PM, August 25, 1946
CRITICAL and AMUSEMENTS
“Bogart, Bacall, Babes and Bums
The Big Sleep yearns to be the most shocking picture that ever was. To that end, it sells shock for its own sake-realizing that any good reason for its trafficking would necessarily weaken the blows.
Realizing, too, that because they’ve become so familiar, murder, crimes, beatings-up alone have lost much of their jolt-value-The Big Sleep decides that its chief assaults shall be made with the still shining bludgeons of personal corruption, fetidness, decay.
But it is so intensely proud of its new weapon, there is so much determination in its batterings, it is so dedicated to thoroughness in its laying bare of evil-that a terrible thing, the very last thing it wanted to have happen to it, happens to it.
The deep sincerity of its striving for vice arouses affection. It’s so very serious about purveying depravity that its seriousness becomes endearing. It becomes kind of touching, kind of sweet.
Men Are Killers
It becomes winning. It evokes the fond indulgence that a blue-eyed, rosy-cheeked, good little boy meets when earnestly relating the very naughtiest day-dream the dear little fellow is able to think up.
All the men in the The Big Sleep are murderers, naturally; all the women, babes. Except perhaps for the showgirls in a Metro musical. There has never been assembled for one movie a greater and more delightfully varied number of female knock-outs. But whereas Metro showgirls at least look content, every woman in The Big Sleep is feverishly hungry for love. Though they appear ripe, inwardly they are starved, and so desperate for assuagement that though every one of them would prefer Humphrey Bogart, they settle instantly for anybody.
Quickest settler of them all is Martha Vickers, who looks like somebody’s kid sister budding into beauty, and who acts at least like Lauren Bacall’s kid sister, who, indeed, she plays.
She too looks up at a man with her hair impairing the vision of one eye. She too talks cryptic, in a cigaret voice. Her legs too are long; her technique, aggression.
But when denied her opium and her men, Miss Vickers pouts; whereas Miss Bacall, denied her bottle and her man, smoulders. The distinction is slight – having to do with the virtue of the singular “man” versus the plural “men” – but sufficient to make Miss Bacall the heroine, a legal movie conviction required to be pinned on some lady in a picture so that the audience can feel reassured that God’s in His heaven: all’s right with the world.
The love song of heroine Bacall and hero Bogart is wailed on a police siren, the counterpoint to a phantasmagoria of violence, mist, and confusion; a great many uglinesses happening fast. But how or why one ugliness succeeds the last is not easy to determine, inasmuch as producer-director Howard Hawks is so entranced with making each ugliness an individual gem of its kind that their relationship to each other has been neglected.
But these individual gems are recommended as samples of the skill of cinema craftsmen when engaged in cutting and polishing rhinestones to simulate diamonds, instead of just cutting and polishing diamonds. They are marvelous fakes. If there were such people and things as The Big Sleep has made up, they would certainly jerk that way.
THE BIG SLEEP, a Warner Brother picture at the Strand. starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall with Martha Vickers, Charles Waldron, John Ridgely, Elisha Cook Jr. Sonia Darrin, Pat Clark, Dorothy Malone, Regis Toomey; screenplay by William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman from the story by Raymond Chandler; produced and directed by Howard Hawks.