The Big Sleep (1946) Classic Movie Review 189

The Big Sleep (1946)
The Big Sleep (1946)
She tried to sit in my lap while I was standing up.

Welcome to today’s show, my name is John. As always, you can subscribe to the show on Apple Podcast or wherever you get your podcasts. Also, there are links to social media in the podcast show notes. You can also go to classicmovierev.com to read notes, bios, and other random movie thoughts.

Today’s movie is The Big Sleep (1946). This movie is one of the great Film Noirs, but it is sometimes hard to follow. I think it might be helpful if you can identify a 1946 Packard in silhouette. This movie has a decent 8.0 rating on iMDB.com[1]. On Rottentomatoes.com the film seems to be rated more correctly with 97 percent on the Tomatometer and 91 percent audience score[2]. The film was listed on the National Film Preservation Board (NFPB) for preservation in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry in 1997.

Great film critic Roger Ebert said of the film “It is typical of this most puzzling of films that no one agrees even on why it is so puzzling. Yet that has never affected “The Big Sleep’s” enduring popularity, because the movie is about the process of a criminal investigation, not its results.”[3]

New York Times film critic Bosley Crowthers said at the time:

“The Big Sleep is one of those pictures in which so many cryptic things occur amid so much involved and devious plotting that the mind becomes utterly confused. And, to make it more aggravating, the brilliant detective in the case is continuously making shrewd deductions which he stubbornly keeps to himself. What with two interlocking mysteries and a great many characters involved, the complex of blackmail and murder soon becomes a web of utter bafflement. Unfortunately, the cunning script-writers have done little to clear it at the end.”[4]

Of course, this movie had a lot going for it. It was based on a Raymond Chandler novel, William Faulkner co-wrote the screenplay, and Howard Hawks was the director. The actors were not too shabby either, so, let’s get going.

Actors

Returning

The great Humphrey Bogart played detective Philip Marlowe. Humphrey Bogart was covered in Episode 25 – Sahara (1943).

The wonderful actress Lauren Bacall played Vivian Rutledge. Bogart and Bacall were at the beginning of their relationship and you can really see their passion when they act together. Bacall was first covered in another Film Noir with her husband, Dark Passage (1947).

Martha Vickers was cast as the sexy young vixen Carmen Sternwood. Vickers was first covered in The Mummy’s Ghost (1944).

Dorothy Malone was pure sexuality as the Acme Book Shop Proprietress. Malone was first covered in Warlock (1959).

Elisha Cook Jr. played Harry Jones, a man that was seduced and got in over his head. This excellent actor was first covered in The Maltese Falcon (1941).

Louis Jean Heydt played Joe Brody, a smalltime blackmailer. Heydt was first covered in the comedy Zombies on Broadway (1945).

Bob Steele did a good job as killer Lash Canino. Steele was first covered in Of Mice and Men (1939).

New

John Ridgely played the role of Eddie Mars, gambler and blackmailer. Ridgely was born in Illinois in 1909. He attended Stanford University before becoming an actor. He was a solid character actor with 178 film and television credits. His best-known roles include Dark Victory (1939), the Custer saga They Died with Their Boots On (1941), The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942), Howard Hawks’ Air Force (1943), Destination Tokyo (1943), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), Film Noirs The Big Sleep (1946) and Possessed (1947), Command Decision (1948), and sci-fi When Worlds Collide (1951). Ridgely died in 1968 at the age of 58.

Regis Toomey played Police Chief Inspector Bernie Ohls. Toomey was born in Pennsylvania in 1898. He began working as a musical stage performer. After a bout with laryngitis Toomey switched to acting. His first film was in the pre-code Alibi (1929). He played leads and second leads in a lot of movies. His best-known films include Other Men’s Women (1931), ‘G’ Men (1935), His Girl Friday (1940), Meet John Doe (1941), The Big Sleep (1946), Rachel and the Stranger (1948), Spellbound (1945), Guys and Dolls (1955), and Change of Habit (1969) with Elvis. This was followed by a successful television career. He worked into his 80s and died in 1991 at the age of 93.

Charles Waldron played General Sternwood, a man with two wild daughters. Waldron was born in New York state in 1874. He was mainly a stage actor they had a side career in films playing elderly authority figures. He is best known for Audrey (1916), The Real Glory (1939), Mademoiselle Fifi (1944), and he was well received as the client in The Big Sleep (1946), but he died the same year.

Sonia Darrin played the role of Agnes, a chiseler that unsuccessfully jumped from man to man. Darrin was born in Texas in 1924 to Russian immigrants. The family moved to San Diego in 1934. Her acting career began in 1941 and consisted of 12 credits. At least three of these were Film Noirs. She had a village role in the classic horror film Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943). Her career ended in 1950, and she raised four children.

Story

Streetwise private investigator Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) comes to the Sternwood Mansion to see General Sternwood (Charles Waldron). While he is waiting, he is set upon by the young, beautify, and sexy Carmen Sternwood (Martha Vickers). The trifecta! She plays coy, but he handles it with words like Shamus. Just as she collapses into his arms, Norris (Charles D. Brown), the butler comes to take Marlowe to the General.

The General is old and ill, so he hangs out in the greenhouse, to stay warm. He gets joy only from watching other smoke or drink. They go over each other’s backgrounds; Marlowe defies authority. The General is rich and has two wild daughters that are both currently unmarried.

The General says he is being blackmailed again. A year earlier he had paid off a man named Joe Brody (Louis Jean Heydt) to leave his younger daughter Carmen alone. The General’s usually man, Sean Regan, has left about a month prior. The General has a paternalist relationship with Sean.

The General shows Marlowe some promissory notes for gambling debts that are signed by Carmen. The note inside is written on a card from Arthur Gwynn Geiger, Rare Books, and De Luxe Editions. Marlowe verifies with the General that they are real. The General has not spoken to his daughter about the issue. Marlowe says pay the debts. The General won’t pay and wants Marlowe to get rid of the problem.

The Big Sleep (1946)
The Big Sleep (1946)

Norris tells Marlowe that the older daughter Vivian Rutledge (Lauren Bacall) wants to see him. When he meets Vivian, she is kind of snotty. Vivian tries to get info on the case, but Marlowe evades. Vivian wants him to find Sean Regan because his unannounced departure hurt the General. She thinks that is why the General hired Marlowe until the PI sets her straight.

Marlowe heads to the public library to brush up on collectible first editions. He goes to Geiger’s bookstore and uses a disguise by putting on sunglasses and turning up the front of his fedora. Bruce Willis has stolen this look a bunch. He tries to see Geiger, but the sales lady Agnes (Sonia Darrin) won’t let him past. He quizzes her for some rare books that don’t exist. She doesn’t know the difference.

Marlowe goes across the street to another bookstore to wait for Geiger, who he is sure is in the first store, to leave. It just so happens that the owner of the other bookstore is the lovely Dorothy Malone. He tells her he is a private detective and needs to find Geiger on the way out. She throws herself at him and closes the store. It’s raining anyway. They spend the rest of the afternoon drinking, and I guess just talking about books.

At regular closing time, a car driven by Carol Lundgren (Tommy Rafferty) comes to pick up Geiger. He follows the car to Geiger’s house. Carol is not in the car, and Geiger goes in alone. While Marlowe watches, another car driven by a woman arrives, and she goes into the house. Marlowe checks the registration on the car, and it belongs to Carmen. Marlowe continues to wait outside until he hears a woman scream and two gunshots fired. He runs to the front door as someone runs out and two cars quickly drive away.

The Big Sleep (1946)
The Big Sleep (1946)

Geiger is dead on the floor, and Carmen is sitting in a chair laughing and acting crazy. Marlowe checks the drink, and she may have been drugged. He notices a photographic flash next to a camera hidden inside a statue. He gives Carmen a couple of slaps and tries to snap her out of her haze. The film has already been removed from the camera. Marlowe finds some coded ledger sheets with the name Sternwood on them. He takes it with him.

He wakes the drugged Carmen and returns to the Sternwood Mansion. The General is asleep, so Vivian helps the younger girl get in the house. He tells Vivian that she should say he was never there, and that Carmen never left the house. He then asks Sean Regan and Carmen. Vivian gets mad that Marlowe has tricked some information out of her.

Marlowe makes his way back to his car, which is still parked at the Geiger house. The house has been straightened up, and the body is missing. Marlowe goes back to his place and tries to decode the ledger with no good results.

The buzzer rings and Bernie (Regis Toomey) a policeman from homicide asking what’s going on. The detective says one of the Streenwood’s car with a body in it is floating in the surf off Lido Pier. Marlowe asks if it is Sean Regan. Bernie invites Marlowe to go to the recovery of the car. The police identify the boy as that of Owen Taylor, the Sternwood family chauffeur. The car is one of the two Marlowe saw speed away from the Geiger house earlier in the night. Taylor was killed before the car went into the water.

The next day when Marlowe gets to his office, Vivian is waiting. He asks about Taylor. He tricks Vivian into revealing that Taylor was in love with Carmen. Vivian has a photograph of Carmen at the murder scene at the Geiger home. A woman had telephoned and said they want $5,000 for the negatives and prints. Marlowe calls Vivian out that there is more to the Carmen story than she is letting on.

Vivian thinks she can get the $5,000 from a gambler named Eddie Mars (John Ridgely). Vivian says she likes gambling. She also tells Marlowe that Sean Regan ran away with Eddie’s wife Mona (Peggy Knudsen).

The Big Sleep (1946)
The Big Sleep (1946)

Marlowe goes to Geiger’s store and talks to Agnes. She says he is not there. When the office door opens Carrol, and another man are packing boxes. Marlowe leaves and gets in a cab with the best-looking driver ever, played by Lorraine Miller. He has the car follow the car carrying the stuff from the back of Geiger’s. They pull into the garage of an apartment building, and one of the names on the door is Joe Brody, the same guy that had blackmailed the General a year earlier.

Marlowe then goes back to the Geiger house. There is a car parked in the drive and Carmen is hiding in the bushes. Her car is parked around back. Inside of the house, Carmen says Brody killed Geiger. He tells her that the film is missing. The buzzer rings and Eddie Mars comes in. He lets Carmen go, but he tells Marlowe he has to stay because he has a couple of torpedoes in the car. Eddie tries to bluff Marlowe, but he can’t. Eddie calls his men in, and they verify that Marlowe is a PI.

Marlowe goes back to his office and waits to hear from Vivian about the blackmail. He gets a call and is told that ransom call was never made. Marlowe has a hunch and heads back to Brody’s building. Before long Vivian shows up. He goes to the apartment, and Joe Brody answers the door. Marlowe tells Brody that he has the ledger and Brody lets him in. Brody pulls a gun on him.

Agnes and Vivian are in the apartment as well. Marlowe says he can have Brody framed for the murder of Geiger, even though he didn’t do it. Brody realizes that Carmen would frame him. Brody either killed Geiger or killed the person that took the film. Agnes was the one that made the first ransom call and implied that the police would come after Carmen.

The Big Sleep (1946)
The Big Sleep (1946)

Just then, the buzzer rings and they all look like cockroaches when the lights are turned on. Brody gives a gun to Agnes and opens the door. Carmen comes in the door with a gun and demands the picture. Marlowe takes the gun from Agnes, and Brody gets the gun from Carmen. Marlowe gets the other gun from Brody. Brody gives Marlowe the picture, and Carmen plays coy. He keeps the picture and sends Carmen home.

Marlowe stays behind to get answers from Agnes and Brody. Brody says he clipped the General once before and thought he could do it again. Marlowe finally gets Brody to admit he was watching Geiger’s house when the murder happened. Marlowe says that the chauffeur, Taylor, had gone to Geiger’s house to protect Carmen and killed Geiger. Taylor took the film from the hidden camera and sped away. Brody followed Taylor and took the film from Taylor. He denies that he murdered the man. Brody says maybe he can make a deal with Marlowe about what Geiger had on the Sternwoods.

The buzzer rings again, and Brody answers it. Brody is shot as he opens the door. Marlowe chases the guy down, and it is Carol. Marlowe follows Carol, who is on foot. Marlowe gets ahead and gets the jump on Carol. He makes Carol drive to Geiger’s house. Marlowe tells Carol that Brody didn’t kill Geiger.

At the house, Carol tries to get the jump on Marlowe but gets kicked in the face for his troubles. Geiger is laid out on the bed. Marlowe calls Bernie to come and picks up Carol for the murder of Brody. He asks if Taylor had a gun when they pulled him out of the water. Marlowe tells that three shots were fired, and he will show the body when they come to the house. It was Carol that moved the body. This alludes to homosexual undertones that were often present in Film Noir. In the book, Geiger and Carol were lovers and sold pornography. However, these two elements had to be omitted due to the Hayes Code[5].

The Big Sleep (1946)
The Big Sleep (1946)

Marlowe asks Bernie if he has any red points. This is a reference to small vulcanized tokens that were issued in red and blue to make change for ration coupons. “Approximately 1.1 billion red and 0.9 billion blue were produced, and even though many were collected and destroyed after the war, they are still quite common today.”[6]

Vivian comes to a bar to meet Marlowe. She gives him a check and says her father considers the case closed. She puts the pickup on Marlowe. They discuss horse racing as a metaphor for sex. Marlowe then drops on her that he knows it was Eddie and not the General that had her pay off the case. He also tells her the Eddie owns the house and it was supposed to be Mona Mars that Sean Regan ran off with. He won’t let it go and wants to solve the Sean Regan case.

Marlowe calls Eddie Mars and sets up an appointment to see him. He goes to the club, and it’s a swing joint. Inside, he sees Vivian singing with a crowd. He goes to see Eddie. Marlowe asks about Sean Regan, and it’s a touchy subject. Eddie says Vivian is not popular at the gambling club. Then he says maybe he knows where Mona and Sean are. Finally, Marlowe asks Eddie if he has somebody following him.

Vivian sends for Marlowe, and she is at the roulette wheel and has won eight times in a row. Eddie has to approve her bet. She asks Marlowe for a ride home and doubles her $14,000 on one role. Marlowe goes to his car and sees the car that has been following him. He has a James Bond dropdown compartment that has two guns. He takes one and hides.

The Big Sleep (1946)
The Big Sleep (1946)

A man tries to rob Vivian. Marlowe gets the jump on him, gets the money, the girl, and another gun. He notices that Vivian is shaking. He stops and asks what Eddie Mars has on Vivian. She won’t tell, but they get a little kissy. Marlowe says it was all an act between her and Eddie. The facts are that she was there, won big, and the robber came from Eddie. This was done so Marlowe would believe there is no connection between the two. She won’t show him that the money is really in the bag.

When Marlowe gets home, Carmen is waiting for him. He finds out that Eddie Mars calls Vivian all the time. He throws her out of his apartment. The next afternoon he is awoken by Bernie and ordered to come into the station. They tell him to lay off the case by the word of Vivian. Marlowe lays the whole case out for his friend.

Marlowe goes to dinner, and after some time he calls Norris and asks to speak to the General. He is told that Vivian really wants to talk to him. She says they have found Sean in Mexico and she is leaving to bring him home.

Outside he finds the car that has been following him, and it is registered to Harry Jones. A couple of mugs grabbed him and beat him down in an alley. Harry Jones (Elisha Cook Jr.) comes in and helps Marlowe up and back to his office. Jones is working with Agnes. Jones says he can give the address where Sean Regan and Mona Mars are located. Marlowe agrees to pay Agnes $200 for the address.

The Big Sleep (1946)
The Big Sleep (1946)

In an hour, Marlowe goes to meet Agnes. Inside he hears Jones talking to Canino (Bob Steele) who is one of Eddie Mars’ men. Agnes had told that Marlowe failed to tell the police about Carmen being there when Geiger was killed. She wanted to chisel some money from him. Jones spills everything to Canino, including where Agnes is staying. Canino makes Jones a drink and as he leaves Jones drops dead from poison.

Marlowe is looking at the dead body of Jones when the phone rings. It is Agnes on the phone, and she tells him where to show up. He gives Agnes the money. Agnes says that she and Brody were out driving, and they say Mona Mars and Canino driving. Brody tailed them back to a car drop place way outside of the city.

Marlowe drives to the chop shop and pulls over to fake a flat tire. He bangs on the door until a man with a gun lets him in. Canino is in the garage. The two men knock Marlow out. When he comes too, he is tied up in the house, and Mona Mars is there. He asks her about Sean, but she says she would like to know also. In a minute, Vivian comes into the room. Marlowe tells Canino killed Jones. He runs Eddie down to his wife. Vivian, who cares for Marlowe, says she will let him go if he gives up the chase. He says no. He thinks Eddie killed Sean and Mona is hiding out to make it seem like they ran away together. Vivian cuts Marlowe loose, but he is still handcuffed.

The garage man and Canino make it back, and Vivian screams while Marlowe escapes to his car and gets the second gun. He takes a shot at the garage man who then runs away. Canino uses Vivian for a shield, but Marlowe gets the jump, with the help of Vivian, and shots him down.

Marlowe and Vivian drive back to town. She says she will confess to killing Sean. They both state their love for each other. They drive to the Geiger house, and Marlowe calls Eddie to meet him. He tricks Eddie into picking the meet location that he is already at. He then hides the car.

The Big Sleep (1946)
The Big Sleep (1946)

Eddie comes in, and he has the house surrounded by his men. Vivian guards the back. Eddie, thinking Marlowe is not there yet, comes into the house alone. and unarmed. Marlowe pulls a gun on him. Eddie is shocked when he sees Vivian working with Marlowe.

Eddie confesses the whole story. Carmen had a big crush on Sean, but Sean was crushed for Mona. In a drunken haze, Carmen killed Sean. Eddie took care of getting rid of the body. He then made up the story about his wife and Sean running off. He then started blackmailing Vivian to not turn in Carmen for murder. The way he got the money was to have Vivian use cheats to win, and then he would take the money back from her.  

Marlowe shots his gun and forces Eddie to run out the door. Since his men knew Eddie didn’t take a gun inside, they assumed the person coming out was Marlowe and they mowed him down. Marlowe calls his cop friend Bernie and says Eddie killed Sean and then his own men accidentally killed him. He tells Vivian that she will have to take Carmen away for a while and see if she can be fixed. Vivian asks about the separation between him and her and they vaguely allude that they will be together one day.  

World-Famous Short Summary – “…they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”  ― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

I hope you enjoyed today’s show. I really appreciate you spending the time listening. You can find connections to social media and email on my site at classicmovierev.com. There are links in the podcast show notes as well. This is an independent show, and there is a lot that you can do to help out. First, and most importantly jump over to Apple Podcast and give me a review. It really helps the show get found. If you want to comment, help, or recommend a movie, email me.

Beware the moors


[1] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0038355/

[2] https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1002352_big_sleep

[3] https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-the-big-sleep-1946

[4] https://www.nytimes.com/1946/08/24/archives/the-screen-the-big-sleep-warner-film-in-which-bogart-and-bacall-are.html

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Big_Sleep_(1946_film)

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Office_of_Price_Administration

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