40 Favorites: #4
Image from The Big Sleep © 1946 Warner Bros. Pictures.
Raymond Chandler. William Faulkner. Leigh Brackett. Max Steiner. Howard Hawks. Lauren Bacall. Humphrey Bogart.
Some films with such a pedigree end up as perceived or even actual failures. On 1946's The Big Sleep, everything went right, at least judging by the end result — even given this oft-circulated anecdote: Hawks, past and future director of classics from His Girl Friday to The Thing from Another World to Rio Bravo, discovered he didn't know the answer to one of the movie's minor mysteries. So he asked Faulker, the soon-to-be Nobel laureate who wrote The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying, moonlighting in Hollywood at Hawks' invitation. When Faulker realized he didn't know he contacted Chandler, author of the acclaimed Phillip Marlowe novel on which the film was based, and Chandler said he was stumped too. (Brackett was a science-fiction writer for prose and film whose credits later included The Empire Strikes Back; she worked on the script for The Big Sleep with Faulkner and Jules Furthman. Steiner was the frequently Oscar-nominated composer behind King Kong, Gone with the Wind, and scores of other scores. Bogart and Bacall... well, they're Bogart and Bacall.)
I didn't see The Big Sleep on a big screen until college, during a great half-semester class on film noir, and fell in love. While it has an infamous surfeit of plot, the movie is even better known for its steamy, stylish dialogue crossing hard-boiled crime fiction with screwball romantic comedy — as unorthodox a marriage as the newlywed stars, playing the superficially mismatched duo of hangdog gumshoe and high-cheekboned society gal, had themselves. Bogart and Bacall first shot off fireworks in To Have and Have Not, he'd already played private eye Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, and many consider Casablanca to contain the ultimate Bogart performance, but I'll take The Big Sleep over any of them — although, thankfully, I don't have to.