The Big Sleep: Movie vs. Novel
Film and literature are two media forms that are so closely related, that we often forget there is a distinction between them. We often just view the movie as an extension of the book because most movies are based on novels or short stories. Because we are accustomed to this sequence of production, first the novel, then the motion picture, we often find ourselves making value judgments about a movie, based upon our feelings on the novel. It is this overlapping of the creative processes that prevents us from seeing movies as distinct and separate art forms from the novels they are based on.
I enjoyed The Big Sleep by Howard Hawks, but can still recognize and appreciate the differences between it and Chandler's masterful novel. It is an objective appreciation of the two works which forms the foundation a good paper. One must look at the book as a distinct unit, look at the film as a distinct unit, and then (and only then) use one to compare/contrast the other in a critique. The film, after all, is not an extension of the novel&endash;as some would like to argue&endash;but an independent entity that can be constructed however the artist (Hawks in this case) wants. The novel is the inspiration; the film, the work itself.
Howard Hawks chose to film The Big Sleep in the genre of film noir; this seemed like the obvious choice for a hardboiled detective novel. Film noir is the "'dark film,' a term applied by French critics to [the] type of American film, usually in the detective of thriller genre, with low-key lighting and a somber mood" (Bordwell 479). By using this genre of filmmaking, Hawks had an effective vehicle with which to retain the tone of Chandler's novel.
An artist though, can choose to preserve as much of the inspiring factor as he desires in the piece, or only use it as a springboard for greater achievements. The tone in the book was cleverly created by Chandler's fast-paced lines; the flick was equally clever with the new dialogue for added scenes. Bogart might not meet the expectations of your mental image of Marlowe, but no one should be expected to recreate someone else's imagination in a piece of reality. Expecting an artist to do so is ignorant. The Bacall/Bogart connection, and the way the novel was altered to fit them, gave the movie a sense of individuality, and a signature of its own merit. The movie was well made, as the book was well written: both are sufficient to stand and to be appreciated alone.
When making a distinction between movie and novel, it is not acceptable, in my opinion to talk about the differences between the two versions in terms of "better" or "worse." You may like how the artist creates a scene in the movie or how another artist plays with the same scene in the novel, but these are subjective preferences; neither speak to the quality of the work. You cannot critically compare different...