Cleveland International Film Festival } March 22 – April 1, 2023 } Playhouse Square


Year: 1946
Country: United States
Run Time: 114 minutes


It is often said of Howard Hawks' THE BIG SLEEP that the plot is hopelessly complicated and convoluted. Indeed Hawks and co-scriptwriter William Faulkner themselves both disclaim perfect knowledge of the story's countless twists and turns. What is sometimes called confusion is in fact, however, a positive and essential asset of the film. It all begins when Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler's cynical but curiously charming private eye, is called in by General Sternwood, a wealthy old man confined to a wheelchair, and assigned to investigate the gambling debts of Sternwood's younger daughter. From there, Marlowe is plunged into a nightmarish world filled with blackmail, deception and stark violence. As a private eye, it is of course Marlowe's task to rationalize these irrational events, but his attempts to do so cannot succeed.

The "confusion" of the script is a verbal manifestation of what Hawks also expresses with his imagery; the impossibility of reducing a man's constantly evolving relationship with his environment to coldly logical terms. Marlowe is forced to deal at all times with unpredictable threats from unknowable sources. He inhabits a universe of paranoia and absurdity. We can admire his efforts to grapple with the universe, but we can only accept and understand his failure to vanquish it.

Marlowe's only island of stability in this storm of insanity is General Sternwood's older daughter, played by Lauren Bacall. But even this relationship has elements of ambiguity. The Bogart-Bacall dialogue is bristling with verbal sparring, as the famous pair match their ironic wits. (U.A.)

William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman (from a novel by Raymond Chandler)

Howard Hawks and Jack L. Warner

Sid Hickox

Christian Nyby

Principal Cast
Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Ridgely, Martha Vickers, Dorothy Malone, Elisha Cook Jr., Louis Jean Heydt

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