Movie Essays - Romanticism in the Film Version of The Big Sleep

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Romanticism in the Film Version of The Big Sleep

In Raymond Chandler's novel The Big Sleep, he presents two sisters, Vivian and Carmen. These women become the central characters, aside from Philip Marlowe, and they control much of the action in the novel. The 1946 film version of The Big Sleep, however, manipulates Chandler's characters considerably. Aside from playing with the dialogue of the novel, the screen-writers change the very essences of Vivian and Carmen. Perhaps it is the casting of the film which forces changes from the novel, or perhaps the Production Code keeps the writers from developing the women in the way that Chandler does; either way, the film version of The Big Sleep makes the story romantic and often cliche.

Vivian and Carmen, sisters, are presented by Chandler as psychotic and dangerous women. Vivian, is described in detective Philip Marlowe's thoughts as "tall and rangy and strong-looking...Her hair was black and wiry and parted in the middle and she had the hot black eyes of the portrait in the hall"(Chandler 17). She is cool and manipulative, instantly suspicious of Marlowe's presence in her world, and she plays her suspicions off as insults. When she meets Marlowe, she says, "So you're a private detective,...I didn't know they really existed, except in books. Or else they were greasy little men snooping around hotels"(Chandler 18). Marlowe plays right back at her, countering every snide remark with one of his own. When Vivian tells Marlowe she doesn't like his manners, his response is,

I'm not crazy about yours...I didn't ask to see you. You sent for me. I don't mind your ritzing me or drinking your lunch out of a Scotch bottle...I don't mind if you ...

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...ynamic together, the script is allowed to be less than what the novel created. This is exactly what happened with The Big Sleep. Marlowe and Vivian took a backseat to Bogart and Bacall. The sisters, Vivian and Carmen, had to be altered to create the effect of romance and intrigue. There was really no other way to go within the restrictions of the Production Code, as Carmen couldn't be played up to her full potential, so the director took Vivian and made her the leading lady. The essences that Chandler created for these two women were dynamically altered for the film in order to create two women without the demons or psychoses that he had intended.

Works Cited

Chandler, Raymond. The Big Sleep. New York: Random House, 1939.

"Memorable Quotes from Big Sleep, The (1946)." IMDB. Internet. Accessed: April 1999. Address:
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