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The Big Sleep



The Big Sleep is a classic story by Raymond Chandler which became an even more classic movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. While not exactly true to the book, moviegoers didn't care much, given the sizzle that Bogie & Bacall generated. This movie in fact had two versions - the tamer version that was released during the war, and the more racey version put out when the troops had come home.

It's very interesting to see how this movie differs from Casablanca in its use of wine. Casablanca was dripping with Champagne, with it being featured in just about every scene. In comparison, the drink of The Big Sleep is Brandy. Just what is brandy?

In the 17th Century, the wine trade was very important to many shippers. Some shippers began to bring cheap Portuguese wine to Britain, to sell it for a profit. They did not want to 'waste' valuable cargo space with it, though, so they boiled out all of the water before loading it, and on the other end simply added water back in. At some point, someone tasted the distilled liquid, and decided it tasted even better than the end result wine!

Back to The Big Sleep. When the General and Marlowe first meet in the General's home, the General offers the PI some brandy, and even gets his servant to pour extra. He relishes being able to watch Marlowe enjoy the drink, since he no longer can. The poor PI is barely out of the General's orchid room when Mrs. Rutledge grabs him and tries to foist brandy on him as well. She pours some for herself when he refuses.

On to the bookstore, where he conveniently has a bottle of rye in his pocket to share with the pretty bookstore owner. Then over at Geiger's, he finds an elegant decanter with a spherical base and a tall, thin neck. It seems to hold white wine. He sniffs it before bringing it to the sink.

Soon he runs into Mrs. Rutledge again, who tries to pay him off. She offers him a brandy date. What a thought!

Even her song in the gambling house involves wine. She sings an ... interesting ... song about a woman whose husband hits her. The song says 'her tears flowed like wine' after this. A pretty strange song to sing about so cheerfully!

The last mention of wine in the movie is in Eddie's office, when Eddie offers his guest a drink. He has an interestingly ribbed bottle, and he pours the drink (brandy? whiskey?) into two extremely narrow shot glasses.

So The Big Sleep definitely isn't for light wine drinkers. It's for people who handle the heavy stuff, and who love their fortified drinks. Pour a bottle of brandy, and toast to this classic!

Wine in Movies and Books


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