A Comparison of Two Versions of The Big Sleep
The Production Code attempted to censor sex and violence in film of the 1930's and 40's. Instead of impairing, it encouraged directors to use artistic ideas and integrity to surpass the viewers' expectations -- actively involving them in the film despite Hollywood's censorship. Howard Hawks is one such director who used the restrictions of the Production Code to his advantage. His screen adaptation of the Raymond Chandler novel The Big Sleep portrays the same amount of sexuality and violence apparent in the written word, using a distinctly subtle style, which develops broader themes. Comparisons with the extremely dull 70's remake by Michael Winner further suggest the superiority of Hawks' film noir. While Hawks masterfully creates an original world of sexuality and suspense, Winner unsuccessfully focuses on violent and sexual images in a vain attempt at filmmaking.
There is not a trace of nudity in Hawks' The Big Sleep, yet it thrives on sex. The viewer will not catch a glimpse of a buttock, nipple nor a whole breast. This scarcity of skin is attributed to the superb screenplay writers Leigh Brackett, William Faulkner and Jules Furthman. They depict a charming Marlowe, played by Humphrey Bogart, interacting with various frisky femmes exhibiting innuendo that brilliantly illuminates the screen.
Marlowe and the Acme Bookstore clerk flirt with an elegance even the slyest viewer would envy. The scholastic seductress flashes her beautiful eyes at him saying, "You begin to interest me, vaguely." Bogie's response -- "I'm a private dick on a case." With a loud, tumultuous clap of thunder, the audience sits bolt upright, anticipating the sultry shenanigans to unfold. As torrential rain drenches the dismal streets of Hollywood, Marlowe turns to the clerk and remarks of his planned afternoon endeavors, "I've got a bottle of rye in my pocket...I'd rather get wet in here." Hold on just a minute! I thought all the sexual situations were removed from films of this era. How could anyone argue that this scene is not sexy? As the clerk lets down her soft, brown locks of hair and removes her spectacles atop her milky white nose, the scene fades and it is obvious there is more going on than just a friendly afternoon of drinking. This is not only a great example of writing, but directing too.
With these elements aside, the chemistry between Bogart and Lauren Bacall, playing Vivian Sternwood, also contribute in making the film a vibrant, sexy experience. There is an abundance of sex appeal in their every meeting, most notably when she attempts to pay Marlowe. Vivian engages the verbal foreplay saying, "...speaking of horses, I like to play them myself. I like to see if they are front runners or if they come from behind." This innuendo is no accident and implies a sexual encounter between the two. Marlowe replies, "I don't know how far you can go." as Vivian says, "A...