The Big Sleep Movie and Novel
On first inspection of Raymond Chandler's novel, The Big Sleep, the reader discovers that the story unravels quickly through the narrative voice of Philip Marlowe, the detective hired by the Sternwood family of Los Angeles to solve a mystery for them. The mystery concerns the General Sternwood's young daughter, and a one Mr. A. G. Geiger. Upon digging for the answer to this puzzle placed before Marlowe for a mere fee of $25 dollars a day plus expenses, Marlowe soon finds layers upon layers of mystifying events tangled in the already mysterious web of lies and deception concerning the Sternwood family, especially the two young daughters.
When reading the novel, it is hard to imagine the story without a narrator at all. It certainly seems essential for the story's make-up to have this witty, sarcastic voice present to describe the sequence of events. Yet, there is a version of Chandler's novel that does not have an audible storyteller, and that version is the 1946 movie directed by Howard Hawks.
Hawks' version of The Big Sleep is known to be one of the best examples of the film genre-film noir. "Film noir (literally 'black film,' from French critics who noticed how dark and black the looks and themes were of these films) is a style of American films which evolved in the 1940s." (The Internet Movie Database LTD). Film noir typically contains melancholy, and not so moral themes. Another characteristic of film noir is just because the main character has the title hero, that does not mean that he will always be alive at the end of the book, or that the hero is always "good." Marlowe in The Big Sleep is a prime example of this concept. In the novel it is questionable how lawfully moral he actually is, concerning the situation of turning Carmen into the police for killing Sean Regan. This aspect of Marlowe's character added yet another difficult task of formatting The Big Sleep to the big screen-the question of how the audience (media) might react to such a personality trait was now placed before the writing staff (IE production codes).
Hawks had a big job ahead of him trying to make a movie out of Chandler's hard-boiled detective novel. So, Hawks hired the Nobel laureate-winning writer William Faulkner to head up the writing staff. Accompanying Faulkner with his difficult task of adapting the novel to the cinema version were Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman.
Together, these three put together an incredible film version of The Big Sleep. One of the main differences of the movie (beside all of the production code regulations and limitations) was the missing voice of Marlowe narrating. In the film version viewers must see the sequence of plot while in the book the narrator guides the reader from action to action. This is one of the essential characteristics of Chandler's, the one liners that Marlowe thinks, or the descriptions of different people Marlowe meets through his line of work.
Some of the main reasons that I enjoyed the novel The Big Sleep were the sarcastic remarks, the witty comebacks and the hilarious character descriptions. I think my favorite character description was General Sternwood's; "A few locks of dry white hair clung to his scalp, like wild flowers fighting for life on a bare rock" (Chandler, 8). Another favorite of mine is: "If you can weigh one hundred and ninety pounds and look like a fairy, I was doing my best" (Chandler, 51). For those reasons alone I was excited to view the movie, to see how the elements that I enjoyed so much were adapted to the big screen. When I began to watch the movie I was disappointed in the lack of these elements. I missed the narrator. I wanted to hear the shrewd analysis of the way General Sternwood looked, or the way that Marlowe felt about Carmen Sternwood. Instead I had to interpret these things on my own for instance, by studying Marlowe's reaction to Carmen.
Cited: "Big Sleep, The." The Internet Movie Database Ltd. Online. Internet. 10 Apr. 1999.
"Big Sleep, The." Greatest Films. (1996). Online. Internet. 10 Apr. 1999.
Chandler, Raymond. The Big Sleep. New York: Vintage Books, 1996.
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