The Big Sleep marked the second of what would be four on-screen pairings for real-life couple Bogart and Bacall. Humphrey Bogart is considered the quintessential leading man for American film noir, having made his breakout starring turn in The Maltese Falcon in 1941. His role in the iconic Casablanca the next year would solidify his star status.
Throughout his long career he appeared in such films as To Have and to Have Not, Key Largo, The Big Sleep, In a Lonely Place, The African Queen, Sabrina, The Caine Mutiny, and The Harder They Fall. He won the Oscar for Best Actor for The African Queen.
Known for his heavy drinking, his rugged no-nonsense masculinity, and his marriage to Lauren Bacall, Bogart was nothing short of a Hollywood icon, and was even a founding member of the legendary Rat Pack. He died of cancer in 1957, at age 57.
Vivian Sternwood Rutledge
Lauren Bacall was still quite young when The Big Sleep wrapped up production in 1945. She was discovered by director Howard Hawks' wife, Slim, who saw her photograph in a 1943 issue of Harper's Bazaar. She was known for her sardonic wit, her deep voice, and her striking beauty. The sexual tension between her and Humphrey Bogart—first on display in her first movie, To Have and Have Not—also added to her appeal as an actress.
In addition to The Big Sleep, Bacall appeared in Dark Passage, Key Largo, How to Marry a Millionaire, Designing Woman, The Shootist, and The Mirror Has Two Faces. Later in her career, she found success with younger directors such as Robert Altman (in Health), Lars von Trier (in Dogville), and Paul Schrader (in The Walker). She appeared on Broadway several times, and won two Tony Awards for her performances in Applause and Woman of the Year.
Legend has it that Martha Vickers was giving a performance so good that it threatened to overshadow that of the Lauren Bacall—star and main squeeze of the leading man—so producers had to majorly curtail the role, contributing further to the overall incoherence of the plot. She starred in film and television alike throughout her career.
The wife of Eddie Mars was originally played by Pat Clark. When new scenes, designed to heighten the impact of Lauren Bacall, were added, Clark was completely cut from the picture and Knudsen replaced her. Knudsen was a noted character actress, who appeared in films such as A Stolen Life and Humoresque.
The elusive Eddie Mars is played character actor John Ridgely, who has over 175 credits on his resume. Choosing a character actor whose face you might know, but whose name escapes you, was far better than casting a recognizable star. Eddie Mars is a character who disappears into the background and gets others to do his dirty work, so John Ridgely was a perfect choice.
The patriarch of the Sternwood clan was played by veteran character actor Charles Waldron. Sadly, The Big Sleep would be his last film and due to the delay caused by the extensive retakes, the film was released six months after his death.
Elisha Cook Jr.
Elisha Cook, Jr.'s most memorable performance is as the “gunsel” Wilmer in the classic noir The Maltese Falcon. Cook was an actor onstage, on television, and in film, and is also best known for his work in the films The Big Sleep, The Killing, and Rosemary's Baby.
The Big Sleep (1946 Film) Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Big Sleep (1946 Film) is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.