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The Big Sleep (1946)

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Article 2

Risqué Business Helps Killer Movie Live On 

by Helen Purvis

Sunday Telegraph (London), August 6, 1995 page 06

FORGET Kevin Costner's Waterworld and the big budget Batman Forever. The film buffs' treat of the summer is the re-release of the 49-year-old thriller starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, The Big Sleep. But there is a problem with this classic film noir, a nagging doubt that has worried generations of filmgoers. Bogart and Bacall are unforgettable. The atmosphere is brilliantly realised. But who killed the chauffeur? 

By general agreement, the magic of the film obscures the sheer impenetrability of much of the plot. Last week, as the audience left a Chelsea cinema, it was clear the new print offered little elucidation. 

"It was great to see such a landmark film in the cinema, it really took my breath away," said Richard Brightman, 32, from north London. Yes, but who killed the chauffeur? "The plot is notoriously difficult to keep up with but for film fanatics like myself that's half the fun." 

Perhaps Caroline Roberts, 25, from Battersea, could help: "It was pretty steamy, especially for the time." And the chauffeur? "With so many different murders it became difficult to follow and I actually gave up in the end." 

Anthony Williams, 35, from Chelsea, was honest: "I found the plot to be heavy going at times." 

Surely someone had followed the plot. . . "I notice new things every time I see the film but I still can't be sure who killed the chauffeur," said Greg Overton, a London estate agent. Nor could Jill Thomas, his girlfriend: "I found it quite difficult to follow - so many names and sub-plots." 

But at last here was David Mills, 54, who had travelled [sic] from Dorking, Surrey. "Of course I know who killed the chauffeur." Tell us, tell us! "But I'm not giving it away. It's like The Mousetrap. You don't spoil other people's enjoyment." 

The Big Sleep is one of a small handful of movies in which nothing dates - not the playing, not the pace and certainly not the dialogue, some of which is outrageously risqué even by today's standards, writes Alan Stanbrook. Listen to what Bacall says to Bogey at the race track and you'll wonder whether your ears are playing tricks. 

It's the archetypal film noir and it has an impeccable pedigree - one of the Philip Marlowe novels by the much admired Raymond Chandler, filtered through the pens of professional screenwriter Jules Furthman, sci-fi queen Leigh Brackett and future Nobel Prize-winner William Faulkner. Between them they produce a literary cocktail with some of the most sparkling lines ever heard in this genre. The plot is virtually impenetrable and sometimes flummoxed the authors. There's at least one corpse whose killer is never identified. Director Howard Hawks had no idea whodunnit, nor did the scriptwriters, nor did Chandler; nor, it is safe to assume, will you. But it does not matter. 


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