Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Cinema Style File--Bogart and Bacall Bring on the Heat in 1946's THE BIG SLEEP

It was a dark and stormy night.  

From my bed, I heard the familiar sound of the police cruiser sweeping into our driveway to park.  The car door opened, then quickly closed as my father splashed through puddle after puddle on his way to the house.  Finally through the front door, I recognized the many sounds of his police uniform.  The heaviness of his boots.  The jangle of his handcuffs.  The velcro on his bullet-proof vest.  And finally, unsnapping his gun from its holster.  Piece by piece it was removed and carefully laid on the chair in his bedroom before he headed to the family room to flick on the TV.  As I often did, I crept quietly from my bedroom and tip-toed down the hall in the darkness to see what he would watch to unwind after work.  It was there in the wee hours of that rainy windswept night some 30 years ago that I first saw Howard Hawks' iconic film noir The Big Sleep.

Though not every movie introduction was as dramatic as this one, film noir became an ongoing presence in our home and my introduction to classic cinema.  My eyes devoured the style--from the sets to the moody lighting to the costumes--and it was there that I began my design education.  The Big Sleep's costume designer was Leah Rhodes, one of the most prolific designers at Warner Brothers during the 1940s.  Though less known than Orry-Kelly and Milo Anderson, the three shared some seriously great years at the WB studio especially in the area of film noir--including The Maltese Falcon (1941, Orry-Kelly), Casablanca (1942, Orry-Kelly), Mildred Pierce (1945, Milo Anderson), and Key Largo (1948, Leah Rhodes).  Interestingly, Leah was also responsible for developing some of the "Hitchcock Look" when she designed costumes for Strangers on a Train (1951) before Edith Head really took the lead.  Leah was so talented that she was rewarded for her work with an Oscar in 1950.

Beyond the costume design, much of the style in The Big Sleep is due to its star--and TCM's Star of the Month--Lauren Bacall.  Even when I watched as a child, Lauren really struck me as so different than any of the other actresses of the day.  There was a worldliness about her that I related to--an old soul who seemed like she had "been there, done that" despite being a mere 20-year-old.  Her New York upbringing gave her a savviness that I admired and she seemed quite comfortable being just of the guys.  And...Lauren was stunning.  Discovered on the cover of Harper's Bazaar by Hawks' wife, even her modeling days did not do her justice.  It took celluloid and cinematography to really capture her refined feline features--namely those intense eyes framed by strong arched brows that audiences dubbed "The Look."   Her attitude mixed with that great beauty made for an intoxicating combination.  Humphrey Bogart fell hard for Bacall during their first film together, To Have and Have Not (1944).  Their chemistry was so strong and pairing so popular that Warner Brothers immediately ordered up new scenes to be shot on their next film together--The Big Sleep.

Though clearly much of the style story of The Big Sleep has to do with Bogart and his iconic look--the staple trenchcoat alone!--it is Lauren who steals the show.  Look for the houndstooth suit she wears with a beret.  It is an evolution of the suit she wore in To Have and Have Not, and both were inspired by the style of the director's wife, Slim.  It is highly influential in the fashion world--both the pattern and the cut are now on trend, but of course equally timeless as well.  And pay attention to the overall quintessential 1940s style throughout The Big Sleep...whether it's seen in the strong shoulders or the draped hooding or the exotic brooches and pins.  

1946 was a banner year for film noir--GildaThe Postman Always Rings TwiceThe Killers, and The Big Sleep all came out that year.  Each one is iconic.  And though The Big Sleep is well known for its slightly scattered storyline--true in Raymond Chandler's original 1939 novel and especially so in the film--none of that matters.  You are drawn in scene by scene...moment by moment.  I have literally seen the movie hundreds of times and it never gets old.  It often keeps me company when I have insomnia, and I can't help remembering the first time I saw it that stormy night so many years ago.

The wealthy and influential Sternwood family is at the center of crime in The Big Sleep

Coquettish younger sister Carmen Sterwood (Martha Vickers) is trouble for everyone
though innocent-looking enough here in belted polkadot silk shorts and espadrilles

Carmen makes a play for private detective Phillip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart)
by falling into his arms...even though they just met

Onto meeting the elder sister Vivian (Lauren Bacall) 
who is used to drinking her lunch and bossing people around

Lounging in a velvet button-front jacket and black pants that seems very Katharine Hepburn-esque

At the A. G. Geiger Bookstore, Marlowe meets salesgirl Agnes (Sonia Darrin)
who always wears incredible dresses and accessories like this amazing Asian-inspired brooch 

In contrast, the salesgirl across the street at the Acme Bookstore (Dorothy Malone)
wears a more modest polkadot dress with the tie-neck detail that's been on trend

Iconic moment in the movies--the dowdy salesgirl takes off her glasses and takes down her hair...
"Well, hello..."

Opening herself up to blackmail, Carmen poses for some lurid photos 
in (and likely out of) her Asian-inspired dress

Marlowe finds Carmen and takes her home to Vivian
who answers the call in an elegant silk charmeuse robe with extra volume at the cuffs

Iconic film noir cinematography lighting Marlowe
in the equally iconic trenchcoat when he goes sleuthing in the rain

Waiting to show Marlowe evidence of Carmen's blackmail in this iconic houndstooth suit...
love the accessories like the black box purse (I have a similar one) and matching beret

Now we see Carmen in her suit--herringbone striped suit styled with a dramatic draped hood--
and look how perfectly the lines of the fabric line up in the suit's two pieces

Wealthy mobster Eddie Mars (John Ridgely) shows off his tailored duds when he meets Marlowe

Agnes once again causing trouble but impeccably dressed...
love how those ornate brooches look like they're securing a wrap skirt 

Vivian is dressed in a very modern 3/4 length sleeve belted dress with peeptoe pumps

The drama of Carmen's character is reflected in her clothes...
here she wears a fitted black suit again accessorized with a hood

Marlowe meets Vivian in his sharp black pinstripe double-breasted suit
and she returns the favor in a stunning gold lame evening jacket paired with a mink stole

Time to pay a visit to Eddie's casino to do some more detective work

There he finds Vivian making herself at home...both with the boys in the band and at the roulette table

Vivian puts a mink coat on over her white slightly tomboyish evening gown

Marlowe knows there's much more hidden beneath the surface with all these people, including Vivian,
but can't help falling for her and they finally kiss

On her way out of town, Agnes sells Marlowe the secret location of Eddie's wife, Mona,
but gets captured when snooping around

Mona (Peggy Knudsen) wears a peplum blouse that's perfectly on trend now
and Vivian chooses a silhouette similar to her other ensembles 

After killing a killer, Marlowe and Vivian hold their ground against Eddie Mars
before giving into love and starting their lives together


Marline said...

First of all, I LOVED this post because (drum roll) I've NEVER seen this movie! No kidding, Kimberly! And 2ndly, I loved your introduction, giving us a peek at the beginnings of your movie love. That image of your dad coming home after a long day of law enforcement (my dad was a beat cop, too, in DC, after he got back from WWII)--well, that's very special. Thanks for sharing it and the incredible fashions of this movie. I guess I'm just going to have to watch it now! Wonderful post, as always. Now, where can we get those brooches!!! Love, Kay

Kimberly Truhler said...

Thanks Kay! I was shocked--SHOCKED!--to learn that you have never seen this, especially when you have a cop in the family. lol And I think of you whenever I see the Agnes character because of those incredible brooches! Yes, you're going to have to see post haste, so put in on your To See list for the weekend. Try not to pay too close attention to the plot and characters since it gets really fuzzy at times (even Raymond Chandler said it didn't really matter). Just kick back and enjoy the style. :)

Dan Akira said...

I also LOVED the introduction, Kimberly. Mentioning your dad reminded me of how G-man Gordon Liddy would make a point of cleaning his guns when his daughter's dates showed up at the house. More style props for Bogie: Besides the iconic trench coat, note how he wears a western belt with a suit, real Southern California! BTW, I was just at the Warner costume department being fitted for a small part in Hangover 3. Amazing the history there and you describe it so well.

Kimberly Truhler said...

Thank you, Dan! Yes, my father definitely leveraged his position in law enforcement with any of my potential beaus as well. lol He was a K9 officer for some time, too, so the German Shepherd only added to the intimidation.

I'm so jealous that you're spending time at Warner Brothers! Wow...what incredible history. I think it was Elise (@EliseCD on Twitter) who recently took a tour there and tweeted pics all the way through it. Definitely made me want to do it! Have fun while you're there!

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