This is the crime film with a virtually indecipherable plot, though it doesn’t really matter because the scenes, one after the other, are so utterly compelling and enjoyable that after a while you shrug and think, Who cares what’s going on, it’s all too much fun to worry about details like that. A famous anecdote: During shooting, neither Hawks nor Faulkner nor the other screenwriters (the reliables, Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett) could figure out who had killed a certain character, so they wired Chandler this question and he wired back that he couldn’t figure it out, either.
Chandler once said, “All Bogart has to do to dominate a scene is to enter it,” and Hawks takes full advantage of this axiom by essentially shaping each and every sequence in the entire movie from Bogie’s viewpoint; he is the beginning and end of every scene, and nothing happens without being filtered through his responses. Of course, the book is constructed that way, but Hawks could easily have altered this, and he could’ve screwed up the lines, but as he wisely used to say, “You couldn’t get better dialogue than Raymond Chandler’s,” so he leaves it alone. Tense and fast-paced, the picture has a pervasive intelligence and honesty that simply doesn’t date. One of my personal favorites for years, The Big Sleep holds up well under repeated viewing because the black humor and generally evil atmosphere feel continually contemporary.