Tag Archives: Raymond Chandler

The Big Sleep (1946, Howard Hawks)

A lot goes unspoken in The Big Sleep. It’s very much set in a wartime Los Angeles, but there’s never much said about wartime conditions or Los Angeles. When private detective Humphrey Bogart goes around the city, investigating, he’s only ever encountering women (beautiful women at that, because director Hawks’s Los Angeles is solely populated with beautiful women who find Bogart enchanting). Sure, book shop purveying is a reasonable career for Sonia Darrin and Dorothy Malone, but then there’s Joy Barlow as Bogart’s cabbie confidant. Barlow’s definitely taking a traditional male job (cab driver) and role (cab driver confidant to detective). She just happens to find Bogart irresistible.

There’s also a lot of texture in Bogart’s banter with copper Regis Toomey; particular phrases and observations referencing wartime conditions. There’s no mention of the war, there’s no mention of the home front, but it’s there.

Of course, Big Sleep doesn’t just not talk about its texture, it also doesn’t talk about… you know, the solution to the mystery. Or even what mystery is what. Rich, sick old man Charles Waldron (in a wonderful performance) hires Bogart to pay off some guy blackmailing one of his daughters. Martha Vickers and Lauren Bacall are the daughters. Vickers is the one getting blackmailed; she’s younger, Bacall’s protective. So Bacall intercedes with Bogart.

The reason Big Sleep doesn’t worry about its exposition is because it’s got Bogart and Bacall. Their first scene together, while energetic, is nothing compared to where the film’s going to get them. The first scene has them talking over one another, constantly interrupting thoughts and dialogue, frustrating each other. It’s a competition without a clear goal–Bacall wants to know what Waldron gave Bogart to do, but Bogart isn’t going to say and maybe Bacall thinks he’s going to crack, maybe she doesn’t. They irritate each other. It’s marvelous.

In their third scene, Bacall’s got to scratch an itch in her nylons and–it just occurred to me–maybe it’s a metaphor for their relationship at that point.

But more on them in a bit. First, Bogart’s got to investigate–leading him to fetching booksellers Darrin and Malone, then on to blackmailer Louis Jean Heydt (who’s not on screen yet, he’s just been mentioned in dialogue and Bogart tracks someone to his residence–Big Sleep doesn’t slow down at all, you’ve got to keep up–when Bogart sits and thinks things through, he doesn’t share what he’s thinking). Eventually there’s a murder and a coverup and Bogart trying to protect Vickers.

There’s a lot of movement in the first act. It also establishes what will become some of the film’s familiar settings. There’s some exterior shooting, but a lot of the outdoor shots are on sound stages and they’re gloriously done. Beautiful photography from Sidney Hickox, great direction from Hawks (throughout, but also moving around those settings). The physical personality of The Big Sleep is deliberate and thoughtful, even if it’s not the draw of the film. Big Sleep is a bunch of expertly done background to its stars’ romance.

Because, pretty soon, Bacall’s pushed her way back into Bogart’s investigation. Even though he doesn’t know why and she isn’t really explaining why, at least not honestly. They’re adversarial but dispassionately. They’re far more passionate about the rapport they’ve discovered. Turns out Bacall’s got a gambling problem too, just with a different gambling establishment than Vickers. John Ridgely runs Bacall’s favorite spot and Bogart finds himself contending not just with Ridgely, but with his thugs too. They want him off the case he’s not investigating.

Although Bogart’s not officially investigating this case no one wants him on (because Waldron didn’t hire him for it), Bogart’s still actually doing it. And is aware he’s doing it. He’s interested and concerned. He’s sympathetic without ever being a sap, which eventually leads to some great quiet moments in Bogart’s performance. His run in with junior league tough guy Elisha Cook Jr. is affecting, for instance, and his constant attempts at fending off Vickers are nice. There’s a lot going on concurrently in Big Sleep, so much with the mysteries–there are the two murders in the first night of the present action, plus two suspected murders before the film begins–but also with the various players (not just murder suspects, but blackmailers and gamblers and then the sisters). Toomey’s police presence is omnipresent when established but always a little out of focus. He doesn’t bother Bogart too much, just enough to remind everyone he exists.

But none of that background–the story–is as important as Bogart and Bacall. Bacall’s character arc has her melting but she never loses the demeanor as she becomes more fragile. And Bogart doesn’t become more protective as she softens either. They’re enthralling throughout–not so much separately because Bacall’s never alone–but as the film progresses, their rapport and relationship take the spotlight off the action and never give it back. Not even during shootouts.

Everything’s good in Big Sleep. Vickers is exceptional, Ridgely’s good, Waldron, Malone’s fun, Charles D. Brown is a hoot as the butler (spoiler: he didn’t do it). Great script from William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman; the dialogue’s better, but only because of Bacall and Bogart, otherwise the plotting would be the winner. Hawks’s direction is spectacular. It starts strong and just keeps getting better, never losing any of the deliberate texture (implied or active).

Good score from Max Steiner (very familiar, incidentally, if you know his King Kong one) with some very nice moves once it gets romantic. Christian Nyby’s editing is excellent as well.

The Big Sleep is phenomenal; Hawks, Bogart, and Bacall make something singular here.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Howard Hawks; screenplay by William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman, based on a story story by Raymond Chandler; director of photography, Sidney Hickox; edited by Christian Nyby; music by Max Steiner; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Humphrey Bogart (Philip Marlowe), Lauren Bacall (Vivian Rutledge), John Ridgely (Eddie Mars), Martha Vickers (Carmen Sternwood), Charles Waldron (General Sternwood), Regis Toomey (Chief Inspector Bernie Ohls), Sonia Darrin (Agnes Lozelle), Louis Jean Heydt (Joe Brody), Dorothy Malone (Acme Book Shop Proprietress), Bob Steele (Lash Canino), Elisha Cook Jr. (Harry Jones), Charles D. Brown (Norris – the Butler).


lauren-blogathon

THIS POST IS PART OF THE SECOND LAUREN BACALL BLOGATHON HOSTED BY CRYSTAL OF IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD.


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Double Indemnity (1944, Billy Wilder)

Double Indemnity is mostly a character study. There’s the noir framing device–wounded insurance salesman Fred MacMurray stumbling into his office and recording his confession on a dictaphone. Turns out he met a woman and things didn’t work out.

MacMurray narrates the entire film. Occasionally the action returns to him sitting in the office, bleeding out. He’s always present. And he’s the only one always present. His confession is for Edward G. Robinson, who plays the insurance company claims manager and the closest thing MacMurray has to a friend. Both Robinson and MacMurray stay with it for the puzzles. Robinson in catching fraudulent claims, MacMurray in idling his time. He’s a character in stasis. Until he meets Barbara Stanwyck.

The chemistry between Stanwyck and MacMurray has waves. Their demeanor develops in real time. With director Wilder and co-writer Raymond Chandler’s double entendre barbs tangoing and Doane Harrison getting just the right cut. And Miklós Rózsa’s ostentatious yet perfectly so score coming in. The scenes between Stanwyck and MacMurray, especially the first couple, radiate.

But the film isn’t about Stanwyck’s fed-up wife and boyfriend MacMurray plotting to kill her husband (Tom Powers). For a while it seems like it might be–with MacMurray’s narration implying it too. But it’s not. Not the plotting, anyway. The plotting is all done offscreen while MacMurray’s dealing with work stuff. Powers is barely in the movie. Wilder’s ability to get good impressions from the supporting cast is outstanding; it’s also essential to Double Indemnity’s success. MacMurray’s narrating so he always gets the focus. Making sure the supporting cast is familiar when they have to return is big deal. Wilder (and Harrison) do some awesome character establishing in this film.

After the murder, there are complications. Sometimes there are resolutions, sometimes not. The connotations of each play out on MacMurray’s sometimes strained, sometimes ashen (presumably) face. Robinson and Stanwyck get the film’s flashier roles, but MacMurray’s the one who has to sell it. Not just in his performance but, for the film to work, in how his narration jibes with his own onscreen action.

And Double Indemnity does it. The filmmaking is impeccable.

The flashback takes place over a considerable amount of time–a few months–but the present action of the film is the hundred minutes of the runtime. MacMurray’s narration has an urgency to it. He skims the boring parts, or the parts it turns out he doesn’t want to examine, which is where the character study comes in. Both for Stanwyck, which is expected, and MacMurray, the film has some third act revelations. Double Indemnity being great, some of these revelations come out in scene so Stanwyck and MacMurray get to do their reactions. Others are in MacMurray’s narration. And those revelations are coming while the tension–both in the present and flashback–is getting more and more taut.

It’s awesome.

Double Indemnity is awesome.

Wilder has the three stars–MacMurray, Stanwyck, and Robinson–and he’s always trying to figure out how to place them. The characters talk like they’re fencing–even when it’s pals MacMurray and Robinson. The physical movements are important. Especially when they’re moving during the talking heads. Robinson’s got this nervous energy as he works out schemes, making his behavior itself agitating to MacMurray.

Then there are are the silent facial expressions. They’re real important. Stanywck’s got one particularly great one. And Wilder makes them do some heavy character development lifting too. It’s great.

All three leads are great. Again, Stanwyck and–especially–Robinson get to be flashy. MacMurray has to keep it cool. Even so, Robinson’s probably the best. Then Stanwyck. The flashy is excellent flashy and the actors nail it.

Porter Hall’s got a fun scene, Richard Gaines has an awesome scene–most of the supporting cast just show up for a single scene. Established then out. Until they might need to come back, like Jean Heather as Stanwyck’s step-daughter. She shows up, implies one arc, comes back with something completely different. And far more important than originally implied.

Double Indemnity is a fast, busy film; Wilder and the crew–John F. Seitz’s photography, Harrison’s editing, the score, Edith Head’s costumes–make it graceful fast and busy. Like I said, it’s impeccable, masterful, awesome. Double Indemnity’s great.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Billy Wilder; screenplay by Wilder and Raymond Chandler, based on the novel by James M. Cain; director of photography, John F. Seitz; edited by Doane Harrison; music by Miklós Rózsa; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Fred MacMurray (Walter Neff), Barbara Stanwyck (Phyllis Dietrichson), Edward G. Robinson (Barton Keyes), Jean Heather (Lola Dietrichson), Tom Powers (Mr. Dietrichson), Byron Barr (Nino Zachetti), Porter Hall (Mr. Jackson), and Richard Gaines (Edward S. Norton, Jr.).


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Murder, My Sweet (1944, Edward Dmytryk)

Murder, My Sweet takes a peculiar approach to the detective story. Lead Dick Powell graciously lets everyone overshadow him in scenes; he doesn’t exactly fumble his way through his investigation, but he does befuddle his way through it. He’s the audience’s point of entry into the mystery and he’s just as confused as anyone else. Or is he? The film runs just around ninety minutes, with a bookending device; director Dmytryk is all about precision with how the audience (and Powell) experience those ninety minutes.

The film opens with Powell being very jokey, which is nearly off-putting. He doesn’t seem to take anything seriously enough, not being questioned by the police, not having man mountain Mike Mazurki threaten him. Powell’s not exactly passive in his scenes, but he’s certainly not active. Dmytryk and screenwriter John Paxton set Powell’s id loose, but more in a way to get the audience situated. Once you buy into the vague unreality of Mazurki’s giant, somewhat lovable moron, you can accept Mazurki as serious. The same goes for the male supporting cast, Otto Kruger and Miles Mander. The film eases the viewer into accepting them beyond face value. It’s awesome because one might think Dmytryk would be too busy with the many technical aspects of Murder.

Dmytryk lets the film wander (carefully, of course) through Harry J. Wild’s photography. Dmytryk even shows it off at times, with characters turning on and off the lights, playing with the idea of what the light hides and the darkness reveals. During the first act, when Powell’s more amiable than anything else, it’s a very strange, then wonderful disconnect. Especially once Claire Trevor and Anne Shirley show up.

Trevor is the femme fatale, Shirley is the good girl. Neither dominate the plot, but Paxton does a great job implying their presence and their importance when they aren’t around. Powell has great chemistry with both, which should be another place the film fails from the disconnect but instead succeeds–they’re different types of characters, Powell’s chemistry with each actor is different. Powell doesn’t get a character arc, not an internal one, but watching Murder, My Sweet is about figuring him out.

Great music from Roy Webb. Great editing from Joseph Noriega.

All of the acting is outstanding. Trevor, Shirley, Mazurki and Mander all get multiple amazing scenes. Kruger is good too, but he’s the closest to a Powell analogue in terms of style. They get to be playful, no one else does.

Paxton’s script is awesome and Dmytryk’s direction manages to be consistently surprising. He always finds a new way angle, whether it’s for a mood shot or just some dialogue. The film’s style is constantly building on itself. It’s fantastic.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Edward Dmytryk; screenplay by John Paxton, based on the novel by Raymond Chandler; director of photography, Harry J. Wild; edited by Joseph Noriega; music by Roy Webb; produced by Adrian Scott; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Dick Powell (Philip Marlowe), Claire Trevor (Helen Grayle), Anne Shirley (Ann Grayle), Miles Mander (Leuwen Grayle), Mike Mazurki (Moose Malloy), Otto Kruger (Jules Amthor), Donald Douglas (Police Lieutenant Randall), Paul Phillips (Detective Nulty), Ralf Harolde (Dr. Sonderborg), Douglas Walton (Lindsay Marriott) and Esther Howard (Jessie Florian).


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The Long Goodbye (1973, Robert Altman)

From the first scene in The Long Goodbye, it’s obvious Robert Altman was on to something with casting Elliott Gould as a character (Philip Marlowe) most famously personified by Humphrey Bogart. It isn’t just Gould not being Bogart and Gould not being a traditional noir detective in any way (Gould’s Marlowe is more concerned with his cat), it’s also very simple–it’s Elliott Gould. Gould’s performance in Long Goodbye is certainly the most different from his traditional performances (the ones he still does today); the most actorly, even though “actorly” isn’t a word. But part of Gould’s initial effectiveness–before the mystery aspect takes off (and it’s Chandler, so it’s never about who done it but about the detective trying to find out who done it)–is seeing Gould play this role and not give that traditional performance. For the first few minutes, it creates some disturbance, but Gould’s almost immediately successful in his part. Altman waits a little while–giving Gould the initial adventures–to ease the audience into it, but then he runs with it.

The Long Goodbye is most stunning through its sound. Though Altman’s got an almost constantly moving (even if it’s just slightly panning) camera, the sound design sets it apart from everything else. The mystery aspect is, like I said before, not so mysterious, but the rest of the film is convoluted in that Chandler way and Altman will bring up the sounds of the waves to further confound understanding. Much of the Philip Marlowe commentary on the human situation is kept, but it’s lowered in volume–Gould mutters it when he walks along, the people he encounters either asking him to repeat it or to explain it.

Of all Altman’s films, certainly those he made after Nashville, The Long Goodbye seems to be the one he’s most visibly excited about. Even when it’s a film he loves, he’s always slightly bored with the filmmaking processes–even when he’s doing his famous (self-loathing) crane shots or when he’s doing interesting sound work. The Long Goodbye is the least Altman-esque film I’ve seen and probably his best.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Altman; written by Leigh Brackett, based on the novel by Raymond Chandler; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Lou Lombardo; music by John Williams; produced by Jerry Bick; released by United Artists.

Starring Elliott Gould (Philip Marlowe), Nina Van Pallandt (Eileen Wade), Sterling Hayden (Roger Wade), Mark Rydell (Marty Augustine), Henry Gibson (Dr. Verringer), David Arkin (Harry), Jim Bouton (Terry Lennox) and Stephen Coit (Farmer).


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