Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep (Hawks' film vs Chandler's novel)
My favorite films of Humphrey Bogart are In A Lonely Place, The Big Sleep and Casablanca. I choose In A Lonely Place (based on a novel by Dorothy B. Hughes) because in Dixon Steele I saw Bogie's most disarming and humane performance.
John Huston was Bogart's best filmmaker/comrade with whom he'd worked (High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon would launch his career, The African Queen earned him an Oscar), but Nicholas Ray possibly tapped into a more profound corner of Bogie's psyche. Ray was called by Truffaut "the poet of nightfall", Godard even stated "the cinema is Nicholas Ray" - so Bogart's best portrayal of moral disillusionment mirrored the cinema itself.
In A Lonely Place also reflected indirectly the humiliation Bogart (another HICCASP 'dope') had suffered at the HUAC's anti-communist hearings. Dixon Steele's dialogues: "There's no sacrifice too great for a chance at immortality", "I don't see why the rest should worry you, unless you plan to arrest me on lack of emotion". Bogart played an antihero who drinks too much, who can love but cannot connect. Louise Brooks wrote in her essay "Humphrey and Bogie" that Dixon Steele "defined Bogart's own isolation among people" and "the film character's pride in his art, his selfishness, drunkeness, lack of energy stabbed with lightening strokes of violence were shared by the real Bogart".
In A Lonely Place belonged to Columbia Pictures and Santana Productions (Bogart sold Santana Pictures to Columbia in 1954. Stephen Bogart remembers some trips on the boat with his father: "He was working all the time and on the weekends he went out on the boat, Santana"), so it's not included in this Essential Collection of Warner films. I'll analyze my second favorite The Big Sleep instead.
In Humphrey Bogart: The Essential Collection (which I was fortunate of receiving it autographed by Stephen Bogart) we'll find 24 films on 12 discs (aspect ratio: 1.33:1) starting with The Petrified Forest (1936) through to Key Largo (1948), an extra DVD about the founders of Warner Brothers Studios, a collectible book with behind-the-scenes photographs, and personal correspondence (one is a telegram sent by Bogart to Hal Wallis requesting to play the lead in High Sierra, directed by Raoul Walsh; Paul Muni and George Raft were considered over Bogie for these type of roles at Warner).
"Walsh keeps re-establishing the same cabin retreat [High Sierra]; Hawks, in another spatial gem [The Big Sleep], gives the spectator just enough to make the scene work. One of the fine moments in 1940's film is no longer than a blink: Bogart, as he crosses the street from one bookstore to another, looks up at a sign" -Negative Space by Manny Farber (1998).
By the time Bogart became a star his hair had fallen, he suffered a B-vitamin deficiency and an alcohol habit. As David Thomson writes in Bogart, great stars (2010), Bogie was a "chronic dreamer" so he had "the advantage of having failed" in his favour. 54 years after his death, Bogart, among other popular male stars of his era (Cary Grant, James Stewart, James Cagney, Spencer Tracy, etc.) keeps the public's affections toward his figure intact. "The Bogart cult that's has emerged is very understandable. There he is, right there on the screen, saying what everyone is trying to say today, 'I'm not a hero. I'm a human being'. Bogie was for real", said Mary Astor (who acted opposite Bogart playing the femme fatale Brigid O'Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon).
The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep have a lot in common: both are the respective hard-boiled masterpieces by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Chandler had been influenced by Hammett, expanding Sam Spade's Flitcraft parable into a more scenic concept set in Los Angeles of late 30's, forging a private detective who would resemble more a Baudelairian loner ("Chandler wrote like a slumming angel" —Ross Macdonald).
Bogart as Sam Spade (to Brigid): "Yes, angel, I'm gonna send you over. The chances are you'll get off with life. I'll be waiting for you".
Bogart as Marlowe (to Vivian Rutledge): "Let me do the talking, angel. I don't know yet what I'm gonna tell 'em, but it will be pretty close to the truth".
The Big Sleep, reckons biographer David Thomson, is "the film that most Bogart people would cling to at the day of judgment". Most critics applauded Howard Hawks for recreating a gleaming atmosphere but there still was a lack of cohesiveness in the plot. Ross Macdonald in his essay "The Writer as Detective Hero" opined: "Chandler described a good plot as one that made for good scenes, as if the parts were greater than the whole".
Bogart plays an inexhaustible Philip Marlowe projecting his merciless wisecracks, showing us obliquely his gumshoe's moral hauteur and detached sex-appeal, domineering every shot, except maybe a couple shared with his on/off screen darling Lauren Bacall (who, according to Raymond Bellour in "The analysis of film", received her 'Hawksian woman' mythologization: Vivian's face was framed inside Marlowe's car whilst the night landscape beside him flowed outside the windows). Bellour also cites Rivette in his essay "The Obvious and The Code": "obviousness is the mark of Howard Hawks' genius". Vivian's face turned towards Marlowe in a complete arc near the ending fade, amidst the police sirens and Max Steiner's orchestration. The definitive version from 1946 had added some retakes in the reels 8, 9 and 11, favoring Bacall over Martha Vickers (who played Vivian's sister Carmen Sternwood).
"I have lived my life on the edge of nothing", Chandler had written in a letter of 1957. In Farewell, my lovely (1939), his previous novel to The Big Sleep (1940), I found one of the most entrancing descriptions of the L.A.'s dream-factory area: "We went west, dropped over to Sunset... past the antique shops with famous screen names on them... past the handsome modernistic buildings in which the Hollywood flesh-peddlers never stop talking money... the girls wore white silk blouses and drum majorettes' shakos and nothing below the hips but glazed kid Hessian boots". This constituted the sidereal, without highways, urban space of Los Angeles walked upon by Marlowe, the detective in search of Lösung, always lost, always educing shady answers.
Bogart, as well as Marlowe, used gentlemanly manners and a private code of honor that lasted until his last days. "He was a gent. In his words a last century boy, his own man, standards high, true character and integrity, he would not stand a lie... he would not compromise". -Lauren Bacall on Bogie
Marlowe wakes up tied after having passed out, flanked by two women observing him, Vivian Regan and Mona Mars. Bogart's character accuses Mona's husband Eddie Mars of being "a blackmailer, a hot-car broker, a killer by remote control. He's anything that looks good to him, anything with money pinned to it, anything rotten".
Mona Mars (played by Peggy Knudsen), whom Marlowe calls "Silver-Wig", is insignificant in the movie, but she's possibly Marlowe's most romantic interest in the novel. She wears a silver wig (she cut off her hair) and shelters in Realito away from the police. The "hide nor hair" expression takes a sharp twist here by Chandler's genius.
"On the way downtown I stopped at a bar and had a couple of double Scotches. They didn't do me any good. All they did was make me think of Silver-Wig, and I never saw her again". -The Big Sleep (Raymond Chandler)
Humphrey Bogart had been married to an alcoholic actress, Mayo Methot, whom he'd met in downtown L.A.'s Biltmore Hotel. Bogart was fond of barrooms and clubs in New York: Tony’s on 52nd, The Cotton Club, The Clover Club (where he met F. Scott Fitzgerald), The 21 Club, in Los Angeles: Chasen’s, Brown Derby, The Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, The Mocambo, etc. Bogart, as well as Marlowe, abused the booze to calm his regret, pouring liquor in a rite of grief fighting.
The Big Sleep was translated by Faulkner, Brackett and Furthman to the screen. Chandler's debut novel echoes a much more romantic, desolate evidence than Hawks' film -which, in consonance with His Girl Friday and Ball of Fire screwball comedies, amplified the humor overtones-, creating an almost infrangible atmosphere for the hero, converting the macabre flirtation into toxic "muliebritat" (Hawks introduced Dorothy Malone's bookstore clerk character in the bookstore just because she was 'so damn good-looking'). In one deleted scene (1945 version), the District Attorney White makes Marlowe ponder how "The Big sleep cures all the grief". The novel's theme rises from what Dennis Porter in "The Pursuit of Crime" essay called "the ironic form of an unnecessary journey". Marlowe continues to search for a man everyone says looks like him, Sean 'Rusty' Regan, because "too many people told me to stop".
Bogart had treated in his career with hardy executives, chorus girls, recalcitrant studio heads, transforming into an "againster" in Hollywood, he'd needed to toughen up in ways that even made him look intractable to many. Marlowe had traded with dense cops, opportunist grafters, peripheral hustlers, sour dames, piquant heiresses, whilst his bosses from the rich strata looked down on him. That was his primal strength, though (Marlowe's and probably Bogart's too), duping the dupers, giving them a reverse slap in the face of class and power condescension.
The influence of Chandler is far beyond a detective novelist (he admired Dickens, Flaubert, Hemingway). Chandler has been admired by Auden, Camus, Clive James, Graham Greene; modern story-tellers as James Ellroy owe him a hefty debt (Frank Miller, Sin City novels' author, described Dwight McCarthy as a 'modern iteration of Philip Marlowe'), although he'd conform with "twenty-five a day and expenses". Blade Runner, unique combination of sci-fi and noir, contains a similar interrogatory structure. Paul Auster: "Raymond Chandler invented a new way of talking about America, and America has never looked the same to us since". Lou Reed declared Chandler an inspiration for his short stories as the obscure "The Gift" (featured in The Velvet Underground album "White Light/White Heat").
"The rich ladies, I sell them sugar. I'm Humanitarian. I give to myself. That way they're clean. And I stay out of debt. They can think that I'm dirt. Let them think that I'm dirt. That's what it's worth"
-Lou Reed's "Dirt" poem.