“Neither the author, the writer, nor mself knew who had killed whom.” - Howard Hawks on The Big Sleep
The Big Sleep (1946) Movie Trailer
The Big Sleep - 1946 (Original Poster)
Released: August 23, 1946 Running time 116 minutes
Humphrey Bogart was a tortured man when he played Raymond Chandler’s wise cracking detective Phillip Marlowe in “The Big Sleep.”
Despite his love for his 20-year old co-star, Lauren Bacall, the 44-year old Bogart was wrestling with an on-again, off-again breakup with his hard drinking and often violent wife, actress Mayo Method. Humphrey Bogart had a reputation in Hollywood as a consummate professional who never let his late hours or lifestyle interfere with his work. During the making of this film, that reputation was tarnished as he missed several days on set while he attempted to drown his sorrows and ease his mental turmoil.
Director Howard Hawks was forced to shoot around him which was no easy task since Bogart’s Marlowe appears in every scene of the movie.
This awkward situation was also an emotional strain on the young Lauren Bacall.
Under these circumstances, it easy to imagine that filming a convoluted film noir with so many plot twists that the writers often had trouble keeping track of who murdered who might be a miserable experience for everyone involved with the project. Actually, the opposite was true.
Freed to interact on the set, the electricity between Bogart and Bacall was renewed. Their give and take energized the working environment to such an extent that studio head Jack Warner fired off a telegram to Howard Hawks that has now become part of the Warner Hollywood legend.
“Word has reached me that you are having fun on the set. This must stop.”
Under Hawks guidance, writers William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman were constantly revising the script, sometimes delivering changes on the morning the scenes were scheduled to be shot. Brackett was stunned by Bogart’s ability to absorb new material. She reported watching him put on his horn rim glasses and go off to a corner with the new pages for five minutes and come back with the new scene completely worked out in his mind.
As filming wrapped up on “The Big Sleep,” Warner Brothers’ executives realized they had a problem. Bacall had become very popular after the release of “To Have and Have Not.” In her following movie, “Confidential Agent,” directed by Herman Shumlin, she had been miscast as an upper class British girl opposite Charles Boyer. Movie audiences wanted more of the sultry Bacall of “To Have and Have Not” and the executives felt that there was too little of this side of the actress in the completed version of “The Big Sleep.”
Howard Hawks agreed that the film needed more of that Bogie-Bacall magic to smooth the rough edges of the complex plot.
Writer Phillip Epstein, the co-author of “Casablanca,” was brought in to write additional scenes highlighting the relationship between Bacall’s Vivian and Bogart’s Marlowe. One of those scenes was the famous double entendre horse racing-as-sex café scene that clearly shows the joy Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall took in working together.
Which version of “The Big Sleep” is better? Some prefer the original cut because it clarifies some of the muddy plot points. Others enjoy the revised version for the added byplay between the two stars. Since both versions are now available on DVD, you can decide for yourself. Either way, you’ll be watching one of the most entertaining film noir movies ever made. That both versions work so well is a true tribute to the skills of Howard Hawks.
Director: Howard Hawks
Producer: Jack Warner and Howard Hawks
Screenplay: William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman Based on Raymond Chandler novel "The Big Sleep" Music: Max Steiner
By following the life and art of Howard Hawks one can capture the true essence of the Golden Age of Hollywood, as if slipping on special lenses that suddenly pull away the grain and glare to reveal an unforgettable time of Movie Magic.