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#19 – The Big Sleep

June 16, 2007

someone’s always coming around here trailing some new kill, says i seen your picture on a hundred dollar billThe Big Sleep is one of the oldest books on my reading list for the summer, if not the oldest.  I’m not much for classic literature, and most of the books I’m interested in are less than ten years old.  (“Classic literature” might be a bit of a stretch here, Raymond Chandler isn’t exactly Dickens, but you know what I mean.)  I can say that I really liked The Big Sleep; despite its hard-to-follow plot, despite any undercurrents of misogyny and homophobia, it was extremely entertaining and Philip Marlowe is the definition of cool.  Beyond that, I really can’t add anything useful.  Trying to review classic books like this is as pointless as video game reviewers scoring rereleases of ’80s arcade games.  So how about we talk about movies for a bit instead?

I haven’t seen either of the adaptations of The Big Sleep, but I’ve been meaning to check out the Bogart/Bacall version for some time.  The reason I wanted to read the book, though, was that I heard that the Coen Brothers loosely based The Big Lebowski on it.  While reading, I could definitely see the movie’s origins in some of the characters and some of the events, but mostly in their insanely convoluted plots – lotta ins, lotta outs.  The only difference is that while Marlowe is always in control of the situation, The Dude almost never understands what’s happening around him.  It’s an amusing comparaison to make while reading, but I couldn’t help thinking of two other movies even more: Miller’s Crossing (another Coen Brothers) and Brick.

I absolutely love The Big Lebowski, and its take on the noir detective is hilarious, but my favourite aspect was lost in translation: the dialogue.  Everybody in The Big Sleep is articulate and witty and subtly dangerous in their language, and Lebowski is essentially a long string of F-bombs.  Here’s where Miller’s Crossing and Brick come in.  One of them’s set in the same Big Sleep era, the other’s in a modern high school, but they both share the same amazing vocabulary.  I also love these two movies, as I’m basically inclined to like any book or movie which uses that hardcore rapid-fire detective dialogue, and I’m probably going to track down more of Chandler’s Philip Marlowe books for that very reason.

Okey, yeggs, I’ve got to dangle.  I sense some DVDs and whisky beckoning me.  Dust.

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