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The Big Sleep

CritiqueQuotes • Philip Marlowe at the movies

The Big SleepFirst edition
Publication details ▽ Publication details △

First publication

Literary form

Literary, crime, mystery

Writing language

Author's country
United States

Approx. 72,000 words

The Falcon Takes Over scene
George Sanders is Marlowe—er, the Falcon—in the first adaptation of a Raymond Chandler novel.

Philip Marlowe and the whole works

The Falcon Takes Over (1942): Film, 65 minutes; director Irving Reis; writers Lynn Root, Frank Fenton; featuring George Sanders, Lynn Bari, Ward Bond, James Gleason

Like Arthur Conan Doyle's famous sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe is a character created not just in one standout piece of writing but over a whole fictional career. And not just as a memorable character, but also in a memorable setting, a social milieu, with a fully realized attitude and view of the world.

One or two selected titles may represent this creation on the Greatest Literature list but they really stand for the whole oeuvre (something like a lifetime achievement award). When we see popular adaptations of Doyle's and Chandler's creations, we see them in the wider context of all that we've read and heard and seen of those iconic figures.

Which is a roundabout way of announcing we'll look at all the Marlowe-centred films, not just the Big Sleeps and Long Goodbyes.

Marlowe by any other name

The first appearance of Marlowe on screen went by most filmgoers because the fellow on screen wasn't called Marlowe. The flick was The Falcon Takes Over (1942), which came out just two years after the Chandler novel it adapts, Farewell, My Lovely, and just three years after Chandler's first novel, The Big Sleep.

George Sanders as the Falcon
George Sanders as the sleuth.

The Falcon Takes Over is the third in a long series of light films, the first four of which star George Sanders as the amateur detective known as the Falcon.

Somehow Chandler's Farewell plot is shoehorned into the series here with Marlowe replaced by the Falcon and his rough-and-tumble gumshoeing replaced by Sanders's happy-go-lucky sleuthing.

You never really mistake the Falcon for Marlowe. The sophisticated Sanders' charm and cynicism work on an altogether different level from those of the gritty slumming angel in Chandler's stories.

Some of the important secondary characters of Farewell are also present—especially, the ex-con Moose Malloy who's looking for his Velma. But so are some very unChandleresque characters, like the detective's goofy sidekick and the humorously hopeless cops.

So, it's a disaster as a Marlowe film, but entertaining on its own merits.

And it's one of the best, most substantial of the mildly diverting Falcon films, if that counts for anything. The Falcon Takes Over is still watchable today, if you can forget Chandler and Marlowe are supposed to be involved.

— Eric


CritiqueQuotes • Philip Marlowe at the movies

1942, 1944, 1946, 1947, 1969, 1973, 1975, 1978, 1998, 2022