The Big Sleep (1946 film)

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The Big Sleep
Theatrical release lobby card
Directed by Howard Hawks
Screenplay by William Faulkner
Leigh Brackett
Jules Furthman
Based on The Big Sleep
1939 novel
by Raymond Chandler
Produced byHoward Hawks
Cinematography Sidney Hickox
Edited by Christian Nyby
Music by Max Steiner
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • August 23, 1946 (1946-08-23)
Running time
  • 114 minutes
    (released cut)
  • 116 minutes
    (re-released original cut)
CountryUnited States
Budget$1.6 million [1]
Box office$4.9 million [1]

The Big Sleep is a 1946 American film noir directed by Howard Hawks, [2] [3] the first film version of the 1939 novel of the same name by Raymond Chandler. The film stars Humphrey Bogart as private detective Philip Marlowe and Lauren Bacall as Vivian Rutledge in a story about the "process of a criminal investigation, not its results". [4] William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman co-wrote the screenplay. In 1997, the U.S. Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant," and added it to the National Film Registry. [5] [6]


Parts of the unreleased 1945 cut were significantly re-scripted and shot to take advantage of the public's fascination with "Bogie and Bacall". The original version was restored and released in 1997.


Los Angeles private detective Philip Marlowe is summoned to the mansion of General Sternwood, who wants to resolve "gambling debts" that his daughter Carmen owes to bookseller Arthur Geiger. As Marlowe is leaving, Sternwood's older daughter Vivian stops him. She suspects her father's true motive for hiring a detective is to find his protégé Sean Regan who had disappeared a month earlier.

Marlowe goes to Geiger's shop, which is minded by Agnes Louzier, and then follows Geiger home. Hearing a gunshot and a woman's scream, he breaks in to find Geiger's body and a drugged Carmen, as well as a hidden camera empty of film. After taking Carmen home, he returns and discovers that the body has disappeared. During the night, Marlowe learns that Sternwood's driver, Owen Taylor, has been found dead in a limo floating off the Lido Pier, having been struck on the back of the head.

Philip Marlowe (Bogart) and Vivian Rutledge (Bacall) eye to eye Bogart and Bacall The Big Sleep.jpg
Philip Marlowe (Bogart) and Vivian Rutledge (Bacall) eye to eye

Vivian comes to Marlowe's office the next morning with scandalous pictures of Carmen that she received with a blackmail demand for the negatives. Marlowe returns to Geiger's book store and follows a car to the apartment of Joe Brody, a gambler who previously blackmailed General Sternwood. He then finds Carmen in Geiger's house, where she insists that it was Brody who killed Geiger. They are interrupted by the landlord, gangster Eddie Mars.

Marlowe goes to Brody's apartment, where he finds Agnes and Vivian. They are interrupted by Carmen, who wants her photos. Marlowe disarms her and sends Vivian and Carmen home. Brody admits that it was he who was behind the blackmailing, having stolen the negatives from Taylor but then has to answer the door and is shot. Marlowe chases the killer and apprehends Carol Lundgren, Geiger's former driver, who believes Brody is swindling him. Marlowe calls the police to arrest Lundgren.

Marlowe visits Mars' casino where he asks about Regan, who is supposed to have run off with Mars' wife. Mars is evasive and tells Marlowe that Vivian is running up gambling debts. Vivian wins a big wager and then wants Marlowe to take her home. A stooge of Mars' attempts to rob Vivian but Marlowe knocks him out. While driving back, Marlowe presses Vivian on her connection with Mars but she admits nothing. Back at home, Marlowe finds a flirtatious Carmen waiting for him. She says she did not like Regan and mentions that Mars calls Vivian frequently. When she attempts to seduce Marlowe, he throws her out. The next day, Vivian tells him he can stop looking for Regan; he has been found in Mexico and she is going to see him.

Mars has Marlowe beaten up to stop him investigating further. He is found by Harry Jones; an associate of Agnes and besotted with her. Jones conveys her offer to reveal the location of Mars' wife for $200. When Marlowe goes to meet him and be taken to where she is hiding, he spots Canino, a gunman hired by Mars, who is there to find Agnes. As Marlowe watches from hiding, Canino threatens Jones until Jones tells him Agnes's location. Canino then forces Jones to have a "drink" which turns out to be poison. Afterward, Marlowe discovers that Jones lied about Agnes's location.

Agnes telephones the office while Marlowe is still there and he arranges to meet her. She has seen Mona Mars behind an auto repair shop near a town called Realito. When he gets there, Marlowe is attacked by Canino. He awakes tied up, with Mona watching over him. Vivian is there too and frees Marlowe, allowing him to get to his gun and kill Canino. They drive back together and Marlowe calls Mars from Geiger's house, pretending to be still in Realito.

Mars arrives with four men, who set up an ambush outside. When Mars enters, Marlowe reveals that he has discerned the truth: Mars has been blackmailing Vivian, as her sister Carmen had killed Regan. He then forces Mars outside, where he is shot by his own men. Marlowe then calls the police, telling them that Mars was the one who killed Regan. He also convinces Vivian that her sister needs psychiatric care.


Cast of The Big Sleep between scenes The Big Sleep - Behind the scenes 02.JPG
Cast of The Big Sleep between scenes



Trailer for The Big Sleep

The composition of the screenplay involved three writers, including the American novelist William Faulkner. The writing had to be acceptable to the Hays Office censorship, which was vehement about excluding sexual themes. [8] In the novel, Geiger is selling pornography, illegal then and associated with organized crime, and is a homosexual having a relationship with Lundgren. Carmen is described as being nude in Geiger's house and later nude and in Marlowe's bed. To pass the censorship, changes were made; Carmen had to be fully dressed and the pornographic elements could only be alluded to with cryptic references to photographs of Carmen wearing a "Chinese dress" and sitting in a "Chinese chair". The sexual orientation of Geiger and Lundgren goes unmentioned in the film because explicit references to homosexuality were prohibited. [8]

The scene of Carmen in Marlowe's bed was replaced with a scene in which she appears, fully dressed, sitting in Marlowe's apartment, when he promptly kicks her out. The scene, shot in 1944, was entirely omitted in the 1945 cut but restored for the 1946 version. [8] The Big Sleep is known for its convoluted plot. During filming, neither the director nor the cast knew whether the chauffeur Owen Taylor had killed himself or was murdered. [9] A cable was sent to Chandler, who told his friend Jamie Hamilton in a March 21, 1949 letter: "They sent me a wire ... asking me, and dammit I didn't know either". [10]

Warner Bros. studio head Jack L. Warner was frustrated that he was shut out of the production and sent a memo:

"Word has reached me that you are having fun on the set. This must stop." [11]


Bogart and Bacall on the set during filming Bacall and Bogart on the set of The Big Sleep.jpg
Bogart and Bacall on the set during filming

After its completion, Warner Bros. did not release The Big Sleep until they had turned out a backlog of war-related films. Because the war was ending, the studio feared the public might lose interest in the films, while The Big Sleep's subject was timeless. Indications of the film's wartime production include period dialogue, pictures of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and a woman taxi driver, who says to Bogart, "I'm your girl". Wartime rationing influences the film: dead bodies are called "red points", which referred to wartime meat rationing and Marlowe's car has a "B" gasoline rationing sticker in the lower passenger-side window, indicating he is essential to the war effort and therefore allowed eight gallons of gasoline per week.

The "Bogie and Bacall" phenomenon, a fascination with the couple that began with To Have and Have Not , was well developed by the end of the war. Bacall's agent, Charles K. Feldman, asked that portions of the film be re-shot to capitalize on their chemistry and counteract the poor reviews Bacall had received for her performance in Confidential Agent (1945) which was released prior to The Big Sleep, even though it was produced after the original principal photography. [12] Jack Warner agreed and new scenes for The Big Sleep, such as the sexually suggestive racehorse dialogue, were added (scripted by an uncredited Julius Epstein). [13] The re-shot ending featured Peggy Knudsen as Mona Mars because Pat Clark, the originally cast actress, was unavailable. The parts of James Flavin and Thomas E. Jackson were eliminated. Because of the two versions created by the re-shooting, there is a substantial difference in content of some twenty minutes between them, although the difference in running time is only two minutes. Chandler said Martha Vickers (Carmen) overshadowed Lauren Bacall (Vivian) in their scenes together, which led to the producers deleting much of Vickers' performance to enhance Bacall's. [14]


The re-shot, re-edited and revised The Big Sleep was released on 23 August 1946. The cinematic release is regarded as more successful than the 1945 pre-release version (see below), even though it is difficult to follow. Audiences' difficulty in following this version of the film may be due in part to the omission of a long conversation between Marlowe and the Los Angeles District Attorney where the facts of the case, thus far, are laid out. Yet some film critics prefer the 1946 version because they consider the Bogart-Bacall appearances more important than a well-told story. For an example of this point of view, see Roger Ebert's The Great Movies essay on the film. [4] According to Warner Bros records the film earned $3,493,000 domestically and $1,375,000 foreign. [1]

Critical response

1946 version

At the time of its 1946 release, Bosley Crowther said the film leaves the viewer "confused and dissatisfied", points out that Bacall is a "dangerous looking female" ..."who still hasn't learned to act" and notes:

The Big Sleep is one of those pictures in which so many cryptic things occur amid so much involved and devious plotting that the mind becomes utterly confused. And, to make it more aggravating, the brilliant detective in the case is continuously making shrewd deductions which he stubbornly keeps to himself. What with two interlocking mysteries and a great many characters involved, the complex of blackmail and murder soon becomes a web of utter bafflement. Unfortunately, the cunning script-writers have done little to clear it at the end. [15]

Time film critic James Agee called the film "wakeful fare for folks who don't care what is going on, or why, so long as the talk is hard and the action harder" but insists that "the plot's crazily mystifying, nightmare blur is an asset, and only one of many"; it calls Bogart "by far the strongest" of its assets and says Hawks, "even on the chaste screen...manages to get down a good deal of the glamorous tawdriness of big-city low life, discreetly laced with hints of dope addiction, voyeurism and fornication" and characterizing Lauren Bacall's role as "an adolescent cougar". [16]

1997 release of the 1945 original cut

In the mid-1990s, a pre-release version—director Hawks's original cut—was found in the UCLA Film and Television Archive. That version had been released to the military to play to troops in the South Pacific. Benefactors, led by American magazine publisher Hugh Hefner, raised the money to pay for its restoration and the original version of The Big Sleep was released in art-house cinemas in 1997 for a short exhibition run, along with a comparative documentary about the cinematic and content differences between Hawks's film noir and the Warner Brothers "movie star" version. [17]

Film critic Roger Ebert included the film in his list of "Great Movies" and wrote,

Working from Chandler's original words and adding spins of their own, the writers (William Faulkner, Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett) wrote one of the most quotable of screenplays: it's unusual to find yourself laughing in a movie not because something is funny but because it's so wickedly clever. [18]

Ebert praised the film's writing (the above quote is not specific to the 1945 version but is in reference to both films). Ebert preferred the 1946 version and said,

The new scenes [of the 1946 version] add a charge to the film that was missing in the 1945 version; this is a case where "studio interference" was exactly the right thing. The only reason to see the earlier version is to go behind the scenes, to learn how the tone and impact of a movie can be altered with just a few scenes... As for the 1946 version that we have been watching all of these years, it is one of the great films noir, a black-and-white symphony that exactly reproduces Chandler's ability, on the page, to find a tone of voice that keeps its distance, and yet is wry and humorous and cares. [4]

In a 1997 review, Eric Brace of The Washington Post wrote that the 1945 original had a "slightly slower pace than the one released a year later and a touch less zingy interplay between Bogart and Bacall, but it's still an unqualified masterpiece". [17]


In 2003, AFI named Philip Marlowe the 32nd greatest hero in film. [19] The film placed 202nd on the 2012 Sight & Sound critics' poll of the greatest films ever made and also received two directors' votes. [20]

Home media

A region-1 (U.S. and Canada) DVD version of The Big Sleep was released in 2000. [21] It is a double-sided, single-layer disc; with the 1946 theatrical version on side-A (114 m), and the 1945 version (116 m) on side-B. The 1946 opening credits appear on both versions, including Peggy Knudsen, who never appears in the original version. Nowhere is the original actress, Pat Clark, ever credited. The DVD also contains a 16-minute, edited version of the 1997 documentary comparing the two versions that is narrated by Robert Gitt, who worked on the restoration of the 1945 version. Film critic Walter Chaw writes of the DVD releases of The Big Sleep and To Have and Have Not (1944), "The fullscreen transfer of The Big Sleep is generally good but, again, not crystalline, though the grain that afflicts the earlier picture is blissfully absent. Shadow detail is strong—important given that The Big Sleep is oneiric—and while the brightness seems uneven, it's not enough to be terribly distracting. The DD 1.0 audio is just fine." [22]

A Blu-ray edition was released by Warner Bros. in 2015. It "includes the 1945 cut of the film that was screened for overseas servicemen, running two minutes longer and containing scenes not used in the official release". [23]

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