The Big Sleep


Perusing the yellowing, laminated DVD titles in my local civic library recently, I almost decided to rent ‘The Big Sleep’. The film and book of this story have exercised a hold on my imagination for a long time, a hold I fear would be diminished were I to watch or read either. Here is why:

Raymond Chandler wrote his epic dark epic, The Big Sleep at a time in America when crime was all but legalised. It was a bitter pill for the punks, hoods and hunks of Hollywood to swallow, but it did ’em good. Anyone who can sit through this film and still think that crime pays should be locked up for life.

Our hero is one Philip Marlowe, a partially-tracheotomised duffle-bag, who flips when he should roll, and rumbles when he’s on the grouse. This film should have subtitles. Philip’s spicy argot curdles on the ear, like Flemish or Portuguese. When he is hungry, Philip ‘chows down on a spent bit of penny-whistle’; and when he is feeling amorous, he goes looking for ‘a shiny pinball with the top down’. This is harsh and confusing. But it’s also poetry. Gritty, meat-mouthed poetry.  

Comprehension issues aside, there is a lot to recommend The Big Sleep: lean characters; a plump plot; the most colourful black-and-white action this side of the visible spectrum. It also features a cameo from a fresh-faced Ronald Reagan, playing against type as a greasy scoundrel. The ‘moll’, played by Audrey Hepburn, perspires the kind of minty, super-lunary glamour and grace that, alas, is all too rarely found among the cauliflower-eared starlets of the twenty-first century. And in her leading man, played, I imagine, by James Cagney, she has a pleasing, perpendicular yin to match her wispy, winsome yang.

Los Angeles has captured the imagination of crime writers since before the War of Independence. And this is not just because it is twinned with Rotterdam. No, Los Angeles is a deeply ambivalent metropolis: a sugar-puffed pleasure-ground to some, a frightening, beastly Sodom to others, and a sort of combination of the two for the remainder. ‘The Big Sleep’ captures all three faces of this most Janusesque of cities in all of their beefy grandeur.


6 Responses to “The Big Sleep”

  1. oldrope Says:

    What kind of hokum you been shiftin tubby? Hoo-ha and soy-sauce like this wont wash with me. Are you gonna spill and tell me where the loot is twinkels or am I gonna have to strain the peas on you?

  2. john le baptiste Says:

    I spilt my peas

  3. Nobody Says:

    The film and book of this story have exercised a hold on my imagination for a long time, a hold I fear would be diminished were I to watch or read either.

    This is an abstinence most wise. As the platonic ideal of cinematic poetry, Fellini’s masterpiece ‘8.5’ held my affections — indeed, adoration — in a vicegrip for more than a decade until the day I rashly attended a special screening at my local art house.

    Needless to say, the reality was a disappointingly specific series of actual frames whose particularity made it cease to be ‘Fellini’s Eight and a Half’ for me and revealed itself instead to be a mere moving picture show.

  4. johnlebaptiste Says:

    I feel for you my friend.

  5. oldrope Says:

    What, ya mean he disnee get his cock oot in it? Aw na

  6. johnlebaptiste Says:

    Sadly not, my Geordie chum. He does however get it ‘oot’ in La Dolce Vita, which, literally translated, means ‘The Exhibited Penis’

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