The Big Sleep–The Book: We all know the movie The Big Sleep based on Raymond Chandler’s book. The main story in the movie basically follows the book so I won’t repeat it. Here are my thoughts on the book. (I’m going to watch the movie tonight and compare.)
I love the way Raymond Chandler writes. His descriptions are unique. Such as the way he describes approaching General Sternwood’s house.
“The main hallway of the Sternwood place was two stories high. Over the entrance doors, which would let in a troop of Indian elephants, there was a broad stained-glass panel showing a knight in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn’t have any clothes on but some very long and convenient hair. The knight had pushed the vizor of his helmet back to be sociable, and he was fiddling with the knots on the ropes that tied the lady to the tree and not getting anywhere. I stood there and I thought that if I lived in the house, I would sooner or later have to climb up there and help him. He didn’t seem to be really trying.”
Or the way he describes Carmen Sternwood’s teeth, “…she had little sharp predatory teeth, as white as fresh orange pith and as shiny as porcelain.”
While his dialogue can be captured on film, his descriptive language cannot, even if sets were created that mirrored his thoughts.
However, his use of similes throughout the 231 pages of The Big Sleep became somewhat monotonous towards the end. (I never thought I’d say that about Chandler’s writing.) I will also admit that the story was confusing at times. This took nothing away from my reading enjoyment, however.
The characters in The Big Sleep run the gamut of pulp mystery stereotypes; the rich Sternwoods, the sophisticated racketeer and the grungy low lifes. The Sternwood sisters are described to perfection, the more adult, manipulative Vivian as compared to the childish, naïve Carmen, the old dying General Sternwood confined to his hot house and wheelchair and, of course, Philip Marlowe, wisecracking as always. The casting of the film was perfect and since we’ve all seen the movie, readers will picture Lauren Bacall and Martha Vickers as the sisters. Charles Waldron is a perfect General Sternwood. Philip Marlowe is Humphrey Bogart (or vice versa), the wisecracking, honest, ethical private detective.
One thing I did notice, in this age of enlightenment, the manner in which Chandler refers to homosexuals would cause a major backlash among the gay community. (All references to homosexuality were absent from the movie.)
All in all, reading The Big Sleep one realizes why it is pulp mystery classic as well as a classic mystery, in general. An all around enjoyable time was had by this reader!
The Big Sleep–The Movie: The Big Sleep is still another case of the book being better than the movie, regardless of how great the movie is. As I mentioned earlier, you can’t capture Chandler’s descriptive language on film…despite the fact that the movie script was written by William Faulkner. There were also a few puzzling points. (Have to have seen the movie or read the book to understand most of my comments.)
1. In the book, Vivian is married to Sean Regan who disappears, supposedly with the wife of Eddie Mars. However, in the movie, Vivian is married to a Mr. Rutledge, who never appears in the movie, nor is he mentioned. Sean Regan, who still disappears, supposedly with Eddie Mars’ wife, is hired help at the Sternwood mansion. I can’t imagine why this change, since it affects nothing.
2. In the book, Mr. Geiger, who held gambling notes signed by Carmen, was in a seamy business, running a pornography lending library. Thus when Marlowe notices that after Geiger’s death someone was moving all the books to take over the business, it made sense. This was quite confusing in the movie, as Geiger’s occupation was just hinted at.
3. Regan’s ultimate demise in the book was explained quite nicely while in the movie it was obscure.
4. And finally, with stars like Bogart and Bacall, one realizes they had to be a love interest in the movie. However, in the book, they were quite cool to each other and there was no hint of them running off into the sunset. I like the book better on this score. Even an ending like that in the Maltese Falcon where Sam Spade might be in love with Brigid O’Shaunessey but she’s got to pay for her crime would have been a better ending than Vivian and Marlowe declaring their undying love. It would have been a more fitting pulp mystery ending.
So, if I had to rate the book and the movie, The Big Sleep, the book, rates a 5+ and the movie a 5-. Both first rate, but in different ways.
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