June 15, 2007

The Big Sleep

The Big Sleep
directed by Howard Hawks, 1946

[Side note: I've recently started the new Pynchon, Against the Day, which weighs in at close to 1100 pages. Most of my posts while I make my way through this behemoth will be of movies or the kinds of short things I read when I need a break from a long dense work]

I do enjoy this movie a lot. Probably not the very best Bogart-Bacall pairing, but definitely a good one. You've got your Faulkner-enhanced dialogue, your Hawks mis-en-scene and pacing, and you've got really excellent performances throughout. The changes made from the book used to bug me a little, but watching it this time, I found the injection of hollywood romance and other stuff more charming than distracting.

I've never been a fan of the odd and adolescent practice of having every woman who shares a sidewalk with the sleuthing protagonist throw herself at him. For the most part, it just makes me snort and roll my eyes. (That said, I wouldn't have minded if Dorothy Malone had wanted to close up her bookshop to share a drink with me on a rainy day ... and I wouldn't have asked her to remove her glasses either, but that's just me.)

It struck me on this viewing that Lauren Bacall is really the heart of the movie, and that she brings a depth and steely power to the role that it probably doesn't deserve. The character as scripted ranges wildly, is largely self-contradictory, and yet in the whole mess somehow seems real. And more than that, seems like an archetype of human experience. Well, maybe "archetype" is too big a word - how about she is a model of a certain way of living, personal and specific in time, place, and class, but somehow in the larger-than-life film she's just one more person trying to keep the frayed and tangled ends of her life in order. And like all of us, she deludes herself and others, finds both prosaic and creative methods of making sense of things, gets lost in the snarl of power relationships, and forges both smart and stupid human bonds.

Oh, and she sings too.

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