Big Sleep (1944, 1946, and 1978 versions)
Of all the movies considered to be all-time classics, the Bogart version of The Big Sleep is possibly the most downright awful.
Don't get me wrong. I love the film because of its great strengths.
All of those things are delightful, and if the film made even the slightest bit of sense, I would agree with the astronomically high rating at IMDb. But it doesn't. Let's face it. They blew it. It really would be as good as people say, if only the filmmakers had simply pared the story down to some kind of comprehensible mystery. They could have had all of those plusses and a logical plot as well, but no-o-o-o-o. As it is, I have read Chandler's novel, I have seen the 1944 Bogart version once, the 1946 Bogart version many times, and the 1978 Robert Mitchum version twice, and I still have no fucking idea what is going on in this film. There are so many characters that Tolstoy couldn't keep track of them. Many of them are only discussed, never seen, which makes it even harder to remember their place in the story. You need a flow pad, like a high school debate judge, to keep track of who is who. Frankly, you won't be able to figure it out even with a flow pad. The director, Howard Hawks, was trying to puzzle out the whole thing for himself and even he could not figure out who killed the family chauffeur. He placed a telegram to Raymond Chandler, who wrote the story. Chandler could not immediately answer the question, so he went back and thought about it for a while, consulted his notes, re-read some passages, and finally admitted that he had no idea.
That should give you some idea just how incomprehensible it is. It would be impossible to follow even if the investigation turned up legitimate progress, but the fact that all the other characters (even the Bacall character) lie to Bogart during his investigation makes the plot an impenetrable labyrinth. Ol' William Faulkner was a helluva novelist, but he could be clueless as a screenwriter (as he well knew).
There is an interesting story behind the film. It was actually filmed in 1944, and was ready to go 18 months before it ever hit the theaters (Fall, 1946), but Warner had a big backlog of war-themed dramas in the pipeline, and the studio management could see at the beginning of 1945 that the war was nearly over. They calculated that The Big Sleep, which existed in a timeless world separate from the war, could sit for a while until the other products were finished, released, and marketed.
During this hiatus, there was an unexpected development. Another Lauren Bacall film, Confidential Agent, was released and bombed badly. Bacall's performance was reviewed as "immature" "shrill" "woefully miscast" and "shallow". (In modern terms, it would be similar to Julia Stiles playing the head of the CIA's Paris operation in The Bourne Identity. Bacall was barely out of her teens and was cast as a sophisticate, with laughable results.) Bacall's agent knew that her career was in trouble, and knew that some scenes in the unreleased version of The Big Sleep would heighten her problems, particularly a scene in which she wore a preposterous veil. He suggested to Warner that they refilm some scenes to take advantage of Bacall's emerging confidence, that they make Bacall more prominent in other scenes by using more close-ups of her, and that they replace the veil scene entirely. The studio agreed, and made substantial changes, including calling the actors back to film some completely new scenes a year after the original shooting.
Bacall's agent had been correct. The new scenes were far superior for his client's reputation and for the film in general. The silly veil scene was replaced by the restaurant scene which I quoted above and which is now considered a classic.
The film's strengths became even stronger.
But one of the consequences of the re-cutting was that the plot became even more incomprehensible. In the 1945 version, there was a scene about halfway through the movie in which Marlowe/Bogart gave a truthful statement to the D.A., thus explaining everything which had happened up until that point. For reasons not completely clear to me, that scene was cut, and two unfortunate actors were cut completely out of one of the most famous films in history!
And the film's weakness became even
I can't come up with any good reason why they should have re-made the classic Bogart movie, and relocated it in 1970s England. I like Bob Mitchum a lot, but he was 60-something and trying to walk in Bogie's shoes. On the other hand, to be fair, the re-make did improve upon the original in some ways:
the 1978 movie is more logical and coherent than
the Bogart original, and has more consistent and
clearly motivated behavior from the principals,
but such consistency is overrated in an
entertainment medium. The more recent version may
make more sense, and may be truer to the book, but
it is simply missing a lot of the style and all of
the sass of the 40s rendering. Sure, the
Bogart/Bacall flirting had not been true to the
original storyline, and failed to maintain the
internal integrity of the characters, but let's
face it, that's really what made the 1946 version
a classic. The remake, lacking anything to drive
it to classic status, was simply a workmanlike
The Chandler story ends with Marlowe lost in thought. The reader had been surprised earlier by Marlowe's blasé attitude toward the fact that Rusty Regan's killer had been running around free, likely to kill again. In the final monologue, the world-weary Marlowe seemed equally unmoved by the fact that Regan's body would lie forever at the bottom of the family's swamp.
The book's interior monologue is repeated verbatim as voice-over narration in the 1978 film:
1940s version: none
1970s version: Candy Clark provides the full monty.
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