now and then on the Criticwire Network an older film gets singled out for
attention. This is the Criticwire Classic of the Week.
Lauren Bacall, the Hollywood legend who passed away Tuesday at the age of 89, made her debut in Howard Hawks’s 1944 film “To Have and Have Not.” At the age of only 20, she showed uncommon confidence and intelligence on the screen, next to one of Hollywood’s greatest tough guys, her soon-to-be husband Humphrey Bogart. She and Bogie made three more movies together – the best of them was 1946’s “The Big Sleep,” a noir that reunited the two with Hawks and gave the world one of the most entertaining (and confusing) noirs of all time.
Based on the novel by Raymond Chandler, “The Big Sleep” stars Bogart as Chandler’s private eye Philip Marlowe, a wisecracking private eye who’s nonetheless a deeply principled and intelligent man. He soon finds himself caught in a web of murder, blackmail and lies after he’s hired to settle the gambling debts of a wealthy man’s daughter. He meets that young woman (Martha Vickers), as well as her more world-wise sister Vivian (Bacall) who might have some secrets of her own.
The plot of “The Big Sleep” is famously convoluted, so much so that Chandler himself forgot who killed the wealthy family’s chauffeur. But that’s appropriate for a story about distrust, corruption and violence, and Hawks and his trio of screenwriters (William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman) keep things so consistently entertaining that it doesn’t really matter whether or not one can follow what’s going on. The true draw of the film (at least the 1946 version, rather than the re-released 1945 cut), is to see the verbal and mental sparring of Bogart and Bacall, at once falling in and love and trying to pull one over on each other. Bacall in particular is a marvel, at once elegant and dangerous, someone who seems just as likely to kill the hero as kiss him, and probably the only person smart enough to pull off the former as well as the latter.
More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:
Edgar Chaput, Sound on Sight