Culture Shocking Blocking

The Big Sleep

Image for The Big Sleep

The protagonist of hardboiled fiction is intimate not only with transgressors (inhuman criminals, the inhuman rich) but with the inhumans’ human victims. So how to avoid being victimized without becoming inhuman oneself? Doing so requires resolve, a virtue vulnerable to the sentimentality virus. The hardboiled protagonist has developed a sentimentality-proof exoskeleton; he’s become an arthropod.

Arthropodization (cf. Philip K. Dick’s “androidization”) is a theme of some of Hardboiled Generation director Howard Hawks’s best movies. In the scene from The Big Sleep shown here, a diner waitress is drawn to yet repulsed by Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart): she turns on a light, he scuttles into the shadows; he asks her for a light, she leans towards him avidly — yet with a raised eyebrow. As in Bogart’s scenes with a gal taxi driver, a bottle-blonde librarian, and a nightclub cigarette girl, Hawks’s blocking — the director chivalrously places barriers between the arthropod Marlowe and the human dames — illustrates the hardboiled condition, in which immunity from the inhumans’ allure is purchased at the cost of human contact.

The women whom Hawks doesn’t barricade from Marlowe are not potential victims: Agnes (Sonia Darrin) and Mona Mars (Peggy Knudsen) are criminals, Vivian Sternwood (Lauren Bacall) is rich, while Carmen Sternwood (Martha Vickers) is a rich criminal.

The proprietress of the Acme Book Shop (Dorothy Malone), meanwhile, is something else altogether.

Tags: Movies, The Big Sleep