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The Big Sleep

Directed by Howard Hawks

USA, 1946

Cornerhouse, 15 September 2013

The Big Sleep

It was shown about 12 noon, an Autumn Sunday outside, the sun absent and a threat of rain in the Manchester skyline.

I arrived at the screening alert and composed, well groomed and smartly dressed, and I didn’t mind who knew it.  I was there to watch Hawks’ film of Raymond Chandler’s first novel.

The film differs significantly from the novel, bringing in more banter between Bogart and Bacall for one thing, making it more of a flirtatious romance.  The story is altered in significant ways and Hawk’s loses the gay element, which means (e.g.) that we don’t really know why Lundgren guns down Brody.  In the novel he does so because he believes Brody killed Geiger, his lover.

The tragic element concerning the Sternwood’s ‘corrupt blood’ is pretty much absent.  Also, when General Sternwood calls Marlowe in, Rusty Regan is already dead; yet the search for Regan, or the belief that Marlowe is looking for him, drives the action.  This premise, the notion that the dead continue to influence the living, is downplayed as well.

On the plus side there are comic turns from Mars’ regular boys and a convincingly sinister Canino (Bob Steele); and Elisha Cook Jr. as Henry Jones makes for a noble sap.  And far from not featuring a femme fatale (as stated in the talk preceding the screening), there are in fact two in the film, Agnes and Carmen.  Each kills or leads two men to their death.

While the film doesn’t present you with a unified, harmonious impression it effortlessly engages the attention still.  A rich, spicy stew, it has plenty enough going for it.

The Big Sleep was shown as part of the My Noir season, further details are here.