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Big Sleep, The

Howard Hawks

The recent reissue of Howard Hawks’ legendary Raymond Chandler adaptation surprised everyone by outperforming most new movie releases in London. Even countless TV airings can’t diminish the allure of The Big Sleep when shown on the big screen in a new 35mm print, where the glories of Sid Hickox’s shadowy black and white photography are best appreciated. This classic noir thriller has a richly complex plot set in a corrupt Los Angeles, where hard-boiled private detective Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) is hired by an ageing patriarch to sort out the Sternwood family’s many problems (drugs, gambling, blackmail, murder). Armed with a brilliant script, Hawks concentrates on character and performance. The almost incomprehensible plot is left to fend for itself, while the director has his actors deliver the sparkling dialogue (full of outlandish innuendoes and witticisms) as though it were the most natural everyday speech. Hawks’ genius as a director has to do with the way in which he uses little details of gesture and staging to draw out deeper meanings and to develop the love relationship between Marlowe and Vivien Sternwood (Lauren Bacall). It was Hawks who discovered the chemistry that made the Bogart-Bacall teaming so special in his earlier masterpiece To Have and Have Not, and he develops that magic here to make The Big Sleep one of the sexiest thrillers ever made.

U.S.A., 1946.
114 mins.

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