This piece continues from part 1, in a previous post.https://rjamahoney.wordpress.com/2016/10/07/the-mystery-of-7244-laverne-terrace-laurel-canyon-wild-space-trophies-and-getting-into-deep-trouble-in-the-big-sleep-1946-part-1/
Rev., September 17, 2016.
7244 Laverne Terrace, Laurel Canyon, in The Big Sleep (1946) is, to me, one of the most special places in all 1940s movies. Why? Why do I like this strange little house so much? What purpose does it serve, and why it is so central to the movie? The house is visited often in the movie, in fact, it could be said that the movie is woven in and out of the house.
In the beginning, Bogey meets up with the bad daughter there, and they have a talk
in that same scene, he meets Mars for the first time, and there is a very strange territorial nature conversation as each is wondering how and why the other is there, or how they are connected to whatever is going on
I want to point out that, just as in the city, here is yet another example in this movie of a door playing a major in-the-maze role, and someone just shows up at the door, and comes through the door
and the other people on the other side wait and wonder. Then, later, after someone shoots Brody at his own apartment door, and he runs off, Marlowe apprehends him, and then takes him out to the Laurel Canyon house, so we are there a second time
then the third time, which is really dangerous, as men with guns will be coming, they meet Mars there again for real, to settle what needs to be settled
I mean, the house plays an incredible role, so the question is why? In order to answer this its function, it its agency in the three encounters, and then its messages in terms of décor, have to be analyzed. The first thing is that he takes the bad daughter out there, she knows of it, possibly because it being a rental rented out by Mars, she stayed there once, maybe others in the crowd also stayed there, maybe it is a party house, or place of assignation. He takes her in by force, meaning that he is using it as a way station, a transitional place, where he can have some space, away from the office, to do things
Right inside the door we see that the place is only a small cottage, not meant for major show or lavish party, but private doings, assignations. It is also done up in the Chinoiserie artifact style, related ot the rococco, with a fantastical something by the door, likely prayer objects by the door, gaining entry into a sacred space of some sort
there is also a kind of bhuddha in the middle of the room
counterpointing lots of Chinoiserie vases on Chinoiserie carved high pedestal tables
and niches with other statues in them
There is another one on the opposite wall with a Chinoiserie chair in between
there is also a tableaux in the tympanum of a Chinoiserie scene, and a beaded curtain, evoking privacy in the space beyond
in his second visit, where he has knocked out the assassin, Bogey gets wind of someone being home, and steps beyond the beaded curtain, to see a man laid out on a bed, possibly dead, is this a wake of some sort? Was this this man’s home?
we see when he makes a call for the cops to come collect the assassin, that there are lamps, but not intimacy lamps, but little assistance lamps, overlooking and lighting little tasks, in this case whatever looking in address or phone books was required to make a call, not unlike the little lamps on nightclub tables
the third time, now holing up with Bacall, the lamp comes truly alive, figuratively, to speak of intimate space between them, and, in danger, adds to their abandon, and adventure pushing them together
it’s a swell little lamp, and means a cult of connectiveness has developed between them
we notice, when he pulls the gun, a fireplace, its shoulders also mounted upon by vases, the whole place
in a fight with Mars the Buddha is broken
it is left in form, as the head form survives, but the broken pieces fall straight down, as debris, meaning that it somehow keeps its form as a head, but now becomes kind of a head trophy, and there is even a hint of a piñata or something holding a secret being broken upon, but none here
Then Mars is sent out the door, and on the other side of the door, for the second time in the movie, someone is shot at a door, and then the escape is arranged, waiting that is until the police arrive, in the meantime, having got out of this danger, Bogie and Bacall decide to partner up their blazing hot chemistry throughout, so it is a love nest in the end
I think in fact this is what the house was. We are in the wild space, adjacent to town. We are not in the country of danger, but the transitional zone, where people let loose, symbolically, then sometimes get into trouble. Maybe the Chinese décor is explained by the fact that some earlier day in the growth of Mars’ criminal empire this was a little opium den, where his clients came to get high, the relationship between Chinese décor and opium was pretty hard core in the 30s. By this point, it would not be that anymore, but the décor remained in faded glory to give the place still a certain sleazy forlornness. If then it became a house of assignation for any of Mars’s clients that needed a place to get away to with a girl, then that too would be a later offspring of his empire activities, a place adjunct to his also wild space club. It is clear that the bad daughter knew the place, maybe she got into trouble there; Mars only came by with the stiff manner of a landlord, but he looked like he had been through this place and many of its problems, drunks, pass outs, bodies, etc., many times; it was new to Bogey, but, not, I think, to Bacall, therefore on that regard as Chinoiserie statues were also then whispering statues representing secrets and intrigue (this was a stereotype at the time) it bespeaks that. The fact that a Chinese man was found in wake also suggests that Mars’ maybe at one point bought it from a former Chinese owner, and made an arrangement with him, for him to be waked there. In any case, for me this is the most classic case in movies of an entry point structure at the launching point into the wild space, where the monsters are, and where what is mere wildness of civilized indulgence can indeed get one into deeper and deeper trouble. It is a terrific place.
And, to focus in even further, it is symbolized in its transitory nature and its danger, by that very strange object by the door, one of the strangest objects of 1940s film noir.
what is it? it appears to have a dragon stand, a dragon rearing up or moving about as if to get ready for an attack
or there appear to be a coil of twin serpents, and one now rears up, and flares out a fire, on top of which is mounted this thing
on top of that, as if floating on the fire, is another vase, but with a flatness and stateliness that suggests an urn, possibly even a funerary urn, and then that is flanked by two other serpents, and on top of that is what appears to be a military helmet.
the animals on the side are not quite makeoutable, which adds to their mystique
what this means to me, especially with the helmet, at the very top
is that this is a trophy, a Roman idea, but here, Chinoiserie style, and then too done up in a flamboyant as if lifted from a print book style, closely related to a sense of the decadent as pervades the rococo aesthetic, so popular at the time, ceremonial. The placement of a helmet on top of an urn as a device to render a suggestion of a fallen soldier in a funerary effigy form is quite old. Elements like it exist in ancient Etruscan art, and likely Greek and Roman trophy art too (and in modern Army tribute, the empty boots display). (Two other aspects of this object, situated in this place, in the movie, reverberate: the oddest thing about the movie is the somewhat exotic appearance of Mars’ worst hitman, he remains to me an enigma, but possibly suggestion here that he is this thing come alive as a killer; then, too, remember that Mars is killed by a feint, that is, his trigger happy hitman are waiting outside to shoot whoever comes out the door, so Bogey sends Mars out first, they shoot, accidentally killing their boss, this sort of feint is traditionally in movies enacted by a waving of the hat, to see if anyone shoots, so the helmet plays that role, in terms of foreshadowing the ending). This would appear to be a Chinese version, bespeaking death, and that someone has or will be dying there. Since the Buddha head later is broken, and that happens during the fight with Mars, I suppose the inference is Mars in the end, not far from that protective shield, which will now recoil its protection, is to be killed
as a trophy, it also represents deep down, in its essence, a turning point in a battle, and the turning point in the broader psychogeography of the movie. Situated by the door, it acts as a scarecrow coming in, warning of trouble, to keep trouble out, but going out, suggests trouble too. The trouble that results here is that trouble is coming both ways, and all sorts of people are transitioning from evil wild habits inside civilization into straight up criminality outside of town. As a trophy, this links to the strange many footed stole that Bacall brings into her set up fake meeting with Marlowe at the sports bar, where they banter in double entendre horse race talk
It’s a beaut, I count seven tails, I don’t see any heads, but there is a fern menacing nearby, to indicate trouble, of an animals in jungle sort
women wore those big furs, symbols of their status as hunted animals, requiring protection, armor
the mobsters gal, beautifully played by Sonia Darrin, has a smashing one too, symbol of something bought her by a mobster, bad girl stuff
then the bad daughter, whom all of this is deep down basically about, getting her out of trouble, real trouble, but what that is we are never quite told, she wears veils, indicating mendicant state, a vestal goddess of the cult, and this funny, gnawing thing she does with her mouth in this scene, the way she is so loopy in that scene, it strongly infers that she is under the influence
the picture behind her seems to be a landscape of a more scenic, figurative, Mexican sort too, evoking exoticism
and the fact that in the first visit to the house she stands with another veil right in view of, profiled by that scarecrow trophy, that in this scene she fears who or what is coming through that door
and seemed also to fear entering into that place, with that trophy there, earlier
strongly suggests to me, in the silent codes that had to be made use of in movies of the time, under the code not to be too explicit in low class things, that she was a junkie, an opium addict and that is why she needed to go away for a while, if, Bogey says, that sort of thing works (or I think he said sometimes they actually cure her), and as a result this object is not only the trophy evoking the core battle of the movie, and the herm boundary marker transitioning from harmless casino fun to serious trouble fun in the wild space, and the turning points in the lives of the bad daughter, and, then, too, at the end, because they fall in love, Bogey and Bacall, but it also represents the secret menace that is afflicting the whole demimonde in which the movie takes place, so, it is, indeed, rather like a Roman trophy at the center of the movie, the core lattice formula property that symbolizes the twisting and turning of the amazing maze space of feints and false leads and misdirection and not knowing where one is all through this incredible movie. For housing the trophy, then, too, this house is revealed to be the temple to opium, a place of ill repute, up in Laurel Canyon, a part of LA that was growing then, and would grow in the 60s into one of the centers of horror and terror in the LA landscape. For all of these reasons, Geiger’s house, as it is called, the house at 7244 Laverne Terrace, Laurel Canyon, remains to me one of the richest, most evocatively mysterious, wonderful places in all of the film noir movies.