2017-08-24

sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
I am aware that David Thomson in his 2000 BFI guide to Howard Hawks' The Big Sleep (1946) is pointing out the absurdity of the male fantasy that all Bogart's Marlowe has to do is walk into a bookstore and the clerk pulls down the shades and takes her glasses off, but I cannot agree with his view of Dorothy Malone's character at the end of their afternoon's tryst: "She does nothing to protest, to ask what now, what next, what about me? What did this mean? She has behaved like a placid whore, an available young bitch. And Marlowe has sought no more." First of all, I think that's a funny thing to say about a pair of people who bond not just over off-the-cuff sexual availability but nonexistent rare editions and people-watching. Second, it never occurred to me to think that the scene was incomplete without Malone's clerk protesting or pining. What next is she closes up the Acme Book Shop and goes home to whatever closer-to-real world she lives in, beyond the half-screwball hall of mirrors that is the plot of The Big Sleep. What about her is she got the same afternoon's fantasy as Marlowe: a smart, sexy stranger, no strings attached. "Placid" is a peculiar adjective to apply to a girl who makes the first move. "Bitch" is even more opaque to me: in heat? Indiscriminate? I don't think Thomson is trying to say she takes her hair down for all the customers; I certainly don't think Hawks implies it. If anything the scene is a testament to the irresistible virility of Humphrey Bogart, which is itself framed a little like a joke: that roll of thunder when he introduces himself as "a private dick on a case" is just a bit too on the nose. He self-consciously sucks in his forty-five-year-old waistline when she describes Geiger as "fattish." And yet women all over this movie throw themselves at him, from both Sternwood sisters to the taxi driver who cracks a racy joke that makes Marlowe blink. Doylistically, is it like a repeating kaleidoscope of the Hawksian woman throughout the script? Sure. But then one of the characteristics of that archetype is that she is not a mere object, not disposable. The girl at the Acme Book Shop watches Marlowe walk away through the steamy afternoon, but I don't think she's seeing the man that got away. She got him and good and now life, with or without a Ben-Hur 1860 third edition with a duplicated line on page 116, goes on.

tl;dr I did not buy Thomson's BFI guide to The Big Sleep because I hit that analysis while I was flicking through it and I thought if he was that wrong about Dorothy Malone, God knows what he thinks about Elisha Cook Jr. or Lauren Bacall. To disclose all biases on the part of the viewer, my major complaint about the scene is that she takes off her glasses at all.
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