‘The Big Sleep’ a hit in WeHo film noir series

Film Noir Blonde

Film Noir Blonde

I had a great time introducing “The Big Sleep” (1946, Howard Hawks) on Saturday at the West Hollywood Library. Many thanks to event organizers Corey Roskin and Andrew Campbell, who did a great job and gave me a warm welcome.

The free screening was part of WeHo Reads, a noir-themed month-long literary program. Next Saturday, Sept. 20, “Mildred Pierce” will play and on Saturday, Sept. 27, there will be a day of panels, music and film.

Meanwhile, I thought I’d share nuggets of info from my presentation.

***As you probably know, “The Big Sleep” stars Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, who formed one of Hollywood’s primo power couples, onscreen and off.

***“The Big Sleep” is a hard-boiled detective story, to be sure, but its mood is more upbeat, fun and entertaining than a typical film noir. It doesn’t have an angst-ridden, pessimistic, cynical vibe, nor is it a tale of American vets finding it hard to adjust to civilian life after WWII. Instead, the men are glad to be back home and the women welcome them with open arms. It was time for a little romance and there’s flirtation, risqué banter and innuendo aplenty.

The Big Sleep poster 214***Central to the sexy, sultry tone: Bogart and Bacall, of course. This was the second film they starred in. The first was 1944’s “To Have and Have Not,” where the pair fell in love and she famously lit his cig, also directed by Hawks. There were four B&B movies in total, all for Warner Bros. The other two were: “Dark Passage” (1947, Delmer Daves) and “Key Largo” (1948, John Huston).

***Hawks’ wife, Slim Keith, spotted Bacall, a teenage model, in Harper’s Bazaar. Slim showed her husband and he quickly cast her in “To Have and Have Not.” He told Bogart: “You’re the most insolent man on the screen and I’ve found a girl who’s more insolent than you.”

***“The Big Sleep” started shooting in October of 1944. Hawks, a confident, successful auteur (who later would be much admired by French critics) was sure it would be a straightforward production. Um, not so much.

***“The Big Sleep” was Raymond Chandler’s first novel (1939) and the first novel to feature the character Philip Marlowe, a tough private eye based in Hollywood. The film was the first time Bogart portrayed Marlowe.

***The first time Marlowe appeared in celluloid form was in 1944’s “Murder, My Sweet,” starring Dick Powell. This movie was based on Chandler’s second novel, “Farewell, My Lovely” (1940).

***More than likely, Chandler would have been tapped to write the script for “The Big Sleep,” but he had an exclusive contract with Paramount, which had released “Double Indemnity” earlier that year. (Chandler and director Billy Wilder had adapted “Double Indemnity” from James M. Cain’s novel.)

“The Big Sleep” script is notoriously confusing. Here, director Howard Hawks, far left, and his team try to figure it out. The film’s own backstory is also a bit tangled.

“The Big Sleep” script is notoriously confusing. Here, director Howard Hawks, far left, and his team try to figure it out. The film’s own backstory is also a bit tangled.

***Hawks hired William Faulkner and Jules Furthman, the team that had adapted Ernest Hemingway’s “To Have and Have Not,” for “The Big Sleep.”

***Also hired was a 28-year-old sci-fi writer named Leigh Brackett. Hawks, a macho type who liked to hunt, fish and shoot with his buddies, was surprised to discover that Brackett was a woman but he was glad to give her a shot. He liked women who could hold their own among manly men. She did fine and had a great career.

***Faulkner decided to divide the work in a strange way: He and Furthman would be one team and Brackett would be another. The two “teams,” working separately, would tackle alternating chapters of the book and slot them together when they’d finished. The script was somewhat disjointed and Hawks took a stab at tweaking it.

WeHo Reads event flyer

***Bacall was just 20 years old and had scant training as an actress when she played spoiled rich girl Carmen Sternwood in “The Big Sleep.” Her female co-stars were Martha Vickers as her little sister, Carmen; Dorothy Malone as a bookstore clerk and Sonia Darrin as a so-called bookstore clerk.

***The book has a serpentine plot and so does the movie. It’s easy to lose track of the narrative but there are seven dead by the end. One day, Bogart asked Hawks who killed the Owen Taylor character (the Sternwood family chauffeur). Hmm, good question. Hawks didn’t know and neither did the writers. Hawks sent Chandler a telegram and he replied that he didn’t know either.

***Hawks sometimes had to shoot around Bogart because the actor was going on drinking benders. Though Bogart had met the love of his life in Bacall, there was a glitch. Still married to his third wife, actress Mayo Methot, he ended the affair with Bacall and he tried to reconcile with Methot. It didn’t go well and Bogart took to binging. Also, there was tension because Hawks was hoping to ignite a romance with his protégée Bacall and she snubbed him.

***All that said, they still managed to have a good time on the film. In fact, Jack Warner sent Hawks this memo: “Word has reached me that you are having fun on the set. This must stop.”

Corey Roskin introduces the event.

Corey Roskin introduces the event.

***Hawks was known for fast-paced action and comedy. He also gave rise to the “bromance” before the term existed. So, as I said, this film does not have the brooding, doom-and-gloom feeling that typically characterizes film noir. By the same token, it doesn’t have the intense chiaroscuro visual style (which has its roots in German Expressionism) that so often shapes the look of film noir. Nevertheless, “The Big Sleep,” which was an A-budget title, boasts a top cinematographer: Sid Hickox, who also shot “Dark Passage.”  (Max Steiner provided the score.)

***They finished shooting in January 1945. Bogart divorced Methot and married Bacall in May 1945. “The Big Sleep” was shown to U.S. servicemen in the Philippines in August 1945. World War II was ending so Warner Bros. hurried to release  movies with war-related narratives. “The Big Sleep” wasn’t timely or topical and could be released at a later date.

***Also, Warner Bros. put “The Big Sleep” on the back burner so as not to compete with Bacall’s second movie: “Confidential Agent” (1945) based on a Graham Greene novel and co-starring Charles Boyer. Unfortunately, though, that film garnered scathing reviews for Bacall.

***Warner Bros. then turned its attention back to “The Big Sleep,” hoping the movie would be able to compensate for the disappointment of “Confidential Agent.” The studio showed it to preview audiences and they wanted more scenes with Bogart and Bacall. So did Bacall’s agent. And, as Mrs. Humphrey Bogart, she now had impressive clout.

Film Noir Blonde at the event.

Film Noir Blonde at the event.

***In January 1946, Hawks spent six days reshooting and came up with another version of the film, one that gives us more Bogie and Bacall sizzle. There is also less of Martha Vickers – even though she was quite good, promoting Bacall and recapturing the electric chemistry of “To Have and Have Not” was the priority. The new scenes reportedly were written by one or both of the Epstein brothers, Julius and Philip, of “Casablanca” fame.

***“The Big Sleep” was released on Aug. 31, 1946. The narrative was even less clear than before, but who cares?! We have Bogart and Bacall in top form – flirting and fighting off baddies – in a very entertaining film. Both versions of the movie (as well as a short documentary on the changes) are available from Warner Bros.

***Hawks was once asked what makes a great movie. His answer was three great scenes and no bad scenes. By that definition, “The Big Sleep” surely ranks as a great work.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

The Film Noir File: ‘To Have and Have Not’ and ‘Key Largo’ showcase noir’s top couple

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Film Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). All movies below are from the schedule of TCM, which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

Pick of the Week: Two Classics from The Couple: Bogart and Bacall
Bogie. Bacall. The Ultimate Film Noir Couple. At their best. Need we say more?

Director Howard Hawks discovered Lauren Bacall and cast her opposite Humphrey Bogart. They fell for each other while making “To Have and Have Not.” She was 19.

Director Howard Hawks discovered Lauren Bacall and cast her opposite Humphrey Bogart. They fell for each other while making “To Have and Have Not.” She was 19.

To Have and Have Not” (1944, Howard Hawks). Tuesday, Sept. 16, 10 a.m. (7 a.m.).

With Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Walter Brennan, Hoagy Carmichael and Marcel Dalio.

Key Largo” (1948, John Huston). Tuesday, Sept. 16, 12 p.m. (9 a.m.). With Bogart, Bacall, Edward G. Robinson, Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor and Thomas Gomez.

Friday, Sept. 12

Miriam Hopkins

Miriam Hopkins

12:45 a.m. (9:45 p.m.): “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1931, Rouben Mamoulian). Fredric March won the Best Actor Oscar for playing those exemplars of good and evil, alter-egos Jekyll and Hyde, in this dark and very stylish version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic about the potion that turns a good man into the devil incarnate. With Miriam Hopkins as Hyde’s sad, beauteous victim Champagne Ivy. For Jerry Lewis’ daffy version of this tale, try his 1963 comedy classic “The Nutty Professor,” on TCM this week at 8 p.m. (5 p.m.), Thursday, Sept. 11.

2:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m.): “The Story of Temple Drake” (1933, Stephen Roberts). A grim pre-Code adaptation of William Faulkner’s shocker about Deep South rape, scandal and murder, and the weird relationship between rich girl Temple (Miriam Hopkins) and the brutal gangster whom Faulkner called Popeye (Jack La Rue).

3:45 a.m. (12:45 a.m.): “Freaks” (1932, Tod Browning). With Olga Baclanova, Wallace Ford and Harry Earles. Reviewed in FNB on April 18, 2013.

Saturday, Sept. 13

Catherine Deneuve stars in "Belle."

Catherine Deneuve stars in “Belle.”

8 p.m. (5 p.m. ,.): “Belle de Jour” (1967, Luis Bunuel). With Catherine Deneuve, Michel Piccoli, Genevieve Page, Jean Sorel, Francisco Rabal and Pierre Clementi. (In French, with subtitles.) Reviewed in FNB on March 8, 2013.

Monday, Sept. 15

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Background to Danger” (1943, Raoul Walsh). With George Raft, Brenda Marshall, Sydney Greenstreet and Pater Lorre. Reviewed in FNB on Jan. 9, 2013.

Tuesday, Sept. 16

A shot from Bacall's modeling days.

A shot from Lauren Bacall’s modeling days.

6 a.m. (3 a.m.): “The Confidential Agent” (1945, Herman Shumlin). Classy but somewhat turgid adaptation of one of Graham Greene’s spy “entertainments.“ With Charles Boyer, Lauren Bacall and Peter Lorre.

10 a.m. (7 a.m.): “To Have and Have Not” (1944, Howard Hawks). See Pick of the Week.

12 p.m. (9 a.m.): “Key Largo” (1948, John Huston). See Pick of the Week.

Wednesday, Sept. 17

6:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m.): “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950, John Huston). With Sterling Hayden, Jean Hagen, Sam Jaffe, Louis Calhern and Marilyn Monroe.

10 a.m. (7 a.m.): “The Narrow Margin” (1952, Richard Fleischer). With Charles McGraw, Marie Windsor and Jacqueline White.

Blue Gardenia poster11:30 a.m. (8:30 a.m.): “The Blue Gardenia” (1953, Fritz Lang). With Anne Baxter, Richard Conte, Nat “King” Cole and Raymond Burr. Reviewed in FNB on May 22, 2013.

1 p.m. (10 a.m.): “Suddenly” (1954, Lewis Allen). With Frank Sinatra, Sterling Hayden, James Gleason and Nancy Gates. Reviewed in FNB on April 23, 2012.

4 p.m. (1 p.m.): “I Died a Thousand Times” (1955, Stuart Heisler.) With Jack Palance, Shelley Winters, Lee Marvin and Lon Chaney, Jr. Reviewed in FNB on Jan. 15, 2013.

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “Al Capone” (1959, Richard Wilson). With Rod Steiger, Martin Balsam and Fay Spain. Reviewed in FNB on May 29, 2014.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Billy Budd” (1962, Peter Ustinov). With Terence Stamp, Robert Ryan, Ustinov and Melvyn Douglas. Reviewed in FNB on Nov. 10, 2013.

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “The Great Sinner” (1949, Robert Siodmak). Dark costume drama with eye-catching Siodmak direction and an extraordinary cast: Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Melvyn Douglas, Walter Huston, Ethel Barrymore, Agnes Moorehead and Frank Morgan. In novelist Christopher Isherwood’s offbeat screenplay, Peck is obsessed with Gardner and with gambling.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

Film Noir Blonde to introduce ‘The Big Sleep’ Saturday in LA

“The Big Sleep” was the second film in which director Howard Hawks paired Bogart and Bacall. The first was “To Have and Have Not” (1944).

“The Big Sleep” was the second film in which director Howard Hawks paired Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. The first was “To Have and Have Not” (1944).

Film Noir Blonde

Film Noir Blonde

I have some news to share: I will be introducing “The Big Sleep” (1946, Howard Hawks) at 2 p.m. this Saturday, Sept. 13, at the West Hollywood Library Community Meeting Room, 625 N. San Vicente Blvd.

Directed by Hollywood giant Howard Hawks, particularly known for helming action and comedy flicks, “The Big Sleep” is sly, fast and funny. Best of all, the film stars the inimitable Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. What’s not to love?

This free screening is part of WeHo Reads, a noir-themed month-long literary program. Next Saturday, “Mildred Pierce” will play and on Saturday, Sept. 27, there will be a day of panels, music and film.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

Lauren Bacall has died at age 89

Lauren Bacall was born Betty Joan Perske on Sept. 16, 1924.

Lauren Bacall was born Betty Joan Perske on Sept. 16, 1924.

She was one of a kind and will be fondly remembered.

http://www.vanityfair.com/vf-hollywood/2014/08/lauren-bacall-dies-age-89

My favorite Lauren Bacall film noir: ‘The Big Sleep.’ Reviewed here: http://bit.ly/1pNUSvl

Another great Bogart & Bacall film noir is ‘Dark Passage.’ Reviewed here: http://bit.ly/1kBvxpi

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

The Film Noir File: Howard Hawks and Raymond Chandler, Bogie & Bacall: As good as noir gets

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

PICK OF THE WEEK

It doesn't get any better than Bogie and Bacall in "The Big Sleep."

It doesn’t get any better than Bogie and Bacall in “The Big Sleep.”

The Big Sleep” (1946, Howard Hawks). Tuesday, May 20, 12:15 p.m. (9:15 a.m.) With Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Dorothy Malone, and Elisha Cook, Jr. Click here to read the FNB review.

Thursday, May 15

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “The Night of the Hunter” (1955, Charles Laughton). With Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, and Lillian Gish. Reviewed in FNB on Feb. 3, 2011.

Saturday, May 17

7 a.m. (4 a.m.): “Each Dawn I Die” (1939, William Keighley). With James Cagney, George Raft, Jane Bryan, George Bancroft and Victor Jory. Reviewed in FNB on March 10, 2012.

8:45 a.m. (5:45 a.m.): “Johnny Angel” (1945, Edwin L. Marin). With George Raft, Claire Trevor, and Signe Hasso. Reviewed in FNB on June 27, 2012.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.); “The Haunting” (1963, Robert Wise). With Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson and Russ Tamblyn. Reviewed in FNB on Oct. 29, 2013. [Read more...]

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

Film Noir File: Here’s looking at you, Bogie

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

PICK OF THE WEEK: HUMPHREY BOGART DAY (Thursday, Aug. 1)

Bogart poses in his classic fedora and trenchcoat.

If there is a country of film noir, then Humphrey Bogart is its president, its first citizen, its uncrowned king – a man of one unforgettable face and of many standout roles. Bogie was Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade, two ace detectives. He was Roy Earle and Duke Mantee, outlaws on the run.

He played gang leaders (“The Roaring Twenties”) and their prosecutors (“Marked Woman,” “The Enforcer”), a treasure hunter (in “Sierra Madre”) and a bad-tempered screenwriter (“In a Lonely Place”). Outside the land of noir, he was sloppy steamboat Captain Charlie Allnut in “The African Queen” and mad Captain Queeg of “The Caine Mutiny.”

Perhaps most famously he was Rick Blaine of “Casablanca,” the melancholy, sexy night club owner, no stranger to secrets, cynicism and, ultimately, sacrifice for the greater good.

Bogart’s career was sluggish at the start; he owed his big break to Leslie Howard. They starred, with Bette Davis, in “The Petrified Forest.”

As he walked the dark, rainy streets of noir, he often wore a raincoat and fedora, with a cigarette curling smoke past his grimacing, partly paralyzed lip (the result of a fight when he was in the Navy) and likely carrying a gun. His eyes were dark and sad, his voice was low and hard-edged. There was usually a snarl in that voice.

Bogart was born into a comfortable Manhattan home, the son of a surgeon and an artist. In 1918, Bogart joined the Navy, after which he went into theater and film. One of his first movies was a prison baseball comedy called “Up the River,” directed by John Ford and starring, also in one of his first movie roles, Spencer Tracy. (Ford later called the picture “one of my mortal sins.”)

Bogart’s big break came in “The Petrified Forest” (1936, Archie Mayo). Co-star Leslie Howard insisted Bogie be cast as gangster Duke Mantee (they previously starred in the play’s Broadway run). Bogie quickly became a Warner Brothers contract player fixture. He started off as mostly a villain, then an anti-hero, then finally mostly a hero.

Bogart and Bacall were married from 1945 until Bogart’s death in 1957.

Howard Hawks once labeled Bogie as probably the most insolent guy in movies. Then Hawks told Bogart he was going to put him in a movie with a young actress even more insolent: Lauren Bacall. Hawks directed them in 1944’s “To Have and Have Not” and they fell in love. Like Tracy and Hepburn, Bogie and Bacall became one of the great Hollywood couples – and their marriage (her first, his fourth) was the stuff that dreams are made of.

At 57, Bogart died of throat cancer from too many of those signature cigarettes of his. Speaking at the funeral, John Huston, his favorite and most sympatico director, said: “We shall not look upon his like again.”

When Bogart won his Oscar for “The African Queen” – beating out Marlon Brando in “A Streetcar Named Desire” and Montgomery Clift in “A Place in the Sun,” two of the most influential movie performances of the ’50s – he explained, “I’ve been around for a long time. Maybe the people like me.”

Bogart and Bacall were introduced by director Howard Hawks.

They do like him, still. Nobody wore a raincoat, cracked wise to a crook or a cop, or walked down a mean noir street, like Bogie. Nobody ever will. Here’s looking at you, kid.

(Note: Most of the following titles have been reviewed on FNB. Use the search tool on the right to find them.)

6 a.m. (3 a.m.): “Bogart: The Untold Story” (1996). A documentary look at Bogie’s life in (and out) of movies, hosted by his son, Stephen Bogart.

7 a.m. (4 a.m.): “High Sierra” (1941, Raoul Walsh).

9 a.m. (6 a.m.): “The Maltese Falcon” (1941, John Huston).

10:45 a.m. (7:45 a.m.). “To Have and Have Not“ (1944, Howard Hawks).

12:30 p.m. (9:30 a.m.): “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (1948, John Huston).

2:45 p.m. (11:45 a.m.) “Tokyo Joe” (1949, Stuart Heisler).

4:15 p.m. (1:15 p.m.). “Beat the Devil” (1954, John Huston).

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “In a Lonely Place” (1950, Nicholas Ray).

8 p.m. (5 p.m.). “The Big Sleep” (1946, Howard Hawks).

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “Key Largo” (1948, John Huston).

4 a.m. (1 a.m.): “The Harder They Fall” (1956, Mark Robson). [Read more...]

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

The Noir File: Bogie, Bacall shine in quirky ‘Dark Passage’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and  pre-noir from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

PICKS OF THE WEEK

“Dark Passage” was the third of four films Bogart and Bacall made together.

Dark Passage” (1947, Delmer Daves). Friday, June 14:  8 p.m. (5 p.m.)

I recently wrote about 1947’s “Lady in the Lake,” a Raymond Chandler/Philip Marlowe tale, starring and directed by Robert Montgomery. Its chief claim to fame is the experimental subjective camera – the story is told entirely from Marlowe’s point of view.

In that review, I noted that “Dark Passage,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, also from 1947, uses a subjective camera as well, though just for the first half-hour of the movie. The limited use of the technique in “Dark Passage” pays off much better than the full-on treatment in “Lady.” Though “Dark Passage” wasn’t a huge hit in its day – audiences weren’t crazy about being deprived of Bogart – it’s a film noir treasure that rarely gets its due.

You can read the full FNB review here.

NOIR WRITERS SERIES: DAVID GOODIS
All this month on its Friday Night Spotlight screenings,  TCM is presenting a series of classic film noirs, with each Friday night devoted to movies based on or written by (or both) one of  six top-notch noir authors: Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, David Goodis, Jonathan Latimer and Cornell Woolrich.

Tonight the spotlight is on David Goodis, one of the strangest and most poignantly self-destructive of the great film noir novelists. Goodis, a well-educated  Philadelphian, and an outsider for most of his life, came to Hollywood when his best-selling novel, “Dark Passage” was sold to Warner Brothers as a vehicle for the red hot movie team of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. “Dark Passage” allowed Bogie and Bacall to shine, and is now considered a classic.

“Dark Passage” uses a subjective camera for the first half-hour of the movie.

But Goodis, who liked to explore the lower depths,  proved too weird even for Movieland, and he soon returned East where he spent the rest of his relatively brief life (1917-1967) writing pulp novels for paperback publishers, which he occasionally sold to the movies. (See below.)

They were cheap, supposedly trashy books, churned out fast. Goodis filled them with a  keen insight into darkness, loneliness and the underworld, a flair for strong perverse characterization and a poetic command of language few writers in his genre could match. “Dark Passage” remains his most famous novel. The most personal and revealing  may be “The Burglar,” directed by his Philly friend Paul Wendkos. It’s a powerful film, but the book is better.

David Goodis was weird, even for Hollywood.

(The “Noir Writers” films, all of which show on Friday evening, June 14, were curated and will be introduced by film noir expert Eddie Muller.)

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Dark Passage” (See Above.)

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “Nightfall” (1956, Jacques Tourneur). With Aldo Ray, Anne Bancroft and Brian Keith. Reviewed on FNB, May 29, 2012.

11:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.): “The Burglar” (1957, Paul Wendkos). David Goodis’  eerie, haunting novel about a gang of burglars, inlcuding platonic lovers Dan Duryea and Jayne Mansfield, and how they come apart. The diretcor, Paul Wendkos (“The Mephisto Waltz”) was another Philadelphia guy and a friend of Goodis’, and he did very well by the book, which is one of the great pulp paperback novels of the ’50s. The movie isn’t on that level, but, in its way, it’s a neglected, if melancholy, gem.

Charles Aznavour and Michèle Mercier in François Truffaut’s “Shoot the Piano Player.”

1:15 a.m. (10:15 p.m.): “Shoot the Piano Player” (1960, François Truffaut). The greatest movie ever made from a David Goodis novel is also the ultimate fusion of film noir with the French New Wave. Noir-lover François Truffaut (“Jules and Jim”) takes one of Goodis’ best novels, “Down There,” resets it in a Paris dive, and comes up with melancholy black-and-white movie magic. Truffaut makes the material his own. He keeps the original  tale of a concert pianist (legendary torch singer Charles Aznavour) who, heartbroken at the loss of his love, goes down there to the depths of show biz – tinkling the keys in a neighborhood bar, until, despite his best efforts, he falls in love again and falls in with criminals. Like most Goodis stories, it’s a bluesy tale touched with terror.  But Truffaut opens it up with innovative filmmaking and breezy, saucy, seemingly off-the-cuff scenes that shoot vibrant life into a very dark subject. [Read more...]

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

The Noir File: Bogart and Bacall heat up the big screen in Hawks-Chandler noir classic ‘The Big Sleep’

By Michael Wilmington & Film Noir Blonde

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir, sort of noir and pre-noir on cable TV. All movies below are from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

PICK OF THE WEEK

The Big Sleep” (1946, Howard Hawks). Sunday, March 10, 3:45 a.m. (12:45 a.m.) See review in previous post.

Wednesday, March 6

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): Kim Novak: Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival. TCM host Bob Osborne chats with one of Hitchcock’s great blondes, Chicago’s own Kim Novak. Taped at last year’s festival in Hollywood, this one-hour interview special kicks off a tribute night to Novak. After the interview, four of her films will screen: “Bell, Book and Candle” (1958), “Picnic” (1955), “The Man with the Golden Arm” (1955) and “Of Human Bondage” (1964).

Friday, March 8

7:30 a.m. (4:30 a.m.): “Stage Fright” (1950, Alfred Hitchcock). After he left England to make “Rebecca” in 1940 for David Selznick, Hitchcock returned to make only two more features there: the excellent “Frenzy” in 1972, and “Stage Fright” in 1950. The latter is a backstage theater drama with Jane Wyman as a romantic-minded acting student, who tries to help a man on the run (Richard Todd). He’s accused of murdering the husband of a swooningly beautiful actress (Marlene Dietrich). “Stage Fright” is usually considered one of the lesser Hitchcocks, but second-tier Hitch is still better than most films. The pungent London theatrical settings and fine cast (including Alastair Sim, Sybil Thorndyke and Michael Wilding) keep “Stage Fright” an entertaining slice of Htchcockian cake.

Audrey Totter’s Claire has the dreariest of of milquetoast husbands (Richard Basehart) in “Tension,” directed by Black List victim John Berry.

9:30 a.m. (6:30 a.m.): “Tension” (1950, John Berry). An obsessed and cuckolded milquetoast (Richard Basehart) bent on murder, becomes ensnared in a twisty shocker of a story. With Cyd Charisse, Barry Sullivan and Audrey Totter; directed by Black List victim John Berry.

11:15 a.m. (8:15 a.m.): “The Narrow Margin” (1952, Richard Fleischer). With Charles McGraw and Marie Windsor.

12:30 p.m. (9:30 a.m.): “Split Second” (1953, Dick Powell). Atmospheric Cold War thriller about an escaped con (Stephen McNally), holding hostages in part of a Nevada A-bomb testing site area. With Alexis Smith and Jan Sterling.

2 p.m. (11 a.m.): “Man in the Attic” (1954, Hugo Fregonese). Jack Palance plays one of the screen’s more ferocious Jack the Rippers.

3:30 p.m. (12:30 p.m.) “Second Chance” (1953, Rudolph Maté). A high-style, high-octane film noir couple – cool Robert Mitchum and hot Linda Darnell – are lovers on the run to Mexico, with the scariest of hit men, Jack Palance, on their trail.

6:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m.): “Suddenly” (1954, Lewis Allen). With Frank Sinatra and Sterling Hayden.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

A Raymond Chandler story, an all-star cast and a powerhouse director: ‘The Big Sleep’ works like a sexy dream

The Big Sleep/1946/Warner Bros. Pictures/114 min.

Howard Hawks added romance and comedy to the dark tone of Raymond Chandler’s novel. Every scene with Bogie and Bacall sizzles.

“The Big Sleep,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, is almost too much fun to be pure noir. Actually, it’s not pure in any way because under the thriller surface, it’s all about sex. The women in this movie especially are thinking a lot about the bedroom.

(That’s pretty much the case with most of the film noir canon, but this movie is an outstanding example.)

“The Big Sleep” was released in 1946, the year after World War II ended. Having been man-deprived for four long years while their guys were all over the globe fighting battles, all of a sudden, everywhere the ladies looked, Men, Glorious Men! For the vets, being welcomed home and hailed as heroes by women, who likely weren’t playing all that hard to get, was not too shabby a deal.

Based on the Raymond Chandler novel of the same name, “The Big Sleep” stars Humphrey Bogart as Chandler’s legendary private eye Philip Marlowe. Cynical, stubborn and streetwise, Marlowe is impervious to the trappings of wealth and power, though, given his line of work, he often finds himself dealing with the ultra rich. Marlowe flings sarcastic barbs as casually as they drop cash, even when his companions are slinky, sharp-tongued women, like spoiled society girl Vivian Sternwood Rutledge, played by Lauren Bacall.

Carmen Sternwood (Martha Vickers) is a rich party girl who constantly courts trouble.

Vivian’s Dad, a wise and way-old patriarch known as General Sternwood (Charles Waldron), has hired Marlowe to get a blackmailer named Joe Brody (Louis Jean Heydt) off his back and to track down a missing chum: Sean Regan (a character we never see onscreen).

Fueling Brody’s scheme are the, uh, antics of Sternwood’s other daughter Carmen (Martha Vickers), a sexy party girl who sucks her thumb and likes posing for cameras with very little on. Snapping the pics is seedy book dealer Arthur Gwynn Geiger (Theodore von Eltz), whose snippy clerk Agnes (Sonia Darrin), has, as her “protector,” feisty little Harry Jones, played by film noir’s number one patsy, Elisha Cook Jr.

That’s just one piece of a very complicated puzzle, full of false leads and red herrings, bad guys and blind alleys, and more plot twists than I can count. By the time Marlowe puts it all together, seven are dead. But the best part of the movie for me is the dry humor and that sexy subtext I was talking about. Even the title, “The Big Sleep,” referring to death, could be a play on the French phrase for sexual climax: “le petite morte” (the little death).

Bogart’s Marlowe charms a bookstore clerk (Dorothy Malone).

By the film’s end, Marlowe’s had propositions aplenty. For example, as Marlowe gathers info on Geiger, he strolls into the Acme Bookstore and meets a bespectacled brunette clerk(Dorothy Malone, later more famous as a blonde). They chat, she provides a description of Geiger, and Marlowe tells her she’d make a good cop. It starts to rain and he suggests they have a drink. Next thing you know, she removes her glasses, lets down her hair and says, “Looks like we’re closed for the rest of the afternoon.”

Then there’s the perky female cab driver who tells Marlowe to call her if he can use her again sometime. He asks: Day and night? Her answer: “Night’s better. I work during the day.”

Apparently, all Marlowe has to do is get out of bed in the morning to be inundated with offers to climb back in. Most importantly, of course, is Marlowe’s innuendo-heavy badinage with Vivian Sternwood. They’re attracted from the moment they meet and, with each subsequent encounter, they turn flirting and verbal sparring into an art form. Here’s a quickie (sorry, I couldn’t resist):

Marlowe and Vivian discuss horse-racing and other amusements.

“You go too far, Marlowe,” says Vivian.

He replies: “Those are harsh words to throw at a man, especially when he’s walking out of your bedroom.”

Perhaps their most famous exchange occurs when they trade notes about horse-racing – with Vivian comparing Marlowe to a stallion.

Vivian: I’d say you don’t like to be rated. You like to get out in front, open up a lead, take a little breather in the backstretch, and then come home free.

Marlowe: You don’t like to be rated yourself.

Vivian: I haven’t met anyone yet that can do it. Any suggestions?

Marlowe: Well, I can’t tell till I’ve seen you over a distance of ground. You’ve got a touch of class, but, uh…I don’t know how – how far you can go.

Vivian: A lot depends on who’s in the saddle. Go ahead Marlowe, I like the way you work. In case you don’t know it, you’re doing all right.

Marlowe: There’s one thing I can’t figure out.

Vivian: What makes me run?

Marlowe: Uh-huh.

Vivian: I’ll give you a little hint. Sugar won’t work. It’s been tried.

The horsy banter was added after the 1945 version was completed and shown overseas to audiences of U.S. soldiers; several other changes were made for the 1946 stateside release. In the late 1990s, the original version of the movie turned up. Though the original made the plot points more clear, most critics and viewers prefer the altered (second) version.

Whichever version you prefer (both are available on the Warner Brothers DVD), “The Big Sleep” is full of all kinds of pleasure, thanks to director Howard Hawks, one of Hollywood’s greatest storytellers. Hawks was known for being a master of all genres, garnering great performances from stars like Bogart, John Wayne, Walter Brennan and Marilyn Monroe, and for perfecting the bromance, long before the term came into currency.

In “The Big Sleep,” the pace is brisk, the characters are richly drawn, there’s loads of action and the scenes with Bogart and Bacall truly sizzle. Though the cinematography by Sid Hickox doesn’t bear the expressionistic stamp of the more Germanic noir directors, the film certainly holds its own in terms of visual panache. And Max Steiner’s original music lends sonic verve.

Marlowe gets details from his client, the wealthy and weak Gen. Sternwood (Charles Waldron).

Also brilliant, and not just for its subtext, is the screenplay by William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman. The dialogue, much of which comes straight from Chandler’s novel, is both colorful and economical, as shown by this exchange between Gen. Sternwood and Marlowe:

Sternwood: You are looking, sir, at a very dull survival of a very gaudy life – crippled, paralyzed in both legs, very little I can eat, and my sleep is so near waking that it’s hardly worth the name. I seem to exist largely on heat, like a newborn spider. The orchids are an excuse for the heat. Do you like orchids?

Marlowe: Not particularly.

Sternwood: Nasty things. Their flesh is too much like the flesh of men, and their perfume has the rotten sweetness of corruption.

Flesh, perfume, sweetness and corruption permeate “The Big Sleep,” my favorite of Bogart and Bacall’s great noirs. (The others are “To Have and Have Not” 1944, also directed by Hawks, “Dark Passage” 1947, and “Key Largo” 1948.) What’s not to love, or at least lust after, for 114 minutes?

Too bad Lauren Bacall never made a guest appearance on “Sex and the City.” She could have taught Carrie and the girls a thing or two.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

‘The Big Sleep’ quick hit

The Big Sleep/1946/Warner Bros. Pictures/114 min.

Perhaps the most serpentine plot in all noir, a tour-de-force film, based on a Raymond Chandler novel and directed by Howard Hawks, one of Hollywood’s most celebrated storytellers. The twists and turns are beside the point, which is: the divine writing and double-entendre exchanges between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. He’s detective Philip Marlowe; she’s a socialite. She’s also his boss because her family hired him to snuff out a blackmail scheme involving her naughty little sister. So far, so good, until bodies start getting snuffed out too. Jolly good fun and wildly sexy!

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter