Greatest Literature banner

The Big Sleep

THE NOVEL | NOTABLE LINES | MARLOWE AT THE MOVIES

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

The Big SleepFirst edition
Publication details ▽ Publication details △

First publication
1939

Literary form
Novel

Genres
Literary, crime, mystery

Writing language
English

Author's country
United States

Length
Approx. 72,000 words

Poodle Springs scene
Liam Neeson is on the case as Philip Marlowe in the 2022 film named for the 1940s-style sleuth.

PI à la mode

Marlowe (2022): Film, 109 minutes; director Neil Jordan; writer William Monahan, Jordan; featuring Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, Jessica Lange, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Colm Meaney, Danny Huston, Alan Cumming

Just when you think Raymond Chandler's private eye really is retired good, he's back with an investigation of Hollywood skulduggery, complete with gun play, beatings, secrets uncovered, and—not one but two—femme fatales.

Which sounds like a return to the days of detectives and villains casting their noir shadows across the silver screen. But this adventure—named like the 1969 James Garner vehicle just Marlowe—fails to send shivers up any characters' spines, let alone the audience's.

The production checks all the golden-age detective tropes, yet never quite gels as an old-fashioned crime flick.

The gumshoe in the person of Liam Neeson has all the accoutrements of the PI's style. He drinks incessantly, smokes cigarettes, drives a 1930s sedan, slants his fedora across his brow and resists the beautiful women thrown his way, as he works his case to find truth and poetic justice. But Neeson is too tall and gawky to fit into that Humphrey Bogart-Dick Powell mould. And dare we say too old? Middle-age should not deter an actor from depicting the world-weary sleuth but somehow it appears to in this case. Neeson, who has made more than his share of action flicks, seems awkward in Marlowe.

Everything and everyone else is similarly off just a little bit. Diane Kruger tries her best—maybe too hard—to be Marlowe's alluring, mysterious client, though we never fall for her wiles any more than Marlow does. Jessica Lange in her seventies is more intriguing as her mother but is obviously past taking over the drama queen role.


Theatrical trailer for 2022 film reviving an old-school Philip Marlowe.

The dialogue has the requisite sardonic quips and repartee, but every confrontation seems to continue one or two lines too far, a victim of pedestrian editing.

The narrative is new, not based on any literary work, and is almost incomprehensibly complicated. That's excusable, par for films that are based on Chandler stories. But we miss those sharp, crackling Chandleresque scenes that distract us from thinking about the plot stands at any given point.

The support actors find their feet better than the leads, with Danny Huston as a villainous night club operator, Alan Cumming as a drug kingpin, and Colm Meaney as an understanding cop.

A promising subplot involves the drug lord's tommy gun-toting driver Cedric (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) who ends up siding with Marlowe against his boss and the other bad guys. It seems like the start of a beautiful friendship, sure to flower in any sequel. As if.

The film was a commercial flop and is unlikely to become a cult classic. But not a disaster. An okay diversion for a couple of hours. Just not quite good enough to add lustre to Philip Marlowe's dark legacy.

— Eric

 

THE NOVEL | NOTABLE LINES | MARLOWE AT THE MOVIES

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