Friday, June 17, 2011


How would you prefer this: straight, or with a chaser?

I know an entire tumble of rather spiffy little college boys, who'd break into childish smiles and classic goosebumps at the sound of that sobriquet; and god help me, I'm one of them. For this reason I'm happy to recall her to our Friday schemes, where she has always granted us a nod, in her natural concentration of the ideal animal, which somebody, sane, finally put into words. I think of her often, because I love movies and am willing to call them that; because she resembles the mode and features adopted and inherited by our mother; because the qualities of her consort suggest not only enthusiasms and the mode, but the smoke, textures, and stamina of our father. I grew up, observing their combustion. So many of us did. We hypothesise a personal life for her, and pray that it has been kind; but what she gave us on the screen, we will not relinquish.

Her masterpiece, is open to amiable and tussling debate. But the finest picture of her career is rather uniformly conceded. I'm not surprised that our father loved it; our mess of guys, certainly does. It's the monstrous, the incomprehensible, crazy, headlong, irrational race called, The Big Sleep. Nessun dorma.

We understand and adore this movie. There's Pa, stylish as shit, tipping his hand of victimhood. She has him: hook, line, and both sinkers. And she's sweet about it; but she has him. This is so true for them; and right here, we see Howard Hawks, genially giving us this immortal chemistry, the wonderful thing they know about.

One could go on. One could demonstrate why she's the precursor of Faye Dunaway's mother/daughter/lover for Polanski, the reigning presence behind every memorable exertion of private dicks since the 1940s. One could talk about the voice, so obviously indebted to consumption. But this is not that kind of page, and nobody comes here for it to be otherwise. Rather, let's meet for drinx chez Eddie Mars; let's let her scratch her knee, dropping her driving gloves when it's itching; let's pour ourselves a drink in her bedroom when she won't, let's let her lie to us with that forelock not tumbling, let's let her accuse us of going too far, let's sit there in our bonds and let her gnaw us free with her knife. She is the boydreamt, silken omnivore of our warfare. God help us, there will be another some day. There must be. But she'll do. God bless you, Baby:

(i) 'The Big Sleep' is a violent, smoky cocktail shaken together from most of the printable misdemeanors and some that aren't .. The picture is often brutal and sometimes sinister, but I can't bring myself to mind this sort of viciousness, far less to feel that it shouldn't be shown ..

(ii) .. wakeful fare for folks who do not care what is going on, or why, so long as the talk is hard and the action harder. The message, if any, seems to be that the life of a private detective is ill-paid, full of social embarrassment, yet not without its compensations.

Actually, the plot's crazily mystifying, nightmare blur is an asset, and only one of many. By far the strongest is Bogart, who can get into a minor twitch of the mouth the force of a slug from an automatic .. A round dozen minor players help him out with great efficiency - not to mention Miss Bacall, who is like an adolescent cougar.

Howard Hawks, director
William Faulkner,
  Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman, screenplay
Raymond Chandler, book
Sidney Hickox, cinematography
Christian Nyby, editor
Carl Jules Weyl, art direction
Max Steiner, music
Howard Hawks, producer
Warner, 1946©

James Agee 
(i) The Nation
(ii) Time
Film Writing and
  Selected Journalism
The James Agee Trust©
The Library of America, 2005

Robin Wood
Howard Hawks
British Film Institute, 1983©

Gerald Mast
Howard Hawks: Storyteller
Oxford University Press, 1982©

Joseph McBride
Hawks on Hawks
University of California Press, 1982©

i-iii  The Big Sleep

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