The Book: 1939
I think it took me this long to get around to reading this book because I have never been a mystery fan. However, after finishing I immediately embarked on a quest to read every single one of Chandler’s books, and when I finished that I started on Dashiell Hammett because I suddenly could not get enough of those hard-boiled detectives.
The Big Sleep introduces Philip Marlowe, Chandler’s iconic detective. The Thrilling Detective sums him up pretty well: “Philip Marlowe, for better or worse, is the archetypical private eye….He runs a single man operation out of the Cahuenga Building in Los Angeles… he likes liquor, women, reading, chess and working alone… He used to work for the district attorney, but was fired for insubordination, thus starting a cliche that still hasn’t run out of steam.”
This book has everything you could want from a detective story: double-crossing, family secrets, cover-ups, gangsters, blackmail, femmes fatales, vice, a wise-cracking hero, and a twisting and turning plot. It is, however, definitely not politically correct. The intolerance of the time manifests itself in a certain dismissive attitude towards social minorities. If you can get past that, Marlowe is, in his own gruff way, actually quite the gentleman, especially when compared to Dashiell Hammett’s cold and sometimes morally ambiguous “Continental Op” (you should read those books too!).
I give the book 4 out of 5 Dangerous Dames!
The Movie: 1946
I fell in love with the movie long before I ever opened the book, but reading the novel added to my appreciation of the movie. For one, the movie is a good deal more tame than the book. Movie censorship at the time meant that the dialogue had to skirt around some of the grittier aspects of the story. And of course, the romance between Bogart’s and Bacall’s characters took center stage as the studio attempted to cash in on the popularity of their first film together, “To Have and Have Not”. However much this deviates from the book, I’m not complaining. Their chemistry is really something to watch. When they met in 1944 she was 19, he was 44 and married. Bogart divorced his wife in 1945 and he and Bacall were married the same month. Just look at them!
Since the plot is complicated, having read the novel actually helped me get a better grip on what was going on. Even if the intricacies of the story don’t quite sink in on the first viewing, the movie bears endless re-watching (at least I think so). Then again, who needs plot when you have so many gorgeous people? Just look at all these smoldering gazes…
I give the movie 4 out of 5 Dangerous Dames!