Much like I preferred To Have and Have Not over Casablanca, I preferred this film over its non-Hawks counterpart, The Maltese Falcon. Huston’s debut is a fine one, but it’s somehow cold – The Big Sleep, on the other hand, sizzles with wit and energy. The same can, really, be said of the books they were based on. While it can be said that both Hammett’s and Chandler’s source materials are chaotic webs of investigation and deception, with a jaded protagonist pursuing something that’s always just out of their reach, it is only really Chandler’s that grasps that chaos and makes it its own. They both craft a magnificently dark atmosphere, but Chandler treats the darkness with lightness. And that difference transfers onto the screen very noticeably – and it’s a difference that made me favour The Big Sleep, both in print and celluloid form.
In the film, Bogart and Bacall absolutely sparkle. After finishing To Have and Have Not, they passed that first uncertain period and rushed straight for the juice. While a lot of the dialogue is lifted straight from the book (for example, the “do you have a Ben-Hur 1860” or “I could make it my business” bits), several of the more memorable moments are indeed unique to the film, including the iconic “horse race” dialogue, a dialogue so hot that I’m surprised it was allowed to be left in the film.
And it’s not just the acting and script; it’s the everything, from camera to music to lighting to costuming. It’s all these things together that have made it a noir staple, and just generally a classic film – and rightly so.
If anyone’s seen the version with Robert Mitchum, can you let me know what you thought of it?
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- howardhawkshollywood answered: its not very good, but Mitchum’s other 70s noir remake, Farewell My Lovely is highly recommended.
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