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Wake up With The Big Sleep

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Dusty is an avid classic movie fan who wants to share movie stories and evoke conversation about them.

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The Big Sleep

1 hr. 54 mins Crime, Film Noire, Mystery - 1946 - 7.9 stars

Director: Howard Hawks

Cast: Humphrey Bogart - Philip Marlowe

Lauren Bacall - Vivian Rutledge

John Ridgely - Eddie Mars

Martha Vickers - Carmen Sternwood

Dorothy Malone - Acme Bookshop Proprietress

Peggy Knudson - Mona Mars

Regis Toomey - Chief Inspector Bernie Ohls

Chares Waldron - General Sternwood

Elisha Cook - Harry Jones

Bob Steele - Lash Canino

Sonia Darrin - Agnes Lozelle

Louis Jean Heydt - Joe Brody

Note: Spoiler alert. This review reveals the outcome of the movie

Marlowe meets the coquettish Carmen

Humphrey Bogart and Martha Vickers meet up in the Sternwood mansion

Humphrey Bogart and Martha Vickers meet up in the Sternwood mansion

Synopsis Part I

From its inception this edgy story grabs the attention of the viewer. Philip Marlowe (played by Humphrey Bogart) is a private investigator – he uses the slang term ‘shamus’. He is called to the stately home of a General Sternwood (played by Charles Waldron) to take on a case. But before he even gets in to see the general he is approached by the general’s younger daughter Carmen (played by Martha Vickers) who is extremely flirtatious, even coquettish. She falls into Marlowe’s arms and tells him he’s cute!

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Once Marlowe is brought in to see the general he is told that the general’s friend, companion and confidant, Sean Regan, has mysteriously disappeared. Rumor has it that he ran off with Mona Mars, wife of local crime boss Eddie Mars. Perhaps in this conversation Marlowe assumes that this will be a sort of missing person case for him, but that’s not the reason he’s been called in. He’s been summoned to find out and to put a stop to whoever is blackmailing Carmen over a series of gambling debts.

After Marlowe accepts the case and departs from the general he runs into the general’s older daughter, Vivian Rutledge (played by Lauren Bacall). She assumes that Marlowe has been hired to find Sean; she doesn’t know the real reason for Marlowe’s hiring.

Marlowe begins his sleuthing by going to a bookstore run by a man named Geiger because the blackmail notes are from him. After being rudely rebuffed by the store’s saleslady, Agnes (played by Sonia Darrin), Marlowe seeks a place to hide out and watch the storefront, which he finds across the street in another book store. Here he has an impromptu romantic encounter with the proprietress (played by Dorothy Malone). The scene is memorable to the audience, but adds nothing to the plot.

When Geiger leaves his store Marlowe follows him and comes to Geiger’s house. It’s dark now and Marlowe sits on a stakeout. A car drives up and someone gets out and runs into the house. Marlowe looks at the car’s identification sticker and learns that it’s Carmen’s car.

After some time, there is a sudden scream, a flash of light and shots from inside the house. Marlowe busts in and discovers a room with Carmen sitting on a couch doped up, intoxicated. He also finds the dead body of Geiger on the floor. Carmen who is high tells Marlowe once again that he’s cute. Also located in the room Marlow discovered hidden photographic equipment. With Carmen being high and with hidden photographic equipment Marlowe deduces that pornographic photos have been taken and will be used for blackmail. Marlowe quickly takes Carmen home but discusses very little with Vivian, other than to have her say to anyone who inquires that Carmen has been in all night. When Marlowe returns later to Geiger’s house he discovers that the body has been removed.

Shortly afterwards Eddie Mars (played by John Ridgely) shows up. He claims to be Geiger’s landlord, but Marlowe knows his name from his investigations, that he is a local crime boss and he knows that Eddie is tied up deep in this whole case.

Marlowe Returns Carmen

Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Martha Vickers  "If anyone asks, she's been in all night"

Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Martha Vickers "If anyone asks, she's been in all night"

Synopsis Part II

Vivian receives a call from a woman who wants money for compromising photographs she has of Carmen. The caller says that she will call back to set up a time and place for payment. Vivian reports this to Marlowe who asks Vivian to contact him with the details of the blackmailers’ pay off plan. But while waiting for Vivian to call him back, Marlowe has a strong hunch that she won’t involve him in that payoff plan and will not call him with that information. So he goes to stake out an apartment belonging to a man named Joe Brody (played by Louis Jean Heydt) who Carmen had previously alleged was the killer of Geiger. Marlowe had previously followed Brody from Geiger’s bookstore. While there he enters the apartment to find that not only Brody, but Agnes is there as well! Because his hunch was right and he had seen Vivian enter the apartment building he then asks that Vivian step out from the next room. There is a knock on the door and Brody opens it to Carmen who holding a gun on him demanding the photos of her which he had in his possession. Brody relinquishes them and Carmen leaves. Soon afterwards there is another knock on the door and when Brody answers it he is shot dead. Marlowe chases the assailant and captures him, then turns him over to the police.

Throughout the movie Vivian has not known precisely what her father hired Marlowe to investigate and both refuse to tell her. She approaches Marlowe and pays him off saying that his job is done and the case is closed, but Marlowe is wise to her because he realizes that he is getting closer to finding much more than she wanted him to know about the misdeeds of her and her sister. At this time romance between Marlowe and Vivian which started earlier, very subtly, began to intensify. Marlowe goes and pays a visit to Eddie Mars, the crime boss. He runs a casino out in the country. As he is checking the place out whom should he run into there but Vivian? She is singing at the casino, but also was running up a big debt. Eddie arranges it so that Vivian wins big that night; Marlowe runs into trouble outside the place when he tries to take Vivian home. A thug tries to steal Vivian’s purse with all her winnings. Marlowe is able to thwart that ambush in the parking lot, but he also realizes that the whole thing is a ruse in which Vivian was playing a part. He also realizes that Eddie has something on her. The two quarrel when he suggests this to her.

Later, Marlowe is attacked and beaten up by some of Eddie’s men. A stranger named Harry (played by Elisha Cook) has been following Marlowe and comes to his aid. Harry has information that might prove helpful to him in his case. Marlowe goes to Harry’s office, but some more of Eddie’s thugs are there waiting for Harry. Marlowe stays outside the office, but watches as they made silhouettes on the frosted window of the office. The thugs make Harry drink a poison which kills him quickly. After the thugs leave and Harry dies Marlowe goes into his office to investigate. The phone rings; it’s Agnes who tells him where he would be able to find Eddie Mars’ wife Mona. She could be found at a farmhouse out in the country behind an auto mechanic’s shop.

Marlowe goes that night and slashes one of his tires to create a need for repair then tries to engage the mechanics who he soon realizes also work for Eddie. They knock him out and take him into the house. In the house he meets the elusive Mona Mars (played by Peggy Knudson). He is tied up and facing an unpleasant prospect of further torture when to his surprise Vivian shows up. She is there to visit Mona.

Marlowe convinces Vivian that whatever Eddie is holding over her he could help and even clear her. He succeeds in convincing her to help him escape based on their mutual affection. Marlowe takes Vivian with him, guns down one of Eddie’s thugs and drives to Geiger’s house. Here he calls Eddie instructing him to meet him in an hour - that it would take him that long to get there - but that was a ruse; Marlowe is already there of course. In this way he gets the jump on Eddie and he has already called the police to come for Eddie. The ruse worked. Eddie arrives early himself and plants some henchmen outside the door to gun Marlowe down after their meeting.

Marlowe having anticipated this has Eddie walk out the door. Before the henchmen cold realize it is Eddie walking out they gun him down. The movie ends with the sound of the police sirens coming to the scene.

Confrontation in Brody's Apartment

Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Louis Jean Heydt and Sonia Darrin

Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Louis Jean Heydt and Sonia Darrin


The Big Sleep is a movie which entertains by confusion. By the time the story concludes the audience will not understand the mystery they’ve just watched, but they won’t be alone, neither did the director (or cast for that matter). The story leaves many loose ends untied, but that doesn’t seem to diminish the entertainment quality of the movie. One could easily walk away from the movie with the conflicting thoughts of “What was it about; what happened?” and “Wow, was that good!” One critic at the time, James Agee, wrote of the movie, “Wakeful fare for folks who don’t care what’s going on, or why, so long as the talk is hard and the action harder.”

The director concluded that not bringing the story to a logical conclusion wasn’t so bad. He learned that it was the ‘pop’ that sold. The fact that I can walk away from this movie scratching my head only leads me to conclude that I must have missed something, after all mysteries tend to do that to people. Never would it occur to me that the head scratching bewilderment would also be shared by the director!

The actors make up strongly for the ambling plot and Humphrey Bogart easily makes up for any ambiguities in the actual story. He’s always one step ahead of the bad guys except when he’s not. He’s the toughest of the tough guys, but he’s on the right side of the law.

Usually in any private detective movie there is a strong element of distrust between the detective and the police. But in this movie the detective and the police chief work very well together. One comes close to missing the usual animosity.

Bogart and Bacall have their famous chemistry and the two of them had a few conversations which flowed sometime very complexly in impromptu situations almost magically. There is a call to the police station and a conversation about horse racing that are good examples.

The movie was dripping with innuendo and romantic sexual tension, especially any scenes involving Martha Vickers who they feared would have easily upstaged Lauren Bacall if it weren’t for the producers who left many of her scenes on the cutting room floor precisely for that reason. Hollywood had a big investment in Lauren Bacall and she was dating Humphrey Bogart at the time. For whatever reason they didn’t want Martha Vickers to take that spotlight. But make no mistake she had what it took; Marth Vickers was a very good actress but never received much acclaim!

The movie really gives no moral message except perhaps the old adage, “crime doesn’t pay”. But for the tenacity and genius of a Philip Marlowe crime came pretty close to paying well! It is clear that the lives of the people involved in these types of activities, like gambling and drug abuse, are shipwrecked. The movie does depict the dark underworld as a dog eat dog type of place. That’s exciting to watch, but you wouldn’t want to live like that.

The movie has several flirtatious scenes including a few that have nothing whatsoever to do with the plot. Some examples are the bookstore scene and the taxi scene. Women throw themselves at Philip Marlowe throughout the movie. This may have been a subtle branding attempt for the character of Philp Marlowe. He shows up in other movies – not always played by the same actors. He also shows up in comic books. As a case in point this was Bogart’s only Marlowe depiction. Another character who appears in several different movies is Sam Spade who was also a private eye. Bogart played him in an earlier movie, The Maltese Falcon. Although the movie is very entertaining it is not fathomable, yet it was well rated and did well at the box office. Perhaps there is an unintentional moral to the story and that is to present pizazz or pop and not worry so much about the loose strings in the plot. That and a good cast will carry the show.

Marlowe Meets Mona Mars

Marlowe is tied up, but finally meet the elusive Mona Mars.  Humphrey Bogart and Peggy Knudson

Marlowe is tied up, but finally meet the elusive Mona Mars. Humphrey Bogart and Peggy Knudson

Movie Trailer

Marlowe Meets Carmen

Marlowe Meets Vivian

Marlowe and Vivian Spar and Talk Horseracing

Marlowe and Vivian Make a Prank Call to the Police


Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on September 18, 2021:

Nice review.

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