While many film enthusiasts might (and rightly so) point out the sensual chemistry shared between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep (1946) is incredible, there is an argument that it only comes in second best next to the Acme bookshop scene shared between Bogart as private eye Phillip Marlowe and the unnamed bookshop clerk played by Dorothy Malone.
This incredible scene comes straight after Bogie’s Marlowe finishes quizzing a bogus bookshop clerk at Geiger’s Rare Books, which is directly across the street opposite the Acme Bookshop. Anyway as Marlowe enters the Acme bookshop he asks the unsuspecting beautiful clerk with glasses for a favour, more specifically where he can get his hands on a “Ben-Hur 1863, third edition with a duplicate line on page 116″. It is the same question he just asked the phoney clerk at Geiger’s. This time around though he is stopped in his tracks, as the unnamed clerk points out to him that there is no such book. Funny enough, it is here that the conversation takes on a new direction when Marlowe finally gets to the point and proceeds to ask the clerk for her assistance in his investigation against Arthur Geiger. It goes something like this:
Marlowe: “I’m a… private dick on a case. Perhaps I’m asking too much, although it doesn’t seem too much to me, somehow.”
The clerk who by now is extremely intrigued by Marlowe happily describes Geiger in detail, to which Marlow replies, “You’d make a good cop.”
The clerk replies, “Thanks. You gonna wait for him to come out?”
“Yeah,” replies Marlowe.
The clerk instinctively points out and says, “ Well, they don’t close for another hour or so. It’s raining pretty hard.
With the rain pouring down outside the shop Marlowe undeterred states, “I got my car.” He then almost instantly realises by the look on the clerks face that he would be better off indoors.
“That’s right, it is isn’t it? You know it just happens I got a bottle of pretty good rye in my pocket. I’d a lot rather get wet in here,” he says.
Somewhat elated the clerk proceeds to lock up the book shop and even pulls down the blind. “Looks like we’re closed for the rest of the afternoon.”
As this scene moves on, it becomes even more clearer that Marlowe and the bookshop clerk are about to get to know each other a whole lot more, especially once the clerk removes her glasses and adjusts her hair. It is here that our imagination is left to run wild when the scene cuts briefly to the heavy rain outside in the street before returning to our two flirting protagonists.
The Acme bookshop scene feels like a wonderful detour created by director Howard Hawks. It is without a doubt one of the best, if not sexiest scenes of The Big Sleep and for good reason. By the end it seems both Marlowe and the bookshop clerk have got what they wanted. Even when the beautiful clerk who is left to wonder if she will ever see Marlowe again as he walks out her bookshop door is quite satisfying. In short the whole scene is memorable on so many levels. But by far its witty seductive interchange between Bogart and Malone stands out the most. Interestingly, despite actress Dorothy Malone fleeting three and a half minutes appearance in the film, she proves she is no slouch simply letting her highlights reel speak for itself. She even make us forget all about Lauren Bacall for a short while.
Very nice analysis. Really perceptive – and you managed to avoid saying they slept together, certainly a little afternoon delight. There is a much longer analysis by David Thomson in a cinema magazine, not sure which but could be Sight & Sound (U.K.) called At the Acme Book Shop. Also extremely interesting.