The Big Sleep

There’s a film channel on Freeview called TCM which shows a random selection of movies. Recently I noticed that they were scheduled to show The Bog Sleep and The Maltese Falcon so set the box to record both.  I was a big fan of film noir back in the 80s and early 90s, watched both these films and others, especially those with Humphrey Bogart in them. I read some of Raymond Chandler’s novels. This week there was a night when everyone was out and I settled down to watch The Big Sleep.

Bogart plays a private detective Phillip Marlowe hired by General Sternwood to settle a problem with some gambling debts one of his daughters (Lauren Bacall) has accrued. Carmen (Bacall) wants to stop him. She suspects that what her father really wants is to find Sean Regan, who vanished in mysterious circumstances a month earlier. From there on in the plot thickens to involve a bookseller, some blackmail regarding indecent photos of the younger Sternwood daughter, a very flirtatious scene in the bookshop and implied sex, a casino belonging to Eddie Mars, several visits to a house where the body of the bookseller Joe Geiger is found, a beating for Bogart, some resolution of plot issues, Bogart and Bacall suddenly falling in love and the death of Eddie Mars, shot by his own men when Bogie tricks him into going outside. All good film noir stuff.

The film was made during the war- there are a few wartime moments such as a female taxi driver and poster of FDR- but its release was delayed until 1946 so the studios could rush release all the war films they’d made. It was criticised on release for being difficult to follow and confusing. Marlowe sometimes makes deductions that aren’t shared with the audience. The death of chauffeur Owen Taylor is unexplained. It’s not especially confusing but there is a lot of back and forth, people going to and from places rapidly. There’s little character development, it is all plot. And it does look old- really old. But Bogart and Bacall are superb, the lighting is dramatic, there’s a grittiness about it that appeals and script is witty and fresh. Everyone, Bogart especially, smokes constantly.

A couple of pop culture things leapt out. Firstly the line ‘now wait a minute, you better talk to my mother’, taken by Coldcut, who have been posted here several times this week now, and used in their 1987 remix of Eric B and Rakim’s Paid In Full. Paid In Full (Seven Minutes of Madness Mix) was a pioneering example of the art of the remix, a record that gave Eric and Rakim a hit, spliced in vocals from a recent hit from Ofra Haza and introduced the world to the much used ‘This is a journey into sound…’ sample.

Paid In Full (Seven Minutes Of Madness Mix)

When Marlowe (Bogart) visits Eddie Mars’ casino Vivian (Bacall) is singing (backed by The Williams Brothers including Andy). The song is And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine, a jazz song written by Stan Kenton. One of the lines she sings refers to a girl being ‘a sad tomato’- the lines go ‘she’s a sad tomato/she’s a busted valentine’.

In 1994 Michael Stipe would use the same line in R.E.M.’s Crush With Eyeliner, a line that has always jumped out at me as being such an odd expression. I’ve no idea if Stipe got it from The Big Sleep or from a different version of the song but it seems reasonable to assume he watched the film late night on tour in a hotel room. Stipe follows it with ‘she’s three miles of bad road’.

Finally, as this picture shows, the younger of the two Sternwood girls must have been one of the inspirations for the look Ridley Scott gave Sean Young in Blade Runner (Martha Vickers, second right).

Shaking Single Engine Planes Traffic King Stereos From Cuba

Opinion seems to be that The Clash’s final album* Combat Rock is a major label attempt to break the band in the States and shift some serious units. The hit singles and the production seem to suggest that this was an album where the Sandinista! style experimentation was off the agenda in favour of stadia and the top 40. Maybe that’s partly true but Combat Rock also contains some songs that only The Clash could have made and only The Clash could think were commercial. Straight To Hell goes without saying. Ghetto Defendant (with Allen Ginsberg) is a reggae blues anti-heroin lament. I’ve written before about the record’s closing song, Death Is A Star, a 6 minute excursion into modern jazz and the nature of fame. Opening song Know Your Rights is a call to arms, a rant against government and police forces, crunching two chord agit-pop. It is followed by Car Jamming.

Car Jamming is a treat, everyone playing their part with some of Joe’s most Strummer-esque lyrics. Topper sets up a tub thumping rhythm and is joined by Mick playing post-punk guitar, both paying some kind of tribute to Bo Diddley but in a very early 80s way. Paul’s bass is a descending roots reggae line, low in the mix. Joe’s lyrics are the icing on the cake- funky multi-nationals, King Kong, Agent Orange, gorillas and hyenas and Lauren Bacall- ‘I swear fellas, Lauren Bacall!’ All as seen from the window of a New York taxi in a traffic jam. And I love the way he closes with ‘ah, yeah, positively, absolutely’, every syllable separated.

*The proper line up’s final album that is, not the rump Clash’s Cut The Crap

Car Jamming