Archive for The Big Sleep

Thugs with Ugly Mugs

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2008 by dcairns


Every private eye’s office should come equipped with a kookalorus to throw crazy shadows on the walls when the lights are dimmed. Standard equipment, along with the snap-brim fedora and raincoat.

My copy of THE BRASHER DOUBLOON turned out to be not exactly pristine. The 20th Century Fox logo looked like it had been filmed underwater, in murky conditions, which was a first, and the rest of the movie had a grubby, dirt-streaked quality as if I was watching it with dirty, dirty eyes.

“…Bunker Hill, which used to be the choice place to live in Los Angeles. Nowadays, people live there because they haven’t got any choice.”

It’s Philip Marlowe! Hello Phil. Phil’s looking a little different because he’s not Humphrey Bogart or even Dick Powell or James Garner or Robert Mitchum, he’s George Montgomery, handsome but not particularly characterful. But his private eye voice-over marks him out as Marlowe alright.

John Brahm, following in the footsteps of Edward Dmytryk’s FAREWELL MY LOVELY and Howard Hawks’ THE BIG SLEEP, does certain film noir things by the book, so Marlowe has a neon sign outside his office window, and a voice-over, and never manages to grab some shut-eye except when he’s sapped on the head, which is often. Also, someone is always pulling a gun on him and he’s always pulling a fast one on them. On the other hand, he smokes a pipe, which seems positively aberrant behaviour for a shamus.

“When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.”  — Raymond Chandler.


Brahm may not have the stars or the originality, but he has a vibrant compositional style, and a great eye for bit-part casting. Even the great, chunky and enervated Fritz Kortner pales alongside some of the rogues’s gallery he’s surrounded by here. I can think of few movies before Leone where the supporting bad guys and background schlubs have such grotesque and inspiring kissers. Maybe Fritz Lang’s M, and maybe some Sternberg. And Kurosawa — such care taken with minor creeps and losers in THE SEVEN SAMURAI.


This fellow, with his straw boater and vaguely Mittel-European accent, is like a debauched ancestor of Polanski’s little bruiser in CHINATOWN. The sleepy eye is a winner. He’s an amazing physical actor too (who the devil is he???) — even his body language has a foreign accent.


This raddled old coot actor rejoices in the name of Housely Stevenson. Houseley, there’s a name you don’t hear nearly often enough. Looking at his credits, I see he played the role of “Old Man” quite a bit. It’s good to have a speciality to fall back on.


A face only a mother could love, and even then, only when viewing it through a welder’s helmet.

One could go on, but there is a fine line between appreciating a bit-part player and mocking the afflicted. I enjoyed Brahm’s film muchly (I read The High Window, the book it comes from, years ago), although viewed today, Marlowe’s eagerness to cure Nancy Guild of her phobia of being touched strikes me as a little more than professional. It’s the Dr. Louis Judd  method. The story comes off as more silly and contrived than I remember in the book, as does the whole movie, but “silly and contrived” is Brahm’s preferred mode — you don’t look to him for subtlety or depth. He’s Mr. Panache.


Marlowe’s hit-on-the-head POV shot. Since this shot also appears in THE DEVILS, a Ken Russell comparison suddenly seems intriguing, except I think Mad Ken is more clever than Brahm, although he often pretends not to be.