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Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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I think I've seen The Big Sleep a hundred times. I enjoy it but I had to read the book to understand what was going on. Quite a challenge for the screenwriters. (Spoiler) The book had to be changed to satisfy the Production Code with the result that viewers can't understand how Marlowe figures out that Carmen did it. (Read the book). Everyone is confused by the movie's twists-who killed the chauffeur, etc.

 

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I think I've seen The Big Sleep a hundred times. I enjoy it but I had to read the book to understand what was going on. Quite a challenge for the screenwriters. (Spoiler) The book had to be changed to satisfy the Production Code with the result that viewers can't understand how Marlowe figures out that Carmen did it. (Read the book). Everyone is confused by the movie's twists-who killed the chauffeur, etc.

 

I have also read the book and yes,  in the book Carmen killed Regan.   In the movie Eddie Mars is the one that killed Sean Regan.   The reason being implied because Eddie believed Sean was having an affair with his wife (in the book Marlow was having an affair with Mrs. Mars).   This justifies Eddie's death by his own thugs.   While Carmen has to go away because she has 'issues' since she didn't murder anyone she doesn't have to face any justice by the screenplay writers.  

 

In the movie Mars doesn't recognize Carmen in the house. That is the clue Marlow exposes at the end as to why Mars couldn't have seen Carmen kill Regan.   So while Mars was blackmailing the Sternwood family for the killing,   the blackmail was based on a lie.  Listen closely to the last words Marlow says to Mars before forcing him out the door.      

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At first glance, Bogart's Marlowe and his Spade seem to have very similar characters. But by going back to the novels, the difference between Hammett's Spade and Chandler's Marlowe is easier to see. And it also becomes a little easier to see how Bogart picks up on a distinctive trait of each detective's character and elaborates on that trait when he steps into the corresponding gumshoes of each man. When he plays Spade, Bogart seems more like a powder keg that might blow at any moment. He is fairly self-hating, and  he's constantly reminded of his own flaws and shortcomings when he sees them reflected in all the characters that surround him. Bogart's Spade is always ready to dish out and/or swallow a big bowl of punishment. He lives in a world where everyone has it coming to them. Chandler's Marlowe tones this inner violence down a bit. The detective seems less furious regarding his flaws and shortcomings and those of the other characters. Rather, he seems simultaneously disgusted and amused by them, and Bogart captures this with his signature facial tics that precede some of his most biting wisecracks. I think this is a very subtle distinction, but one that Bogart seems to have picked up on and built his characters around. Spade and Marlowe have slightly different attitudes towards the corruption in the world that is mirrored in the corruption of their own souls.

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Don't get confused by the plot - there isn't one and it's not supposed to make sense.

 

Bogart's Marlowe and Spade may seem the same as viewed through the opening clip of The Big Sleep, hard boiled detectives with a sharp wit. But Chandler's Marlowe is more ruthless than Hammett's Sam Spade. Perhaps this is because Hammett himself was a Pinkerton - so he makes the character a bit more real (and likable) - and Spade does have an ethical code. He may not like his partner, and messes around with his wife, but he will find his killer.

 

Marlowe doesn't like anybody and often is motivated by what will help him, or his client. In The Big Sleep helping his client, the rich Sternwoods, helps Marlowe. In this opening scene we learn that Marlowe is a keen judge of character. Miss Carmen needs to be "weened." She's old enough. He has a college education and can still use "English when he has to." He's been fired for insubordination and drinks during the day. The Sternwoods are all corrupt, but he's willing to work for them.

 

 

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From the clip, Marlowe has the self-assurance and roguishness of Spade, but in a muted form. Bogart makes Marlowe more honest, direct and less greedy than the conception of Spade; you're rooting for him all the way. I like the interplay between Marlowe and General Sternwood, showing two men of the world who seem to understand one another. Marlowe is impressed with the general's candor about his life and relationship with his daughters; the old man digs Marlowe's viewpoint on the world. When Marlowe admits he was fired from his job with the district attorney's office for insubordination, Sternwood sympathizes because he'd been accused of the same in his career. Add to that Marlowe's understanding about the general and Sean Regan, and there's a link between two men who can be open with each other, as opposed to Spade and Gutman's cagey conversations in THE MALTESE FALCON. I think Spade would be that much more cynical in keeping with the Hammett original, but since Marlowe in the Chandler novels is more observant of the people he encounters (providing justification for his watching everyone with a subjective camera in LADY IN THE LAKE, 1946) he's a bit more emphatic than the Spade of Bogart's THE MALTESE FALCON. The opening of THE BIG SLEEP is important to the establishment of film noir for that hothouse scene alone; as I said earlier this week with the opening of THE KILLERS, THE BIG SLEEP is remarkably faithful to the first several pages of the novel, which impressed me greatly at an early age (11 after my mom bought me a copy of the second volume of A TREASURY OF GREAT MYSTERIES, which opened with THE BIG SLEEP, at a school rummage sale. On the ride home, Marlowe's arrival and interview with Sternwood came vividly to life for me. Hawks beautifully re-creates the scene and the atmosphere). An aside: I prefer the first version of THE BIG SLEEP seen by the military in 1945 over the revamp that appeared the following year with the Bogart-Bacall romance getting punched up. The first version sticks closer to the original story, even if Chandler was of no help figuring out some of the character motivations.

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My first viewing of the film clip from The Big Sleep, revealed Marlowe, a mellower fellow, compared to Sam Spade, as portrayed in The Maltese Falcon. His confident manner and the ease exhibited in his conversations with characters in this 5 min. clip are clearly evident. He's a well educated, well dressed, and definately gives the impression that he takes care of business.

 

Spade is a man that also takes care of business, but his character takes a grittier persona, not so self assured detective.

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Marlowe walks with the assurance that he is is own man.  He is neither too impressed or intimadated by the apparent luxury of the Sternwood mansion.  He does respect the four milion dollars the client is supposed to have and treats General Sternwood with courtesy.  But, he doesn't whitewash what he knows about the General's family.  Marlowe is honest, and honestly looks to earn his pay.  He's a "no nonsense" man with things to do.  Humphrey Bogart plays the part extremely well.

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Don't get confused by the plot - there isn't one and it's not supposed to make sense.

 

I don't necessarily agree with this characterization. I would say that it's more that the plot is all about motive and character, less about the logical mechanics of who did what and when.

 

The Big Sleep isn't focused on forensics, or clever workings out of so-and-so only had an hour to get back to kill the victim. It's not about the cleverness of the murder or picking apart the clues. It's about digging into the people involved and tracing their emotions and needs back to what they want and what they'd be willing to do to get it.

 

The plot does mostly hang together, and it is supposed to make sense. But it makes sense primarily from the stand point of understanding the why of the murders, not the how.

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I don't necessarily agree with this characterization. I would say that it's more that the plot is all about motive and character, less about the logical mechanics of who did what and when.

 

The Big Sleep isn't focused on forensics, or clever workings out of so-and-so only had an hour to get back to kill the victim. It's not about the cleverness of the murder or picking apart the clues. It's about digging into the people involved and tracing their emotions and needs back to what they want and what they'd be willing to do to get it.

 

The plot does mostly hang together, and it is supposed to make sense. But it makes sense primarily from the stand point of understanding the why of the murders, not the how.

 

I agree with you with regards to what makes The Big Sleep work.   The plot does 'add up' (i.e. I know who killed who for all of the deaths,  seen and unseen),  but as you noted this is secondary.  One doesn't have to know these details for the film to be thrilling.  

 

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.   

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Watching The Big Sleep. Just watching Bogart and Bacall looking at each other, you know there's something there. She's so young. But I digress.

I love bogart in the role, and only he could play off Bacall's character, but I liked Dick Powell better as Philip Marlowe in Murder My Sweet. Grittier, sour, no nonsense. Where Bogarts Marlowe has women eating out of his hand. More sexual tensions and double entendres.

 

Film has lots of angles, shadows, thunderstorms out from nowhere. Wonderfully typical of film noir. While I enjoy learning more about film noir, I must confess, that I jus really enjoy watching the films. Priceless.

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In the opening scene of "The Big Sleep", we see that Marlowe is witty, brutally honest and sarcastic. He also doesn't care who knows it. I have yet to see "The Maltese Falcon" in it's entirety, so I can't really comment on Bogart's portrayal of Sam Spade Vs. Phillip Marlowe. I enjoy Raymond Chandler's "Marlowe" novels a great deal and have read them all (Including "Poodle Springs") several times. I really enjoyed the 1946 theatrical version of "The Big Sleep" even though it deviated slightly from the novel. I've read Hammett's "The Maltese Falcon" (And I'm currently in the process of reading it a second time!) and, while the Spade character and the Marlowe character are definitely cut from the same cloth, they are most assuredly unique characters.

 

Having read both "The Maltese Falcon" and "The Big Sleep" novelizations, I am definitely more of a "Marlowe" fan than a "Spade" fan.  

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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? 

 

Though it's slower-paced than other films, we learn quite a bit about the situation in just a few minutes. First off, we learn of Marlowe that he's a secure, knowledageble, witty and independent man. He's honest and not afraid to be who he really is. Additionally, we learn that there's something amiss (as in any noir film) that will certainly involve money and women. The greenhouse is probably a headsup of things getting hot pretty quickly, both in the mystery at hand and in the relationships that Marlowe is sure to have.

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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.   

 

Wow--I did not know this! I've seen people here referencing the different "versions" of the movie, but I assumed it was the usual case of a few scenes being cut to shorten running time or something.

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Wow--I did not know this! I've seen people here referencing the different "versions" of the movie, but I assumed it was the usual case of a few scenes being cut to shorten running time or something.

 

The most interesting difference between the two versions is that two different actresses were used for Mrs. Mars.    The character is only in that one scene in the hideaway house where Marlow is tied up by the thugs.   This scene was reshot so Bacall's character, Vivian,  could go goggle eyes over the helpless Marlow and another actress was used for Mrs. Mars.   

 

The marketing of the film as the movie these now married lovers were born to make was highly successful,  but the romance does make the film less 'noir'.    Still The Big Sleep is one of my favorite films since I'm a romantic at heart.   

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How does this opening establish Bogart as Marlowe?  What do we learn about him?

 

Bogart pushes the doorbell in a forceful manner and holds it just a bit longer than needed. 
I am told at the onset that Marlowe knows who he is and commands attention.  

 

Marlowe is polished and polite, witty and sarcastic, confident if not arrogant, educated formally but also has street sense and is an independent thinker.   He will challenge a system and break rules.

  

Marlowe is a ladies man.  He gives Carmen the once over upon meeting her.  They exchange banter. She falls back.  At the moment he catches her, the music informs. 

It goes from an enchanting glissando of harp to an ominous mélange of strings. 

As she leaves the room, he again gives her the once over.   I love this scene's foreshadowing.  Detective Marlowe will play the hero to Carmen, but she will lead him on a path of danger. 

Yet, that is okay with him!

 

 

 

 

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The most interesting difference between the two versions is that two difference actresses were used for Mrs. Mars.    The character is only in that one scene in the hideaway house where Marlow is tied up by the thugs.   This scene was reshot so Bacall's character, Vivian,  could go goggle eyes over the helpless Marlow and another actress was used for Mrs. Mars.   

 

The marketing of the film as the movie these now married lovers were born to make was highly successful,  but the romance does make the film less 'noir'.    Still The Big Sleep is one of my favorite films since I'm a romantic at heart.   

 

This is what I love about these TCM's message boards! This extra knowledge that the community shares! Keep it up, great stuff!

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I LOVE Humphrey Bogart. Bogart appears more open as a character in The Big Sleep versus The Maltese Falcon. I just observe a harder edge in Maltese Falcon than what I am seeing here. Bogart's first encounter with the millionaire's daughter is a riot. I love the flirting and the snarkiness of it all. Bogart's response to the father of the daughters is classic and brilliant.

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I watched the clip from The Big Sleep after reading for the first time that it was one of the principal examples of noir.   It seemed the epitome of the detective story before that, and the meandering plot was a challenge.  But, yes, despite my failure to see the noir elements here, this film is a prime example.

 

Marlowe enters the stentorially overstated entry to the Sternwood mansion and the soundtrack gives him a Warner Brothers musical "laugh" at the pretension present in the foyer, particularly the ridiculous coat of arms on the wall.  Things here are not what they seem.  The detective picks up on that effortlessly.

 

Then, the younger daughter appears, and the musical cue is the standard "mystery" arabesque. Note:  everything else about the musical score for this movie is, I think, tremendously original and memorable.  It takes things easy, giving a musical version of a tremendously broad view of its subject..  The femme fatale (who causes nothing but trouble right up until the last frame of the film, via her own waywardness and the story behind her "secret house," later on) nearly falls flat on her face.  Nothing here is to be taken too seriously, yet.  And yet, the viewer wonders....

The third scene, in the conservatory, resembles nothing so much as the Garden of Eden as drawn by Charles Addams.  The diagonal line of the tree, seen as Marlowe enters, is laden with orchids (too much like human flesh, with a rotting perfume, as the seated father says), moves to the riot of foliage, laden with Spanish moss for mysterious effect, and so on.  We're here, in the middle of the genesis of evil.  Hell is where they turn up the temperature so that its inhabitants can survive!

 

The father, old, sick and spent from a lifetime of dissipation, keeps the heat turned up.  He tells us that it's suitable for the nurture of a baby spider.  That was enough to make me recoil.  But then, something curious happens.  The father's interview of the detective initiates Marlowe's first person exposition.  During this, the father and the detective have more in common than we thought.  The father lives vicarously through his guests, this one in particular.  Twisted enough for noir?  

 

The detective in The Maltese Falcon is, by noir definition, a man honest at his core.  Marlowe, here in The Big Sleep, may be the same at his core, but in a far more easygoing way, far less invested in staying upright in this moral universe (double entendre intended) than Sam Spade was.  He's more relaxed in this crowded Eden, enjoying the ride.  What fun!

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"The Big Sleep" is one of my all time favorites--it was the first film noir I watched as a kid, and I must have seen it 20 times. For a long time, I was content to just watch it for all it's fabulousness, and not really pay attention to all the plot details (that even the scriptwriters themselves couldn't figure out).

 

But the past few times I've watched it, I really focused on the whodunnit, and I've figured out almost all the murders but one--who killed the Sternwood's chauffeur? I'm guessing--SPOILER ALERT--Joe Brody?

 

I recently came across this brilliant helpful (albeit tongue in cheek) chart of all the characters in "The Big Sleep" and their connections with each other. There are a couple I'm not sure about, but most of them add up! (Underneath the chart, if you click on "read full article" it will take you to a larger full screen photo of the chart.)

 

http://thereelist.com/media/4f81d5e839c5bd16420000f7/

 

 James, who do you think killed the Sternwood's chauffeur?

 

I agree with you with regards to what makes The Big Sleep work.   The plot does 'add up' (i.e. I know who killed who for all of the deaths,  seen and unseen),  but as you noted this is secondary.  One doesn't have to know these details for the film to be thrilling.

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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.

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"The Big Sleep" is one of my all time favorites--it was the first film noir I watched as a kid, and I must have seen it 20 times. For a long time, I was content to just watch it for all it's fabulousness, and not really pay attention to all the plot details (that even the scriptwriters themselves couldn't figure out).

 

But the past few times I've watched it, I really focused on the whodunnit, and I've figured out almost all the murders but one--who killed the Sternwood's chauffeur? I'm guessing--SPOILER ALERT--Joe Brody?

 

I recently came across this brilliant helpful (albeit tongue in cheek) chart of all the characters in "The Big Sleep" and their connections with each other. There are a couple I'm not sure about, but most of them add up! (Underneath the chart, if you click on "read full article" it will take you to a larger full screen photo of the chart.)

 

 

 James, who do you think killed the Sternwood's chauffeur?

 

Spoiler Alert:

 

Yes,  Joe Brody killed the chauffeur.    When Marlow is grilling Brody in his apartment Marlow tells Brody to look at him when he is talking to him since it is common for someone that is lying to not wish to look someone in the eye.   Well Brody starts his story and since at first he is telling the truth he is looking at Marlow,  but when Brody starts to lie he turns away from Marlow.   Marlow has to keep circling around in order to look Brody in the face.    This scene has always cracked me up because it was Hawks shy way of telling us that Brody was lying.    After Brody is done Marlow does mock his story with something like 'so, you're telling me you left a guy in Beverly and someone took him to the ocean and pushed his car off the pier and you know nothing about that'.     But since Marlow doesn't really care how the chauffeur died and only wants to get those pictures of Carmen,  he moves on.

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Q: 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?

A: We see a confident man who seems comfortable in his own skin. We learn very quicky that he’s not very tall, he’s a private detective, likes brandy, he’s 38, went to college, and used to work for the district attorney’s office until he got fired for insubordination.

 

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

A: Marlowe seems to be a little more relaxed than the Sam Spade character.

 

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

A: It sets up the film’s plot by giving us most of the backstory in a few short minutes, giving us an idea as to what Marlowe's character will be up to.

 

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I first saw these films when I was a kid.  My mother was an old movie buff–her grandfather and his family owned some independent theatres in southern Arizona, so she grew up with films from the Golden Age–and there wasn’t much to do in Phoenix Arizona in the 1960s and 70s.  So film on TV was big entertainment in our house.  My problem was that as a kid I got Bogart as Sam Spade mixed up with Bogart as Philip Marlowe.  It took me a while to sort them out.  But I did eventually.  
     Interestingly enough, although there has to be similarities in the two interpretations of the two different characters just because it’s the same actor, Bogart really does subtly and beautifully differentiate the two characters.  Of course, this is also helped by the fact that the stories are largely different, and the fact that the cinematography is different (I find Huston’s is darker, more baroque in its use of chiaroscuro than Hawks, and Huston does like those Expressionistic camera angles more), but that said, it is also in the acting, the delivery of lines, etc.
     I have always thought that Bogart’s lines were more stilted, his motions less refined in The Maltese Falcon.  His characterization of Spade also makes him seem older, more burned out, more cynical than his interpretation of Marlowe.  His Spade seems less secure, more angry, less sure.  There seems to be more fluidity, more activity, more confidence in Marlowe.  I don’t know if it is because Bogart “designed” the role that way, or if it was because in the Maltese Falcon, he was in his first big role, while in The Big Sleep, he was an established star, and it was five years later than The Maltese Falcon.
     There is also the issue of how Bogart’s Spade relates to Bogart’s Marlowe.  Sexuality seems to be an inconvenience or a bother to Sam Spade, even if he wants it (which also contrast’s with Ricardo Cortez’s Sam Spade who was all about the ladies).  For some reason, Bogart’s Marlowe is attractive to women and likes being attractive to them.  He knows how to talk to them.  But, then again, the women are younger and much more attractive than the women in his Maltese Falcon (again, compared to the 1931 Maltese Falcon, whose women were much better looking than those in 1941 version, in my opinion).  Of course, the chemistry between Bacall and Bogart are tangible, so that helps.  But he is convincing as a man women like in other scenes with other women.  We see this in the opening scene with Carmen Sternwood and then with her sister Vivian Rutledge (Bacall).

     In any case, I guess it is inevitable that one would compare Bogart as Spade with Bogart as Marlowe.  But they really are not the same.

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1.)   In the opening scene to The Big Sleep,  we see that Bogart's Marlow is a cautious man. He observes everything around him as he enters the house; studying the paintings on the wall.  When he meets the girl, he is cordial but seems untrustworthy of her.  When she pretends to faint in his arms, Marlow looks mildly amused, but hardly convinced of her performance.

 

2.)  Bogart's Sam Spade seemed much more hard-boiled, hard edged and somewhat ruthless.  Bogart portrays Marlow as an meticulous detective quietly searching for clues.  He  is also respective as he does not smoke in the house until the host states that it is okay to smoke.

 

3.)  The opening of The Big Sleep can be considered an important influence in film noir in that the opening scene essentially sets the tone for what future film noir's will use as the template for their detectives.  Bogart's Marlow embodies all of the basic essentials,  the DNA if you will, of all future film noir detective creations.  Arriving at a wealthy individuals private home to ask questions, meeting a strange woman,  walking around the home making comments, grilling the individual.  All of these elements are present in the opening scene if The Big Sleep are this brief scene will set the standard for film noir detectives to come.

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Bogart's portrayal of Sam Spade seems more casual, both in terms of his attitude and his relationships, while the Marlowe portrayal appears to be more grounded, more serious about doing the right thing. Further, he understands the level of danger and in mature fashion willingly expresses his fear "Angel, I'm scared." I am not sure Spade could admit that as freely and easily. That statement by Marlowe to his lady, also proves his trust in her, something Spade lacks with his lady, whatever name she uses...she is definitely not to be trusted.

 

In light of comments alluding to the re-shot scenes, Marlowe's romantic side seems directed toward playing up the off-screen marriage between he and Bacall, but Spade is not constricted, nor concerned with the "one woman" notion.

 

Noir benefits from a pair of characters who play so well off of each other as Bacall and Bogart do for the audience; and in a way, we, as viewers are in on "one of the secrets" as the story and the other mysteries are unraveled. Thus, we are invested in the story, and that along with the convoluted plot, excellent dialogue, interesting character development, shadows and lighting, this movies stands among the top examples of this form.

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