The classic film noir “The Big Sleep” plays at the Redford Theatre this weekend.
Directed by Howard Hawks, it stars Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in one of their best films. Bogey plays the famous detective Philip Marlowe, who is hired by General Sternwood (Charles Waldron) wants to resolve gambling debts that his daughter Carmen (Martha Vickers), owes to bookseller Arthur Gwynn Geiger. He bumps into Carmen before meeting the general and discovers she is a nymphomaniac as well. As Marlowe is leaving, Sternwood’s older daughter, divorcee Vivian Sternwood Rutledge (Bacall), stops him. She suspects her father’s true motive for calling in a detective is to find his young friend Sean Regan, who had mysteriously disappeared a month earlier.
Marlowe tails Geiger to his house at Laverne Terrace. He suddenly hears a shot and sees some men rushing out to their cars. He breaks into the house, and finds Carmen drugged in a chair, with Geiger’s dead body at her feet. An empty camera proves that a photo has been taken of her and the corpse, probably intended for further blackmailing. He later learns that Sternwood’s chauffeur Owen Taylor has been found dead, with his car driven off a pier. Another series of clues lead Marlowe to various persons involved in gambling.
As he progresses with the case, Vivian keeps coming back to him, and they eventually fall for each other. When Marlowe’s investigations lead him to casino owner Eddie Mars (John Ridgely), the situation starts becoming very dangerous. Mars has a lot of henchmen who do dirty work for him, including murder. But Marlowe decides to set up a trap for Mars himself…
The film also stars Dorothy Malone as a scintillating bookseller Marlowe encounters and Elisha Cook Jr. as stoolie Harry Jones who meets an unfortunate demise while trying to help Marlowe.
“The Big Sleep” is known for its convoluted plot. During filming, allegedly neither the director nor the screenwriters knew whether chauffeur Owen Taylor was murdered or had committed suicide. They sent a cable to Chandler, who told a friend in a later letter: “They sent me a wire … asking me, and dammit I didn’t know either!”
Show times are Friday, January 22 at 8 P.M., and Saturday, January 23 at 2 and 8 P.M. At the Saturday evening performance there will be a post-film discussion led by local film historian John Monaghan. Be sure to come a half hour early for a musical overture on the historic Barton organ. Tickets are $5 and may be purchased here.