This first exchange sets the tone for the novel’s famously sparkling dialogue

Friday, May 7th, 2021

In The Big Sleep, Marlowe’s wealthy client is “pretty far gone in years to have a couple of daughters still in the dangerous twenties.” He soon meets the younger one, and this first exchange sets the tone for the novel’s famously sparkling dialogue:

She was twenty or so, small and delicately put together, but she looked durable. She wore pale blue slacks and they looked well on her. She walked as if she were floating. Her hair was a fine tawny wave cut much shorter than the current fashion of pageboy tresses curled in at the bottom. Her eyes were slate-gray, and had almost no expression when they looked at me. She came over near me and smiled with her mouth and she had little sharp predatory teeth, as white as fresh orange pith and as shiny as porcelain. They glistened between her thin too taut lips. Her face lacked color and didn’t look too healthy.

“Tall, aren’t you?” she said.

“I didn’t mean to be.”

[...]

I could see, even on that short acquaintance, that thinking was always going to be a bother to her.

[...]

She bit her lip and turned her head a little and looked at me along her eyes. Then she lowered her lashes until they almost cuddled her cheeks and slowly raised them again, like a theater curtain. I was to get to know that trick. That was supposed to make me roll over on my back with all four paws in the air.

[...]

“You’re cute,” she giggled. “I’m cute too.”

The “tall” line presented a problem when Humphrey Bogart was cast for the film:

Bogart was only five feet nine. The problem was solved by rewriting Carmen’s line to read, “You’re not too tall, are you?” to which Bogie replies, “Well, I tried to be.”

The actor who most resembled Marlowe in Chandler’s mind was Cary Grant.

Comments

  1. Bob Sykes says:

    Cary Grant is not a candidate for Marlowe in my mind. Marlowe has to have a certain physicality. He’s a veteran and a ex-cop. Bogart is really a good choice overall. Robert Mitchum or Alan Ladd might have worked, too.

    He’s also the model for Robert Parker’s Spenser, only more extreme. The TV series with Robert Urich as Spenser was ideally cast in every role.

  2. Redan says:

    Mitchum did indeed work. In fact he was the only actor to play Marlowe more than once on the big screen, in Farewell, My Lovely (1975) and The Big Sleep (1978).

  3. Faze says:

    Yeah, Mitchum was a good Marlowe (though it would have been better if he’d played the role when younger). Chandler’s creation is unquestionably heterosexual, which leaves Cary Grant out.

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