Howard Hawks’ classic The Big Sleep, written by Leigh Brackett, might not have a regular femme fatale, but the women in it, all of them different, complex, and absolutely fascinating, more than make up for it. A film about process more than results, it chronicles private eye Philip Marlowe’s journey into the heart of crime, gambling, murder, and blackmail often masked by genteel manners in the world of rich urbanites. Although we have little more of an idea of what just happened and who killed whom and why at the end than we did in the beginning, the movie is a pleasure to watch, a black and white symphony conducted in the rich and smoky atmosphere of the post-WWII noir. With its moody, expressionistic chiaroscuro lighting, long and heavy shadows cast by the ubiquitous Venetian blinds, its classic, hardboiled romantic hero and the shady, powerful, beautiful women around him, The Big Sleep submerges us into darkness but, surprisingly, helps us see the light as well. While Bogart gave up everything in Casablanca for the greater good, here he might be even braver; instead of seeking redemption in a corrupt, chaotic world through self-sacrifice, he finds redemption and stability in an adult relationship of equals with the woman he loves.
***Spoilers ahead (although I can't really give away the plot; like both the film's director and writer, I have no idea what the solution to the murders is)! This is an analysis of Vivian's character as a noir woman and her relationship with Bogart's Marlowe.