On kind of a Chandler adaptation kick lately, I watched The Big Sleep last night (just a week or two ago it was The Long Goodbye – if you want a really good time, watch both of these followed by The Big Lebowski). Despite the extraordinarily convoluted plot, it’s a good time. You could tell the writers knew how hard the plot was to follow – there are several points in the film where everything just sort of stops so the characters can sum up what the hell has been going on. You almost don’t even notice the “who killed the chauffeur” plot hole. Mostly you just watch to see Bogey flirt with beautiful women.
Which is what brings me to the inspiration for this post. One of my problems (as I hinted in my last post) with Dollhouse is how the dolls are treated. They’re sex slaves, and it doesn’t seem to bother any of the employees. The show itself doesn’t seem to give the issue a second thought. There are certainly ways that it could be used to discuss a deep moral quandary, but it mostly seems like the show just uses it as an excuse to have Eliza walk around without pants.
The Big Sleep definitely features women as sex objects. Every female in the movie throws herself at Marlowe. (In fact, I thought the scene with him and the girl in the bookstore – played by stunning Dorothy Malone – was way sexier than any of the euphemism-laden flirting he engaged in with Bacall.) And Bogey has a blast with it; he’s far from being the best looking guy in Hollywood, but he plays the role with a slick flair that makes the viewer totally buy it.
So we’ve got two different scenarios here. A ’40s detective film in which the women are props designed to make the protagonist look good; and a contemporary action thriller in which women (and men, just to be fair) are programmable dream dates.
But The Big Sleep doesn’t bother me. Marlowe seems to actually respect the women. He treats them as equals even as he admires their physical traits. At a couple points in the film he relies on Vivian to help him out in physical confrontations with the bad guys. He values an intelligent woman as much as a lovely one. It’s pretty remarkable for a film of its time. They’re using sex to sell, sure, but they’re doing it in a classy way.
In Dollhouse, on the other hand, the dolls are mostly treated as pets, and there’s been little evidence that anyone in the Dollhouse ‘verse even cares. Ballard, the FBI agent trying to bust the Dollhouse, has become so obsessed that we’re not sure whether he’s doing it because of human rights issues or just to prove himself more stubborn than the next guy. And he’ll probably punch out the next guy anyway. Langton, Echo’s handler, was set up in the first episode as someone who could perhaps be the ethical voice, but he seems to have bought into the Dollhouse line pretty quickly.
I could be totally wrong. It’s a series, so the next couple of episodes may see a complete reversal of this. Someone will be revealed as the traitor and they’ll have some impassioned plea about equality and what not. But 10+ hours in is a little late for for me.
Edit: having read some of the other reactions and critiques of the show that are floating around, and the loads of discussion concerning Dollhouse, I will concede that the show is smarter than I was originally gleaning. I get it. But I’m still not entertained by it or care about anyone in the show. So it’s a wash for me.