Sunday, January 04, 2009

Marlowe's Angels

Kathy & I watched The Big Sleep over the past few days, and man, is it a fine movie. Of course, the plot is nigh-incomprehensible due to the twists and turns it takes, but it's still smart, stylish fun. (And this site puts together a nice list of who killed whom and why.)

Legend has it that William Faulkner, one of the screenwriters, called novelist Raymond Chandler to ask him exactly who killed one of the bodies that turns up, and why... and Chandler said something along the lines of, "How the hell should I know?" But man, are there great scenes, great dialogue... and great dames.

There are, of course, the Sternwood women: Lauren Bacall's smoky Vivian, and her nymphomaniac younger sister Carmen (played by Martha Vickers), about whom Marlowe remarks "She tried to sit in my lap while I was standing up." But throughout the movie, Marlowe is surrounded by sexy women: Sonia Darrin plays Agnes, who works in the door of an underground porn operation but fronts propriety; Dorothy Malone has one of my favorite scenes in the movie, as a bookstore clerk attracted to the danger and adventure Marlowe represents. And heck, even the cameos seem like Howard Hawks wanted to cast as many pretty women as possible: chatty cigarette girls, a waitress Bogart asks for a light for practially no reason, and a great cameo by Joy Barlow as the sexiest cab driver in Los Angeles.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this. I don't think I noticed it on my first viewing--it was all I could do to follow snappy patter and the double crosses of the plot. But having read the book a few years ago, and finally watching the movie again, these women really stand out to me (although I have to be honest--the scene with Dorothy Malone was always a favorite). No wonder Marlowe works for twenty-five bucks a day, plus expenses. The perks are so damn great.



Howard Bagby said...

It has been a long time since I have seen that. I'll have to track it down.

Jay said...

Loved that movie. Glad to hear I'm not the only one to find the plot a bit difficult to follow.

Every time I go into a new liquor store I look for a bottle of Rye like he had in his pocket in the book store when he seduces that dame.

It's said to be one of the influences to the Big Lebowski.

What a movie.