who removes his hat upon entering the house, one who takes notice of the coat of arms displayed in the entryway.  He is comfortable with himself and well bred enough to say “Thank you” to the valet.  He is respectful toward the old General.  He banters with the young woman who descends the stairs in a tolerantly amused way, catching her as she falls into him, indulging her as an adult does a child.  He is a civilized man.

 

Bogart’s Sam Spade is a darker creation; with a sense of barely controlled explosiveness.  He is physically darker too, with heavy eyelids and a five o’clock shadow all day long.  He seems to perpetually in a slight crouch; a light dollop of Duke Mantee.  He is much more jaded and anxiety ridden  than the Marlowe character.  Spade is wary and rough edged, no social niceties for him.

 

I think Bogart’s Sam Spade would have sparred more dangerously with the young woman.  Most likely her phony swoon would have landed her on the ground.

 

This performance by Bogart, so different in tone from his beloved Sam Spade character, is another indication of the acceptance of the film noir genre by the top talent in films at the time.  These films’ popularity proved the style’s staying power with audiences, which proved their worth to the studio heads, which produced more and different takes on the film noir aesthetic.

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As everyone else has noted, Bogart plays Spade as "two-fisted"; an imposing figure not afraid to use his muscle to get to a resolution of his case. Marlowe, on the other hand, while still a hard-boiled "working stiff", is a bit more cerebral in his approach; he uses his intellect and wit as his muscle.

 

Also noticed, when General Sternwood's daughter came out, the camera lingers on her a moment, moving up and down her figure. When it returns to Marlowe, you can tell he had been doing the same, as his eyes are clearly at the bottom of her long legs and working their way back up.

 

In both The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon,  both detectives use their muscle only on gay characters.   In The Big Sleep Marlow punches Carole,  the gay helper of Geiger.   Marlow even baits him and allows Carole to punch him because,  well those guys don't hit hard (this is really played out in the book,  but of course the code toned it down).

 

In The Maltese Falcon,   Spade punches Joel Cairo, clearly a gay character (which is why the femme fatale wasn't able to work her magic on him and Spade smells his perfumed calling card).    Spade also punches Wilmer,  the gay henchman of the fat man and Cairo's lover (the look Lorre gives him when he is knocked out by Spade is classic!).

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I agree with many others that Bogart portrays Sam Spade as a much rougher and less cultivated man. Marlowe's character comes across as very smooth, much as Spade's does, but without the nasty edge - this may be partly due to the clipped language Spade uses. It appears that Spade really dislikes the leading women (even as he makes love to them), - Marlowe judges them, but has a lighter touch - at least so far in this film; he's amused, rather than irritated.

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The first person nod to the opening of Chandler's novel shows the Marlowe's shadow on the door and his finger on the doorbell in the opening. We learn so much about Marlowe as he enters this manse. We see that he is cultured, well-dressed, polite, self-assured, attractive to women, but not overtaken by them. He knows how to play the game and he is good at it. We learn from his interaction with the daughter that he is quick with his hands and his wit. He is not intimidated and refuses to be belittled by this snotty girl. He stands up to the challenge. He "catches" her, or in other words, he gets her. He is polite to the butler and to the General. He is a man's man. He drinks and is able to hold his own with men of power. He is smooth, but has class. He is educated and has had a high profile career, even though he  "was fired for insubordination." He obviously does not like to be told what to do and he is unapologetic about it.

Spade on the other hand, was tough, but tainted. He was rough around the edges, almost cruel and had less class. He was more affected by people and reacted much more aggressively both verbally and physically. Marlowe is more in control.

Once again, this film noir piece exhibits the "suffering with style" that Eddie Muller's essay described. The characters are extremely rich, very cultured, but from the look of the daughter and her actions, have a base side and are not afraid to flaunt it. The general himself admits to having had a "gaudy life." He says he exists on the heat, "like a newborn spider." (Look out, Marlowe! It is a warning that he may be in a wheelchair but perfectly able to spin a web.) He calls his orchids "nasty... with the rotten sweetness of corruption." Orchids are a flower that represent wealth and luxury. He is describing himself and the things he has raised - maybe even his offspring. The daughters, as Marlowe describes what he had heard about them, are "both pretty and pretty wild."

The clipped, high-powered quips between characters that don't know each other and the sarcasm are all part of the film noir style. The clothes, the houses are all indicative of the tragic story that will unfold. These are people that have it all, but are in trouble and need the help of a slick, sophisticated, but tainted, private detective (shamus), Marlowe.

 

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When Marlowe showed up in Sternwood's mansion he already had some reputation. But little Carmen Sternwood did not know the man and treated him like every other handsome bloke visiting the house. She came down the stairs, looked at the guest and started to bite her thumb like a kid. She tried to mock Marlowe's height, but that surely did not impress him. Marlowe is not a type of a man who would be worried about his looks or bothered with some girlish talk. And from this very moment he started to treat Carmen like a kid, not a woman. He even made fun of her telling his name was Doghouse Reilly. Her ways of flirting were really childish and when finally the valet came back, Marlowe told him they should really "wean her".
In the greenhouse Marlowe showed his inclination for wise-cracking again ("In a glass"), but then the serious conversation began. He told Sternwood he went to college and used to work for the DA. When asked why did he quit, he replied he was fired for insubordination and "seem to rate pretty high on that". Sternwood evidently liked this reply. Marlowe did a good background on Sternwood's family and gave the General the impression he is a pro and can be trusted. He is a mature and serious man that was recommended by a man Sternwood relied on.
Bogart's Marlowe and Spade - differences:
Marlowe is a true hero, Spade is neither hero nor villain. Marlowe is a man of honor by instinct, Spade by choice. He was doing the right thing when it was suitable for him. They both had savvy attitude and smart mouth, but Marlowe was more noble, I think. Marlowe was able to feel compasion, empathy, Spade was rather ruthless and violent. They both were sardonic, skeptical and sometimes cynical, but Marlowe was the moral, ethical one. Spade was forcing himself to do sth good and the most important thing for him was his professional code. He disliked his partner Archer, even had an affair with his wife. But when he found out Bridget killed Archer he turned her in. Loyalty for the client and profession - that was his code. He was less subtle than Marlowe, maybe because he was a street man, not a college boy. Different motivation and action, but the same effectiveness. They were both pretty **** good PI's!

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The opening scene of The Big Sleep introduces us to Philip Marlowe. We learn that, despite his somewhat ordinary appearance, and his need for business, he is still not initimidated by the Rutledge family's wealth and status. Apparently, he is not easily intimidated generally, as we learn, since he was fired from the police department for insubordination. He is also not an easy mark for the ladies, since Carmen, the youngest Retledge daughter flirts with him, and literally throws herself at him. He appears amused, but not taken in. Both these qualities - self assurance, lack of obsequiesness towards "superiors" and a certain amount of cynicism about women are typical of noir heroes. I would say Sam Spade was less typical, was at least a little more gullible as far as women were concerned, because Ruth Wonderlay/Mary Astor has him taken in throoughout most of the movie. He also was possibly involved with his murdered partner's wife, prior to the start of the film/book.

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I'm unfamiliar with the Marlowe character and Chandler's novels, but Marlowe certainly mixes in well with all of the other characters we've seen on screen.

 

I like the fact that we don't actually know Bogart is Marlowe until about 3 minutes in when we meet Sternwood and the butler introduces him. That seems like a novelistic approach, especially in translation from a first person POV novel. Additionally, we get a POV shot at the beginning of the clip, which certainly gives a nudge to the source material. As Chandler's novel states--and as the film depicts--Marlowe is pretty dapper. We don't get much of Chandler's text, but this does seem to be a "faithful" illustration of the character, at least in appearance.

 

As I haven't seen the film before (though I plan on watching it either tonight or tomorrow), I don't know the exact way in which Bogie portrays Marlowe, but I do get a different vibe here than I do with Spade. Spade seems much more cut-throat and id-driven, and while he can play with the ladies, it's more to his own advantage (sorry Brigid O'Shaughnessy...). Marlowe doesn't seem as id-driven, though he will certainly participate in something if he wants/needs to. And I think he is flattered when Carmen notices him, and he is happy by that, but it isn't necessarily something that could overpower him (though, when Bacall enters, anything could happen). So, Marlowe and Spade are in the same vein, but there are some slight variations in character that make them distinct characters. It is a little hard to get past his voice, though; and since I've seen The Maltese Falcon a few times, it makes it a little difficult to differentiate Spade from Marlowe, but not overly so.

 

I wonder what role Bacall will play in the film. I Wikipedia'd the film and noticed that she is somehow connected to Sternwood, as her character contains that name. I would guess she plays the femme fatale, but I guess I'll have to watch the film just to make sure.

 

It's also very interesting to see that William Faulkner worked on the screenplay. I love his writing (Light in August is one of my favorite novels), so it will be cool to see what kind of Faulknerian elements get into the film.

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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?

 

In the first few moments of The Big Sleep we learn that Philip Marlowe is a wise-cracking private eye who can hold his own with a spoiled and sassy young woman (Carmen Sternwood), a stuffy butler, or an aging man of the world (General Sternwood).  He went to college and used to work for the district attorney’s office before he was fired for insubordination.  His candor about his background helps him to establish rapport with General Sternwood.  Marlowe knew enough to do his homework on the Sternwood family situation before paying a call on General Sternwood, and he is not shy about expressing his candid opinion to the general about the general’s two daughters:  “. . . both pretty . . . and both pretty wild.”  Marlowe appears to be a straight shooter with those who are honest with him (Genaral Sternwood).  He is pegged by Carmen right off as “not very tall.”  Bogart was actually 5’8” and reportedly wore platform shoes to add five inches of extra height when he filmed Casablanca with Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid.

 

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

 

Based on the clip we are reviewing from The Big Sleep, I would say that Bogart’s Marlowe is every bit as cynical and smart-talking as his Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, but his Marlowe is approaching the case as a job and is not yet involved in the way Sam Spade was in the case of The Maltese Falcon through the death of his partner and the attendant suspicions from the police.  Bogart’s Marlowe seems also to have intellectual reserves that his Sam Spade lacks.

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To be honest, as much as I like Bogart as Philip Marlowe, I prefer Dick Powell's interpretation better.  I wish I could say that Robert Montgomery's take is quite good in The Lady in the Lake (1947), but I can't, because he ends up being more of a voice-over narrator than an actor with that overused 1st person point-of-view camera.  At least he reads his lines really well.

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Bogart's entrance was pretty unremarkable - that is, until Carmen entered the room, Then we're treated to a few quips and wisecracks, which show his sardonic side that is so often linked to Bogart's onscreen persona. Carmen, for her own reasons, seems to be flirting with him...or perhaps testing him. Either way, he is practical enough to ward off her advances by giving her a false name and not biting when she throws herself literally into his arms. So we get a sense that he is cautious, at least to a degree. His candid and unreserved admissions of insubordination only strengthen his resolve in the eyes of the viewer.

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When Marlowe first sees Carmen, he appreciates the view. He isn’t ruffled by her comment about his height. Marlow’s done his homework—as we see when he talks to the General—so he knows about the women in the house. Marlow plays along but understands the value—or lack thereof. Before he goes in to see the general, he tells the butler: “you ought to wean her, she old enough.” He knows she is playing childish games. Also, weaning is the first step to adulthood and to self-responsibility. Carmen is neither an adult nor a responsible person.

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When Marlowe first sees Carmen, he appreciates the view. He isn’t ruffled by her comment about his height. Marlow’s done his homework—as we see when he talks to the General—so he knows about the women in the house. Marlow plays along but understands the value—or lack thereof. Before he goes in to see the general, he tells the butler: “you ought to wean her, she old enough.” He knows she is playing childish games. Also, weaning is the first step to adulthood and to self-responsibility. Carmen is neither an adult nor a responsible person.

 

Note that Carmen's actions in this first scene with Marlow are a key part of the plot, especially in the book.    Marlow brushes Carmen off and men that do that upset her.   Just ask Sean Regan.   Well you could IF Carmen didn't kill him for that very reason  (in the book).

 

But because of the production code,  the story ends with Eddie Mars having killed Regan,  putting the blame on Carmen and than blackmailing the father and Vivian.    Eddie's death is 'moral' as defined by the code because of this.

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1. 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 is self-assured in dress, manner, and voice. A man of many quips who gets the lay of the lay yet doesn't seem phased by it, nor impressed with himself as a keen observer of character.


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

Yes, as Spade he blended more with the slithery background music that introduces a would-be femme fatale and he almost submits to his desires and need of her. 

However, as Marlowe, he is above any pretense to falling for the so-called charms of Vickers. 

Bogart as Spade was desperate to get the falcon and the other "stuff" of his dreams; as Marlowe, Bogart is doing HIS job, not doing a job.

 

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

POV from hero/protagonist needs no voice-over; our identification with him is immediate in his breezy non-conformity as though HE needs nothing from these wealthy people; they instead need him. So the dark desperation can be absent in a noir -- IF the shadowy morality overlays the visual ambiguity.

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In the first few moments of Howard Hawks' The Big Sleep, 1946, Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) shows a world weary persona in his raspy speech, slow gait and as he casually removes his hat.  As he boringly surveys the coat of arms hanging on the wall in the foyer, his attention focuses quickly on the beautiful girl in shorts descending the stairs.  Its clear that Marlowe/Bogart admires beautiful girls even if they are femme fatales as he gives her the once over and enthusiastically greets her with, "'Morning!".

 

Bogart's Spade in The Maltese Falcon is all business, more energetic and edgier than Bogart's seemingly apathetic Marlowe in The Big Sleep.  But, Bogart does portray both Spade and Marlowe as very interested in the femme fatales.

 

The opening of The Big Sleep is an important contribution to the film noir style because it sets up the characters and atmosphere in the film noir story. 

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