Pentagonal rooms with no entrances or exits, just passways to one another—and often leading back again—are the ominous spaces through which Humphrey Bogart passes in The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, USA, 1946). Encounters nullify past knowledge, past events, and refer only and always to someone else, another name or connection, another side to the room (or another room itself). Sparse sets densely crowded further convey the sense of the metaphysical wrapping itself around the sordid, parsimonious things that make up this Warner Bros. production, like a thick, clinging fog. If Bogart meets a woman, she is gorgeous and knowing; if a man, woe be the man, for there’s a good chance he will be dead by the time the next room in the labyrinth is found. Indifference to this strange trapdoor world and the detached detective's pleasing position in it eventually, inevitably leads the unperturbed Bogart to frustration, as the bodies pile up and canny perseverance fails to force the threads to untangle. Finally, the mask falls and anger like a muzzle flash flares in the gloom of the Warner studio, our hero forcing a solution—and the merciless killing of a man—for the sake of a single breath of control, as if Bogart was finally pulling the strings, before the clouds of obfuscation close back in, the movie dissolving to black before even our hero has the chance to kiss Bacall.
Connecting the dots: