On Wednesday afternoon, when everyone else in Manchester was out enjoying the rare sunshine and warm weather, I was happily seated in the Cornerhouse Cinema – eagerly awaiting the 12.30 screening of the 1946 Film Noir “The Big Sleep”. This Hollywood gem is the first black and white film I have ever seen in a cinema, and it proved to me that you don’t need glorious technicolour, amazing special effects, CGI or 3D to make a film great – you need a strong central cast and a quick, witty script. This film has both – as well as some rather excellent costumes. I’m talking pin striped suits, felt fedoras (trilbys), burberry-style macs, high-waisted shorts, evening dresses and one rather delectable black beret. Actually, I take back what I said about the film not needing to be made in colour to be worth watching – I want to see the actual colours of the costumes! Who knows, maybe Bacall’s beret wasn’t actually black?!
For those of you who were, before reading this post, like me and unaware of this piece of black and white movie magic, here is the basic storyline, borrowed from the IMDB:
“Private detective Philip Marlowe (Bogart) is hired by a rich family. Before the complex case is over, he’s seen murder, blackmail, and what might be love.”
Lauren Bacall (who was in fact married to Bogart at the time despite being twenty-five years his junior) plays the female lead Mrs. Vivian Rutledge and assists Marlowe in his quest to discover who has been blackmailing her younger sister Carmen (Martha Vickers). Max Steiner’s rich, orchestral score perfectly sets the scene for this mystery thriller and is good enough to have people nervously glancing around them – hoping there won’t be any sudden reproductions of the goings on on-screen in the darkness of the cinema itself.
As to the cast, they all bring something bold and unique to make this a dynamic, fast paced blink-and-you-miss-it film. The laughs are many and the lines flow thick and fast. There are gangster elements but ultimately this is a film about mystery, crime and the dark underworld of high society life. They don’t make them like this any more. Possibly my favourite exchange in the film features in one of the early scenes, when General Sternwood, father to Carmel and Vivian, asks Marlowe for his impression of his younger daughter. The dialogue goes like this:
Sternwood: [about talking to Carmen about her debts] If I did, she’d just suck her thumb and look coy.
Marlowe: I met her in the hall and she did that to me. Then she tried to sit in my lap while I was standing up.
Film Noir requires a certain style of dress sense to watch, so I opted for M&S navy skinny jeans, worn brown converse, a cashmere Jaeger jumper in red and black leopard print, a dark brown leather jacket, a thin navy scarf and a black beret. Oh, and dark pink cat-eye sunglasses. And a vintage brown leather bag. Despite the mixing up of the brown and the black the outfit actually worked rather well – both for the sunny afternoon outside and the dark of the cinema. I suppose I was just so pleased that I happened to be wearing a black beret; I have something in common with Lauren Bacall – and this is the lady who was married to Humphrey Bogart; the King of suave and sophisticated.