Sunday, May 15, 2016

Don't Make a Scene: The Big Sleep

The Big Set-Up: The Big Sleep is one of THE classic detective movies, being based on one of Raymond Chandler's better Philip Marlowe stories set in the City of Angels--it is the template for so many detective movies, and certainly the established clichés of the detective movie. It's also so convoluted the story goes that a lot of people were making calls to see if anybody had actually written somewhere who had killed one of the characters. Anyway, it makes a good story.

But you don't get too far in The Big Sleep before you notice that the mystery doesn't amount to a hill of porno-pix in this crazy world. Instead it's all about the atmosphere and the characters and the patter. Really, all anyone cares about is that Bogey and Bacall wind up together at the end, and to hell with the problems of the Sternwood's.

Which is why this scene. It didn't exist when The Big Sleep made its debut to the troops overseas during WWII. In that version there was a scene with Marlowe and Vivian in Marlowe's office where she pays him off and is a bit perfunctory—it killed the momentum and the fun of the picture.

So, before it opened in the States, out that scene went, and a new one was filmed with Bogey and Baby and some of the most suggestive dialog theretofore heard in the motion pictures (and would make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window). There are a rolodex of names attached to the script--Faulkner, Chandler, probably, Hawks fave Jules Furthman, and Leigh Brackett (who had a long scripting career right up to her final assignment The Empire Strikes Back). But this scene is most assuredly from the mind of Howard Hawks, who had the habit of re-writing scripts the day before shooting to keep things (like the actors) fresh, and whose way of pushing sexual boundaries by one more lick of the envelope was renowned. Plus, he knew a lot about horses.

The Big Story: Private Investigator Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) has finished the case of who has been blackmailing the Sternwood family (Arthur Geiger did it), and eldest daughter Vivian (Lauren Bacall) is paying up and buying him off at the watering hole owned by gambler Eddie Mars, who was tangentially involved with the completed case. But something's making Marlowe twitch--Vivian's chatting him up with a smile he can feel in his hip-pocket. Everybody's making nice, and that's not what Marlowe's been used to so far. In fact, it's as out of place as a pearl onion on a banana split.


Marlowe: Well! How'd you happen to pick this place?
Vivian: Maybe I wanted to hold your hand...
Marlowe: Oh, that can be arranged...
(Vivian takes off a glove, puts it in his out-stretched hand. Marlowe laughs)
Marlowe: What'd you want to see me about?
Vivian: Well, one thing, my father was very pleased when he saw the morning papers. So was I.
Marlowe: Yes, we were lucky. We managed to keep the Sternwoods out of it.
Vivian: He hopes you didn't involve yourself too deeply.
Marlowe: Did you tell him it was no fault of yours?
Vivian (laughs): No. He asked me to give you a check.
Marlowe: I don't need any money yet.
Vivian: He considers the case closed.
Marlowe: Oh?
Vivian: Well, isn't it?
Marlowe: Well, as far as Geiger's concerned, yes.
Vivian: Then, it's completely closed. I hope this is satisfactory.
Marlowe: Five hundred! That's a lot more than I expected, but welcome, just the same.
Vivian: We're very grateful to you, Mr. Marlowe. And I'm very glad it's all over. (She pauses) Tell me, what do you usually do when you're not working?
Marlowe: Oh, play the horses. Fool around.
Vivian: No women?
Marlowe: I'm generally working on something most of the time.
Vivian: Could that be stretched to include me?
Marlowe: Well, I like you. I told you that before.

Vivian: I liked hearing you say it. But you didn't do much about it.
Marlowe: Well, neither did you.
Vivian: We-e-ll, speaking of horses, I like to play them myself. But I like to see them work out a little first. See if they're front-runners or come from behind. Find out what their whole card is. What makes them run.
Marlowe: Find out mine?
Vivian: I think so.
Marlowe: Go ahead.
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 that could do it. Any suggestions?
Marlowe: Well, I can't tell 'til I've seen you over a distance of ground. You've got a touch of class, but, uh...I don't know 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.
Marlowe: What'd you try it on me for? Who told you to "sugar" me off this case? Was it Eddie Mars?
Marlowe: Alright. Don't answer me. But somebody put you up to it, and it wasn't your father. He didn't tell you to pay me off, did he?
Vivian: No! He's not well. I used my own judgement.
Marlowe: Are you sure?
Vivian: Of course I know it hasn't worked too well up to now.
Marlowe: What's Eddie Mars got to do with this case?
Vivian: Nothing! He runs a gambling house. I play horses. I play the wheel.
Marlowe: (You're) playing something else, too.
Vivian: What makes you think...
Marlowe: Never mind talking. Let me do it.
Marlowe: Did you know it was Eddie Mars' blonde wife Shaun Reagan was supposed to have run off with?
Vivian: Who doesn't?
Marlowe: Did you know he owned the house Geiger operated in? That he was mixed up in that racket, too?
Vivian: No, I don't believe it!
Marlowe: Then why does it bother you so much?
Marlowe: What's Eddie Mars got on you?
Marlowe: Oh, come now, Angel. Stop shaking. I'm not trying to hurt you, I'm trying to help you! (He stands) Well, you better run along. 'Cause you made a deal, and you better stick to it, right or wrong. We'll take up the question of you and I when the race is over. The only trouble is we could have....
(A departing patron bumps into Vivian, pushing her forward. Marlowe steadies her)
Patron: Pardon me.
Vivian: Yes. The only trouble is we could have had a lot of fun if you weren't a detective.
Marlowe: We still can.
Vivian: So long, Marlowe.
The Big Sleep

Words by William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman, and Howard Hawks

Pictures by Sidney Hickox and Howard Hawks

The Big Sleep is available on DVD from Warner Brothers Home Video.

No comments:

Post a Comment