The Big Sleep (1946) | Old Classics… Newly Reviewed

Tackling what Turner Classic Movies shares is a classic film noir mystery, with 1946’s The Big Sleep.

They had it all, Bogey and Bacall. Great screen chemistry, one of those real-life movie romances for the ages, and hit after hit. But is The Big Sleep really the classic noir TCM says it is?

Well, it’s in black and white, has all the noir elements, particularly Humphrey Bogart, and it’s loaded with style. But what it also has is a muddied, confusing, basically incoherent script, with scenes shoved in to increase Bacall’s role after the producers realized she and Bogart were great together in another film that came out before this one was done filming.

Bogart plays Philip Marlowe, and Bacall is the eldest daughter of the retired general who’s trying to save his youngest daughter from being blackmailed. I think. I think the Los Angeles mob is involved. Or not. Maybe drugs. Possibly pornography and prostitution. Or maybe it’s just gambling. Love triangles? Something. There’s something going on, you can be sure of that!

There are a lot of characters in this movie, and most of them seemed very interchangeable, some were discussed but never seen onscreen, some were onscreen but never discussed, and I’m still not sure who did it and why.

But I’m not alone. Per the great Ben Mankiewicz who does the before and after segments for most of the prime-time TCM movies, the director and stars were confused about what was going on in the script, so they went to the source – Raymond Chandler. Who shared that he had no idea who really did it, either. So, you know it’s a great mystery when the author has no clue!

But, it’s got style! And Bacall! Who, in this movie, has style! And, it must be said, not a lot of acting talent. Watching her in this movie made me wonder just how she ever got a career, let alone was lauded as a great actress. She’s really pretty. And…that’s about it. She’s not really that interesting, she supposedly has chemistry with Bogart, but there are a literal tonnage of women in this film, and they ALL have chemistry with Bogart. Apparently the man was a cinematic chemistry machine, because I could have bought him having a torrid love affair with every women he interacted with, most of whom were more interesting onscreen than Bacall. Meaning that him choosing Bacall was, for me, because it was scripted, not because the characters just couldn’t contain themselves.
All’s well that ends well, I guess. I think the bad guys get their comeuppance and Marlowe and his dame get to have love or something like it, but I wouldn’t swear to it.

Unlike Strangers on a Train or Midnight Lace this movie is all style with confused substance. It has a lot in common with D.O.A. – style over substance, incoherency over a clear storyline, somehow considered a great movie despite all the elements. My advice? Don’t lose any rest over The Big Sleep.

2 stars out of 5
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