“It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. It was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.”
Wow, what an opening paragraph! It sets Raymond’s first full-length novel, The Big Sleep, off and running. As readers, we’re instantly plunged into the action and swept away by the sharp, snappy voice of Sleep’s first-person narrator, the intrepid Philip Marlowe. But guess what! Alex, David, and I just watched the movie version and this fabulous opening is completely ignored. What a loss!
Sure Bogart and Bacall sizzle, but as Alex pointed out, Marlowe’s witty, ironic voice is entirely missing from the movie. This isn’t surprising, since even the murder mystery at the heart of The Big Sleep plays second fiddle to the roller-coaster romance that Warner Brothers wanted to spotlight.
Ah well! Another book-to-movie adaptation that may have thrived at the box office, but dumped theme, plot twists, and character complexity overboard. Still, the screenplay was written (in part) by William Faulkner, so it did have some witty moments of dialogue. And yet, I can’t help thinking about how rich and robust a storytelling vehicle the novel is — and how challenging it is to capture the essence of a novel on film. Films are all about action and visuals — they’re about showing. And novels, well, they’re about showing, telling, and silence: What remains unsaid is often so revealing. Moving from novel to film is like trying to catch a butterfly in your hands: No wonder it’s so tough. Write on!