Screenplay: The Big Sleep

BigSleepDVDThe Big Sleep

Screenplay by William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman

Based on the book (same name) by Raymond Chandler

Directed by Howard Hawks

Released in 1946/Filmed in 1944, pre-release in 1945 but never in theatres

My Rating: B+

This month’s assignment for the Words Behind The Pictures Challenge was to pick one of three Humphrey Bogart film, read the screenplay and watch the movie. I picked The Big Sleep and I’m very glad I did. It was complicated and sometimes confusing but it had me re-reading, re-watching, and re-thinking the story. It was extremely enjoyable or I wouldn’t have gone to all that work. The plot was very intricate so I’m going to summarize it in a very superficial way. My apologies to Mr. Faulkner.

Based on the Raymond Chandler novel, The Big Sleep is the saga of one of detective Philip Marlowe’s cases. Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) is hired by millionaire General Sternwood to settle the gambling debts his wild daughter, Carmen (Martha Vickers) owes to a local bookseller. Carmen’s older sister, Vivian (Lauren Bacall), suspects her father’s real motive was to find a friend who disappeared suddenly a month ago.

While sitting in his car outside the bookseller’s home, Marlowe hears gunshots and a woman’s scream. Inside the house he finds the bookseller murdered, a camera with missing film, and Carmen, stoned into oblivion. This first murder (there are seven total) sets Marlowe on a path that bounces from one bad guy to another. He confronts blackmailers, mobsters, pornographers, in his efforts to help the General. Marlowe begins to see that Vivian is right: the mysterious disappearance of the family friend seems to be at the center of everything.

The screenplay was great fun to read. It was easy to imagine that I was one of the actors preparing for the big screen. Some directions were confusing. For instance, here’s one instruction to Marlowe:


(giving her a look she could chin herself on)

What does that mean? I’m guessing that’s what directors are for.

I found the screenplay and the movie often confusing. I suspect it’s because I was reading/watching it through my twenty-first century eyes. Back in the 1940’s there were so many restrictions on what movies could say or show or do that I had to seriously read between the lines. In the real world in which this story was set there were subjects that could not be shown: pornography, drug use,

The dvd I watched had two versions of The Big Sleep. On one side was a cut of the movie that was scheduled to be released to theatres in 1945 but then cancelled. Parts of the movie were re-shot and then the final movie was released in 1946. The dvd also contained portions of a documentary made by people at the UCLA Film School archives. In it was further information about the two versions and why it happened. If you are going to rent or buy this movie, try to get this one.

There were murders in the movie that were actually never resolved which is another thing that confused me. But according to the experts, it didn’t really matter. They claim what really made the movie a classic is the inter-play between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. They most definitely had that sizzle. See what you think. Here’s a clip of my favorite part of the movie.

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8 Responses to Screenplay: The Big Sleep

  1. Beth F says:

    I haven’t seen this in a log time, but I don’t remember being confused. Now you’re making me want to see it again. Maybe I just wasn’t paying close enough attention.

  2. Kathy says:

    I’ve never seen the movie, but I’d like to now just to see what a look you can chin yourself on looks like.

  3. Stacy says:

    The chemistry between Bogart and Bacall was what made the story interesting. You did a lot of extra work to get answers. I was not that studious, although I did read several online reviews, and realized that some of the confusion was because of the loose ends in the movie. And then I didn’t feel so silly for not getting it.
    Great post, Margot!

  4. It sounds like that phrase was a 40’s phrase!

  5. Staci says:

    I’ve never seen any of their movies…I should do something about that!!

  6. What an interesting thing to do! YOu have set up your own cinema-appreciation course. I am impressed. And I am going to rent the movie (that’s all. I’m lazy. Plus I have your comments on the screenplay already). Thanks for sharing.

  7. Pingback: Words Behind The Pictures Challenge | A Few Minutes With Michael

  8. Nan says:

    I remember reading once that the writers didn’t even know what was going on all the time. I think maybe even Chandler didn’t know who murdered everyone, but I may be making that up. :<O

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