JUST HOW SLIGHT IS OUR HOLD ON CIVILIZATION ANYWAY? (What We Should Expect From Critics: Seventeenth Maxim)

One of the delights of reading “The Big Sleep” again is being reminded of all the ways in which it differs from the mystery/crime pulp culture it helped bring into the American mainstream. For instance, the trench coat. Bogart made it iconic in Howard Hawks’ film version of “The Big Sleep”; he seems to have worn the same one in “Casablanca.” But the annotators note that the Marlowe of the book wore it “not for fashion but because it’s raining.” There’s no mention of the famous fedora and, unlike the legion of private eyes who followed him, Marlowe was smart enough not to carry a gun (he did keep one in the glove box of his car).  

(Allen Barra “Raymond Chandler: American Hard-Boiled Truthdig, Dec. 30, 2018)

Is there anything more annoying than sharing a passion with a doofus?

Barra clearly loves Raymond Chandler. Enough to overrate him, which, in my book, is hard to do.

But Jesus H. Christ.

Literally nobody, ever, thinks The Big Sleep was the film where Humphrey Bogart made the trench coat “iconic.”

Just in case somebody might be tempted to think, Hmmm, wonder if he could be right about that?--think maybe The Big Sleep (1946) was released before Casablanca (1943)–Barra promptly, without drawing a breath or, more characteristically, cluttering things up with a stray clause, sets us straight with one of those lazy constructions that pass for wit among the junior ranks of the Crit-Illuminati.

He seems to have worn the same one in Casablanca.

You know, the film where Bogart did make the trench coat iconic, three years before The Big Sleep was released to a high level of acclaim, popular success and influence which came nowhere near the levels achieved by Casablanca.

Then he approvingly cites the authors of the book he’s reviewing: the Marlowe of the book wore it “not for fashion but because it’s raining.”

Here’s a funny thing.

Every time Bogart’s Marlowe appears in a trench coat in The Big Sleep, it’s raining.

I know, I just made myself watch it for the umpteenth time, something Barra, an avowed fan of the movie and its director, Howard Hawks, may or may not have done. As with most film critics, watching it doesn’t necessarily mean he saw what was there. I mean, which one of these truly iconic images did he think came from The Big Sleep?

I haven’t read the just-published The Annotated Big Sleep (I’m not even sure how I feel about such a thing existing), so I don’t know whether Barra is giving the book’s notation proper context or not.  I suppose it’s possible that Annotated‘s annotators are to blame for the error. And I’m not even going to entertain the idea that the annotators didn’t know a trench coat from a top coat.

If so, it was Barra’s task to catch them out, even in a positive review. But whether he merely fell down on the job or completely misrepresented their views, he still qualifies as the poster child for the Seventeenth Maxim:

Lest you be taken for a doofus, never forget the name of the movie where Bogart made the trench coat iconic.