The Big Sleep

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
The Big Sleep Movie Poster Image
Classic noir gem has menace, innuendo.
  • NR
  • 1946
  • 114 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Follow your gut. Going your own way may not make you rich but at least you can live with yourself.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Marlowe is a loner with integrity. He has a history of being fired, probably because he didn't like following orders. He's self-deprecating and self-confident at the same time.



A man is shot but no blood is seen. A body of a man who was shot is found. His wounds are not seen. Later there is a dark stain where his body had been lying. A man is forced at gunpoint to drink poison. He falls over dead shortly after. A man is forced at gunpoint to leave a house, knowing that armed men will shoot the first person to open the door. Machine-gun shots pierce the door after he leaves and his dead body falls back into the house. Marlowe is beaten by hired thugs to warn him off a case. Marlowe punches a man who tries to steal a woman's purse at gunpoint.


Double entendre and innuendo are the favored modes of expression of sexual desire and interest here. Using race track metaphors, Bogart and Bacall banter: "You've got a touch of class but I don't know how far you can go." She replies, "A lot depends on who's in the saddle." They kiss briefly, while fully clothed.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A young woman is clearly high on something but the inebriating substance isn't identified. Adults drink, brandy, and scotch. Adults smoke cigarettes throughout.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Big Sleep is a film noir gem directed by Howard Hawks that was released in 1946. It features a great star of the day, Humphrey Bogart. He was paired with relative newcomer Lauren Bacall in an effort to reprise the sizzling chemistry that had made their previous collaboration, To Have and Have Not, a hit in 1944. As in that film, sexuality is an all-pervasive undercurrent, although only clothed kissing is on display. (The actors were married to each other by the time the movie was released.) Kids may find this movie's black-and-white world alien, a place where men wear suits and fedoras, women are called "Sugar" and "Honey," and adults smoke cigarettes constantly, but an incorruptible character bent on solving mysteries may still hold interest. Adults drink alcohol. One character seems to use drugs, but the exact substance remains unnamed. Several characters are killed on screen, one by poison and others by gunshot, but no gore is visible.  

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What's the story?

In THE BIG SLEEP, Humphrey Bogart plays quintessential hard-boiled private eye Philip Marlowe, a character from Raymond Chandler's novel of the same name.  A wealthy elderly father of two beautiful daughters hires him to root out a blackmailer holding something over the youngest. A former employee has also mysteriously disappeared, and who can tell if that has anything to do with anything? The older daughter, the divorced Mrs. Rutledge (Lauren Bacall ), is flirtatious, insolent, and provocative as she does her best to trick Marlowe into disclosing what her father wants, which arouses his romantic interest as well as his curiosity about her involvement in a number of shady plot twists. In Marlowe's quest to dispatch the blackmailer, he runs into the drug-addled sister Carmen at a murder scene and removes her discreetly. Several more bodies pile up, mostly by gunshot, but one unlucky thug is forced to drink poison, after which he falls over quietly. The plot goes on and on, adding complication upon complication, but the truth is no one will care because, apart from the fun of seeing Bogart pretend to be a detective, the focus here is watching Bogart and Bacall flirt and pair up. Famously, neither the director and screenwriters nor Chandler himself were ever able to figure out who or what killed the chauffeur. Anyone struggling to make complete sense of The Big Sleep should keep that in mind.

Is it any good?

This film is a marvel of convoluted, unexplained plot threads that miraculously add up to one of the great pleasures of cinema. Usually categorized under the film noir umbrella for its shadowy photography and emphasis on the menace of the underworld, The Big Sleep mixes its cynicism with enough dry humor to almost lend it a sense of optimism. The bad guys go down and the detective gets the girl, even if it's not entirely clear whether she's trustworthy. The real treat is Bogart, who seems game to play tough but also self-deprecating. When he enters the mansion of the millionaire about to hire him, the beautiful young daughter of the house cuts him down: "You're not very tall, are you?" He is amused: "Well, I try to be." Tall or not, she thinks he's "cute" and seconds later literally falls into his arms. As he later tells it, "she tried to sit in my lap while I was standing up."

The movie is a great example of the importance of emphasis and editing. An unreleased version was finished in 1945 but Bacall's agent urged the studio to add scenes in which Bacall could display the insolence and sexuality that won her critical acclaim in her first film, To Have and Have Not. To make room for the new footage, nearly ten minutes of plot explanation was removed, resulting in a far less comprehensible and far more enjoyable film.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the differences between movies made within the last few years and movies of the 1940s like The Big Sleep. Do you think contemporary movies seem as if the action moves faster? How might slower storytelling affect the way audiences receive plot information?

  • If you could remake this movie, who would you cast, and why? What other things would you update?

  • How do you feel about the black-and-white format? In what ways does it enhance or distract from your experience?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love classic tales

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