The Big Sleep (1946) directed by Howard Hawks
This might be one of the most confusing movies I've ever seen. The Big Sleep has so many plot elements, twists, turns, mysteries and intrigue that if you paused the movie midway through and asked me what it was about, I'd be hard pressed to give you a straight answer. Apparently the screenplay was so confusing that in the middle of filming, Humphrey Bogart asked director Howard Hawks whether a character was murdered or if he committed suicide. Hawks realized that he didn't know either so he telegramed Raymond Chandler, who wrote the frigging novel, and he admitted sheepishly that he had no idea himself. That is how complex and convoluted the story is. There were points where I kept asking myself, "Who is this guy?", "What does he have to do with anything?" and "What did they just talk about?"
But not that it really matters anyways. The real point of the movie is to watch Bogart do his thing; walk around cool, smoke cigarettes, charm ladies, talk tough and point guns at bad guys. A lot is said about this film's witty and hard boiled dialogue and it's easy to get caught up with all the banter without even realizing what is going on. For as much dialogue as The Big Sleep has, it is mostly for style and does not bother to explain things with much clarity. Raymond Chandler also wrote Double Indemnity, which I would argue is even better written and not nearly as mystifying.
This could of course be my own fault as a viewer, but when I'm required to concentrate that hard just to figure out what is going on, your crime mystery might be just a little too good. Of course by the end I was able to piece most of it together and while struggling to keep up most of the way, I still enjoyed the process of the film. You might make a couple wrong turns and get lost along the way but if you make it to the party in the end, that's all that matters right? (The ending is especially exciting and satisfying.)
Humphrey Bogart plays Philip Marlowe, a private investigator who is hired to handle a simple blackmail case but ends up being involved in a tangled web of gangsters, murderers, gamblers and blackmailers. This is the third film I've seen him in, the other two being Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon, and it seems to me he plays the same character in each movie, but he has that role down pat, perfected to a tee. While Rick Blaine isn't a private eye, he still has the cool tough guy appeal that Marlowe and Sam Spade have. I guess lots of actors in that time period were acting like that, but Bogart did it with a distinct style that would become synonymous with the hard boiled detective of film noir. When you think private eye, you basically picture Humphrey Bogart.
Playing opposite of Bogart is Lauren Bacall as Vivian Rutledge who was just twenty years old at the time. A lot is said of the on screen chemistry between the two, but to be honest, I didn't notice anything sizzling. (The two would marry shortly after, Bogart was 45 and Bacall 20.) But hey, as someone who has recently broken up, maybe I might not be the best judge of these things! I don't know Bacall from any other movie, but apparently she was a big star in her day. This was one of her earliest films, so I'm sure she matured a lot more as an actress later on, but I didn't find her performance in The Big Sleep particularly remarkable. I'd argue that the other female characters outshone her, especially Martha Vickers who plays Vivian's sister, Carmen. Vickers' career afterwords was pretty spotty and was nowhere near the star of Bacall, but you could hardly tell from these scenes.
Bottom line: Decent film noir that is bogged down by its overly complex plot but saved by its style and the star power of Bogart.