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Movie Reviews

The Big Sleep  

This is certainly a one-of-a-kind movie; it contains some of the greatest actors and dialogue, and the most confusing, complex plot in film history. The basic plot is, well, far from basic. There are so many different characters, deceptions, double-crossings, etc, and one of the murders is even left unsolved. Yet The Big Sleep also contains Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, and they are wonderful to watch.

Bogart is Raymond Chandler`s famous creation Phillip Marlowe, private investigator. He is called in to deal with what seems to be a missing persons case. An old, ill man is curious as to the whereabouts of Shawn Gregor, an old family friend who one day just left the home without saying a word. Marlowe`s search, without a doubt, grows into something bigger, as Gregor is murdered, a plot of blackmail is revealed, and even more bodies are found. And the old man`s daughter`s are caught in the middle of it, including the oldest one, played by Lauren Bacall. She has many secrets of her own which could determine the outcome, yet, beyond all odds, Marlowe can`t help but to fall in love with her. The story becomes so complex and insane that I`d have to watch it again to make sense of it. And therefore this rehashing of that plot is also probably inadequate, for my infamously bad memory certainly does not have the ability to remember such a complex storyline. So let`s forget about it. There are better things to talk about.

Like how there are numerous pieces of quotable dialogue, for instance: "How do you like your brandy?" Bogart: "In a glass." - Bacall: "You`re going too far, Mr. Marlowe." Bogart: "That`s not a very nice thing to say to a man - especially when he`s walking out of your bedroom." - Bogart: "She was trying to sit on my lap while I was standing up." I could write a whole essay just quoting sentences, but then I`d ruin the fun. Other fun stuff includes Bogart`s brief impersonation of a snobby book collector, as he attempts to discover whether Gregor`s rare book shop is in fact a front for less legitimate enterprises. Bacall`s performance is also neat, and even more so when you realize she was only, at most, in her early 20`s at this time. As well, I`m also somewhat amused at Marlowe`s uncanny ability to fascinate every single woman he ever meets, from Bacall`s sister (the one who tried to sit on his lap), to a taxi driver, and a rival used-book seller. I suppose this is a sign of the sexism of the times, where all the male heroes were just so irresistible to all the women. Yet, in this movie at least, most of the women aren`t in the bimbo category, but seem almost as gritty and smart as Marlowe himself, so even this dated convention is invested with equality and smarts.

This is the sort of movie they don`t make anymore, and shows that, in a way, the old films were better than the ones made today. Of course, we have the freedom to say anything we want in a film, including endless profanities, etc, which the Production Code-era would not allow. But how many movies are made today which have the endlessly quotable and rapid-fire writing contained in many of the classics. This is the sort of stuff you`d wish you had said at the appropriate moment, and the sort of stuff you`d have to listen to more than once in order to remember it all. It`s just that good. While there`s nothing wrong with what`s being done today, it would be neat to have screenwriters with the wit of those who`d written a film such as this.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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