It is undeniably a masterpiece of film noir, with murders aplenty, sleazy characters, chiaroscuro lighting and several femmes fatales but lacking the conventional noir voiceover and flashback. Howard Hawks seems to film nearly every scene in the dark or in the rain, or both, and the movie is permeated with a dark, disquieting atmosphere with sleazy characters constantly coming in and out of the shadows.
The film is generally regarded as a classic and was commercially successful although it received no nominations from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in any of its award categories. In 1997, the film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant," by the U.S. Library of Congress and was added to the National Film Registry.
The plot can be described as a challenge and is regarded as one of the most complicated of any detective movie. It concerns the wealthy Sternwood family, an aging father and two beautiful daughters, one of whom, Carmen, is being victimized by a blackmailer over pornographic pictures of her. Philip Marlowe is hired to get rid of the blackmailer, but an unexpected murder complicates matters and touches off a series of killings by a number of different parties, various double crosses and all sorts of characters appearing and disappearing. In a sense the plot is secondary to the characterisations. It is only an excuse for us to enjoy watchng Humphrey Bogart again playing a tough private eye, just as he had done in 'The Maltese Falcon'. We are not watching a Philip Marlowe movie, but rather a Bogart movie.
Taking advantage of the success of the 1944 film 'To Have and Have Not' Hawks reunited Bogart and Lauren Bacall, as the public so clearly wanted to see them together again. The film was completed in the beginning of 1945, but because the studio wanted more and more of Bogart and Bacall, there had to be additional shooting and editing, which held the release of the film for about a year and a half. It is the palpable chemistry between the two that propels this movie forward with snappy, wonderful banter and smoldering tension that put the sizzle into this top thriller.
'The Big Sleep' is, in fact, one of the great films by one of the screens greatest actors and most talented directors.
Main CastHumphrey Bogart ... Philip Marlowe
Lauren Bacall ... Vivian Rutledge
John Ridgely ... Eddie Mars
Martha Vickers ... Carmen Sternwood
Dorothy Malone ... Book Shop Proprietress
Peggy Knudsen ... Mona Mars
Regis Toomey ... Chief Inspector Bernie Ohls
Charles Waldron ... General Sternwood
Charles D. Brown ... Norris the Butler
Bob Steele ... Lash Canino
Elisha Cook Jr. ... Harry Jones
Louis Jean Heydt ... Joe Brody
CreditsDirector ... Howard Hawks
Producer ... Howard Hawks
Screenplay ... William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman
From the novel by ... Raymond Chandler
Music ... Max Steiner
Cinematography ... Sidney Hickox
Distribution Company ... Warner Bros.
Release date ... August 23, 1946
Running time ... 115 minutes