Brittle Chandler characters have been transferred to the screen with punch by Howard Hawks’ production and direction, providing full load of rough, tense action most of the way.
Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe and Lauren Bacall as Vivian, Marlowe’s chief romantic interest, make a smooth team to get over the amatory play and action in the script. Hawks has given story a staccato pace in the development, using long stretches of dialogless action and then whipping in fast talk between characters. This helps to punch home high spots of suspense, particularly in latter half of picture.
Chandler plot deals with adventures of Bogart when he takes on a case for the eccentric Sternwood family. There are six deaths to please whodunit fans, plenty of lusty action, both romantic and physical, as Bogart matches wits with dealers in sex literature, blackmail, gambling and murder. Before he closes his case he has dodged sudden death, been unmercifully beaten, threatened, fought off mad advances of one of the Sternwood females, and fallen in love with another.
Some good scenes are tossed to others in the cast. Dorothy Malone, a bookshop proprietress, has her big moment in a sequence shot with sex implications as she goes on the make for Bogart.
[In 1996 a 116-min. version, containing 18 mins. of previously unseen footage, a clearer plot, and less of Lauren Bacall, was unearthed. This had been shown to US troops overseas in 1945; subsequently, in early 1946, Warner had shot extra material for the final release version.]