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Fall LSC Classics series opens with Bogart and Bacall sizzling in Big Sleep

The Big Sleep

Directed by Howard Hawks

Written by William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman; based on the novel by Raymond Chandler.

Starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

LSCClassics Friday.

10-250, 7:30 p.m.


By Stephen Brophy
Staff Reporter

LSC starts off its fall Classics series tonight with The Big Sleep (1946), one of the Hollywood studio movies that created the archetypal Humphrey Bogart persona. Starting with The Maltese Falcon in 1941, Bogart constructed a character of experience who seems cynical and trusts no one, but proves to be motivated by a highly moral code when the chips are down. This character type achieved its apotheosis in Casablanca (1942), but in the character of The Big Sleep's Philip Marlowe, Bogart proved that this portrayal could still compel our attention.

Philip Marlowe first came to life in the novels of Raymond Chandler, an American mystery writers who elevated crime fiction from its pulp origins to a more highly literate plane. Their protagonists inhabit a corrupt urban underworld dominated by powerful criminals. They usually work alone, depend on their wits to solve puzzles, and expose evil-doers as much as on their physical strength and endurance to survive the assaults of their adversaries. Offered bribes as frequently as threats to stop their investigations, these characters seem to fit into their milieu all too well. But they ultimately choose actions which lead to the re-establishment of a moral order. You will notice that several different people offer to pay Marlowe's fee in the course of his investigation in The Big Sleep.

Compared to earlier detective movies like The Maltese Falcon, director Howard Hawks created a darker, more violent, and dangerous world for his protagonist. Working from a screenplay by William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman, Hawks did little to clarify the convoluted ambiguities of the novel.

Instead he emphasized the thick atmosphere of lies and deception Philip Marlowe must cut through to solve the mysteries that confront him. You will experience in this movie a lot of rain and fog, the physical correlates of the miasma of mistrust that threatens to drown Marlowe.

The Big Sleep offers one major variation from the standard private eye formula. Philip Marlowe is not alone again at the end of the movie, but in love with his client's daughter, played by Lauren Bacall in her second pairing with Bogart after Hawks' To Have and Have Not. The erotic energy between these two stars, married soon after their first encounter, still creates sparks almost fifty years later.

Don't worry if the plot doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense to you. It's not the plot that's important. The pleasure of this movie lies in the witty interplay between characters, the excellence of the black and white cinematography, and the generally high level of acting - even in tiny roles. Watch for a dialog between Bogart and Bacall about racehorses. You'll wonder how they ever managed to get it past the censors.