General Sternwood: Ugh. Nasty things. Their flesh is too much like the flesh of men, and their perfume has the rotten sweetness of corruption.
The rotten sweetness of corruption – like an orchid perfume – is present all along this film. This Howard Hawks film is one of the most powerful and complex noir movies of all times. A number of murders make it almost impossible to figure out the full plot of the story, we – like the hard boiled private eye Philip Marlowe - are lost in a world of ambiguity and chaos (it was said that even Raymond Chandler couldn’t explain some of the details of the plot).
The characters – gangsters, femmes fatale - and their confrontations are also a key part of the movie the story. Philip Marlowe has find out about the activities the Sternwood sisters are into: “I assume they have all the usual vices, besides those they've invented for themselves” their father says.
This interaction between the main characters is dotted with witty, sharp dialogues, often filled with sexual connotations – especially in the Bogart – Bacall scenes:
Marlowe: You've got a touch of class, but I don't know far you can go.
Vivian: A lot depends on who's in the saddle.
The chemistry between these two stars is one of the strong points of the film:
Vivian: You've forgotten one thing - me.
Philip Marlowe: What's wrong with you?
Vivian: Nothing you can't fix.
But The Big Sleep is much more than a Bogart – Bacall movie. It’s one of the noir masterpieces with a superb atmosphere and great supporting performers. From Martha Vickers (Carmen Sternwood), Elisha Cook Jr (Harry) or Charles Waldron (General Sternwood) to such a minor role as Joy Barlowe’s as a taxi driver:
Taxi driver: If you can use me again sometime, call this number.
Philip Marlowe: : Day and night?
Taxi driver: Uh, night's better. I work during the day