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The Big Sleep

directed by Howard Hawks

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Jan 01, 2004
Category: Drama

There are seven murders in "The Big Sleep" and one of them is so mysterious that screenwriter William Faulkner had to ask Raymond Chandler, who wrote the book, whodunnit. Chandler didn’t know. But it didn’t matter — this film noir masterpiece is more about the love story between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall than it is about the convoluted plot.

Bogart’s a tough LA private eye, an ex-cop who had to leave the force because he "ranked high in insubordination." Bacall is an heiress with a weakness for gambling and nightclubs. Of course they don’t get along. Of course they will. 

Howard Hawks, arguably the greatest American director of the 1930s and 1940s, cast every part brilliantly; rarely have I so enjoyed actors in small roles. And rarely has Hollywood allowed such racy dialogue — the banter between Bacall and Bogart is often artfully written smut. (Pay close attention during a scene in which they are ostensibly talking about horse-racing.) And it has my favorite bookstore scene in all of cinema.

As a date movie, this can’t be topped: a cop movie for guys, a love story for women. Or is it the other way around? No matter: just watch this 1946 classic.

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