It’s time for MovieMovie BlogBlog‘s 3rd Annual Sex! blogathon. I wrote about Born to Kill in 2015, and last year I was all about sex, violence, and Scarlet Street. For 2017, I’m basking in the seductive women of Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep (1946). If you’ve read the Raymond Chandler novels, you know Marlowe is a tall, dark, beefcake of a private dick, with thick wavy hair and a body built to wear a trench coat. He likes his women dripping with sin, even though he says they take him to the cleaner’s every time. But as Marlowe reasons, where else has he ever been?
In the original 1939 novel The Big Sleep, Vivian is in a loveless marriage to missing bootlegger Rusty Regan. Despite this, she attempts to seduce Marlowe to get him off her trail as she seeks the help of club-owner Eddie Mars to protect her kid sister Carmen from blackmail…and other things. Vivian and Marlowe get hot and heavy, but Marlowe isn’t thrown. Between kisses in which she calls him a killer, he presses her for info on Mars and she declares him heartless. He reminds her he was not hired to bed her. Thus ends that flirtation.
When Marlowe returns to his apartment, he finds younger sister Carmen naked in his bed. It’s the second time he’s found her undressed, the first having been at Geiger’s home, where she was high as a kite and posing for pictures when the family chauffeur, enamored of Carmen, shot Geiger and fled. Marlowe is disgusted by Carmen, far moreso than Vivian. She judges him “a dirty queer” for not wanting to have sex with her, and once she’s gone he refers to her young body as “corrupt” as he tears away his bed coverings to rid himself of any sign of her presence.
Once he’s deep into the investigation of Regan, Marlowe finds himself outplayed, knocked out and then bound to a seat in Eddie Mars’ hideaway. He learns that Mars’ wife has not run away with Regan, as Vivian reported, but is devoted entirely to her husband. So devoted, in fact, that she has shaved her head to prove her loyalty and now wears a platinum wig so shiny Marlowe thinks of it as a silver fruit bowl. This is the woman he finds most alluring, asking her to share her drink, light him a cigarette, and kiss him. She obliges and frees him as best she can, but despite knowing that this gesture will land her in trouble with her husband, she makes clear she isn’t going to leave him.
The Big Sleep ends with Marlowe having a drink and reflecting that he never saw “Silver Wig” again.
But that’s the book, and this is a film blogathon. I have described Marlowe’s attitudes toward the women of the book for a reason: a lot had to change for the 1946 film. Two things in particular shifted in major ways:
- The unsuccessful romantic elements and downbeat ending had to be reworked. So Vivian was rewritten to be tough and mysterious but desirable, available, and then in love with Marlowe.
- Bogart had to be made into Marlowe, a character more handsome, younger, and better built than the actor. So his sex appeal had to be enhanced by the number and diverse types of female characters drawn to Marlowe.
And that’s just what we get. The gallery of sexy lovelies:
Joy Barlow plays the cute, plucky cab driver that flirts with her fare.
THE BOOKSTORE PROPRIETRESS
Delightful Dorothy Malone takes off her glasses, lets down her hair, puts the “closed” sign out, and shares a drink with Marlowe while it rains outside.
THE COCKTAIL WAITRESSES
As Marlowe looks for Vivian in Eddie Mars’ club, he is greeted by the most eager and accommodating of cocktail waitresses (Deannie Best and Tanis Chandler).
Though she has to complain he isn’t very tall, Carmen (Martha Vickers) declares Marlowe “cute” and does her best to seduce him.
No silver fruit bowl or platinum wig on the wife of Eddie Mars, but Mona (Peggy Knudsen) is another beauty who finds Marlowe interesting. As we can see in the lower left of this shot, however, Vivian is at Marlowe’s side.
As The Big Sleep was not their first foray into film together, audiences knew it would be Bogey and Bacall that would be together at the end of the film, but it was delightful to watch Vivian best him early on and then fall for him as the criminal world of murder and blackmail swirled around them.
A few well-placed jokes showed that Bogart knew how far from Marlowe he was in appearance and sex appeal, such as when Carmen declares that he isn’t very tall and Bogart replies, “I try to be.” But it’s a delight to enjoy all the flirtations and Code-era suggestiveness and especially the dark desirability of young Lauren Bacall.