THE BIG SLEEP (1949)

THE BIG SLEEP (1949): Summoned by the dying General Sternwood, Philip Marlowe is asked to deal with several problems that are troubling his family. Marlowe finds that each problem centers about the disappearance of Sternwood’s favoured employee who has left with a mobster’s wife. Each of the problems becomes a cover for something else as Marlowe probes. Eager to repeat the success of To Have and Have Not, Warner Bros. studio chief Jack L. Warner gave Howard Hawks $50,000 to purchase the rights for “The Big Sleep.” Hawks bought the rights for $5,000 and pocketed the rest. References are made by both sisters about Marlowe’s height at the beginning of the film. Back then it was film convention for the male lead to be taller than the female and Humphrey Bogart was shorter than both leading actresses, a problem corrected on screen through giving Bogart platform shoes as well as trick photography. Many of the cars in the film have a “B” sticker in the lower-right corner of their windshields. This is a reflection of the wartime rationing of gasoline. Gas was rationed primarily to save rubber, because Japan had occupied Indochina, Malaysia, and Indonesia. (There was a shortage of gas on the East Coast until a pipeline from Texas was constructed to replace the transport of crude oil by sea.) The B sticker was the second lowest category, entitling the holder to only 8 gallons of gas a week. Marlowe seems to use more than one week’s allotment during a 72-hour period, which may be intended to reflect a black market in ration books. However, since Marlowe still has a deputy badge, at least in a deleted scene which existed in the 1945 version, he would be entitled to an X sticker (unlimited gas) as a peace officer. Perhaps the B sticker on the windshield was camouflage, since an X sticker would make the car extremely noteworthy. Marlowe also refers to “three red points,” and speaks of a dead body as “cold meat” which refers to the red tokens used to acquire a family’s allotment of meat during WWII.

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