Monday, April 27, 2009

Flick of the Week: "What do you want me to do, count three like they do in the movies?"

This week's flick of the week takes us from His Girl Friday with the great director Howard Hawks to his brilliant noir thriller The Big Sleep starring Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe and Lauren Bacall as the seductive Mrs Rutledge.

Howard Hawks is almost my favourite director; so many great films - Bringing up Baby, Only Angels Have Wings, His Girl Friday, To Have and Have Not, Red River, Rio Bravo, El Dorado, Hatari! Sergent York and Gentleman Prefer Blondes.

To explain just how great he was, among that list is one of the all-time great screwball comedies (Bringing Up Baby), three great films starring Cary Grant (His Girl Friday, Bringing Up Baby, Only Angels Have Wings), two films that put Bogart and Bacall together (The Big Sleep and To Have and Have Not), three of the greatest westerns starring John Wayne (Red River, Rio Bravo, El Dorado), the film that gave Montgomery Clift his first starring role (Red River), the film that won Gary Cooper his first Oscar (Sergeant York), and the film that had Marylin Monroe singing "Diamonds are Forever" (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes).

That, my friends, is a career.

Now the trivia question - how many Oscars did he win?

None. Even worse, he only got nominated once. In 1975 the Academy finally slapped itself in the head and gave him an Honorary Oscar. But he surely rates with Hitchcock as the most overlooked director in history.

The Big Sleep is my favourite of his films. It is beautiful noir - all shadows and mood. Bogart as Marlowe is movie perfection - even better than he was as the other great hard-boiled detective Sam Spade in the 1941 film The Maltese Falcon.

The best thing about the film is the great script by William Faulkner and Leigh Brackett which keeps closely to Raymond Chandler's novel. It ensured great lines remained that must have actors of today drooling over in envy:

Carmen Sternwood: You're cute.
Philip Marlowe: I'm getting cuter every minute.

General Sternwood: How do you like your brandy, sir?
Philip Marlowe: In a glass.

Vivian: I don't like your manners.
Marlowe: And I'm not crazy about yours. I didn't ask to see you. I don't mind if you don't like my manners, I don't like them myself. They are pretty bad. I grieve over them on long winter evenings. I don't mind your ritzing me drinking your lunch out of a bottle. But don't waste your time trying to cross-examine me.

Marlowe is hired by the rich, invalid General Sternwood to fix a blackmail scam against his youngest daughter Carmen. Along the way he matches wits with the elder daughter Mrs Rutledge and finds the blackmail scam is the lid on a can of worms that involves pornography, murder, kidnapping, gambling and God knows what else (in fact the plot is pretty confusing - but don't worry if it doesn't seem to make sense - to worry about such things is to completely miss the point).

The film was made soon after Bogart and Bacall lit up the screen in To Have and Have Not and Warner Bros were desperate to get them together again. The first cut of the film was disappointing - Bacall for some bizarre reason wears a veil. It was quickly re-shot with an added scene of Bogart and Bacall together.

The final version is magic.

It's a great film that can be watched numerous times. The supporting cast is marvelous, and features my favourite bit part actor Elisha Cook Jr.

So check it out, and see if you can work out who killed Owen Taylor, the Sternwoods' chauffeur, because neither Hawks, Faulkner, Brackett nor even Raymond Chandler knew.

Below is the scene that was shot to give Bogart and Bacall more time to sizzle:

1 comment:

LiteraryMinded said...

Love this movie! Was so lucky to catch it on the big screen at the Astor recently alongside The Maltese Falcon. A fantastic night out.