THE BIG SLEEP has a reputation for being a film that gets lost in its own complexity and which fails to clearly identify all the perpetrators of all the murders that litter its scenes. There is a certain truth to this: like the Raymond Chandler novel on which it is based, the plot is extremely complicated, and it requires the viewer to mentally track an unexpected number of characters--including two characters that never appear on screen, a pivotal character who doesn't actually have any lines, and a character who is frequently mentioned but doesn't appear until near the film's conclusion. There is not, however, as much truth to the accusation that the film never exposes all the killers: only one killer is not specifically identified, but even so his identity is very clearly implied.
All this having been said, THE BIG SLEEP is one helluva movie. In general, the story concerns the wealthy Sternwood family, which consists of an aging father and two "pretty and pretty wild" daughters--one of whom, Carmen, is being victimized by a blackmailer. P.I. Philip Marlowe is hired to get rid of the blackmailer, but an unexpected murder complicates matters... and touches off a series of killings by a number of parties who have covert interests in the Sternwood family. Perhaps the most amazing thing about the film is that you don't actually have to pick apart the complicated story in order to enjoy it. The script is famous for its witty lines and sleek sexual innuendo--much of it lifted directly from Chandler's novel--and the cast is a dream come true. Philip Marlowe would be played by a great many actors, but none of them ever bested Humphrey Bogart, who splendidly captures the feel of Chandler's original creation; with the role of Vivien Sternwood Lauren Bacall gives what might be the finest performance of her screen career; and the chemistry between the two is everything you've ever heard. The supporting cast is superlative, all the way from Martha Vickers' neurotic turn as Carmen Sternwood to Bob Steele's purring hitman Canino. There's simply not a false note to be found anywhere. Although the film really pre-dates the film noir movement the entire look of THE BIG SLEEP anticipates noir to a remarkable degree--it would be tremendously influential--and director Hawks gives everything a sharp edge from start to finish.
Two versions of THE BIG SLEEP are included on the DVD: the film as it was originally shot and the film as it was released to theatres in 1946. The actual differences between the two are fairly slight, but they prove significant. Although the original version is somewhat easier to follow in terms of story, it lacks the flash that makes the theatrical version such a memorable experience; it is easy to see why Hawks elected to rescript and reshoot several key scenes as well as add new ones, and both newcomers and old fans will have fun comparing the two. The DVD also includes an enjoyable documentary on the differences between the films and the motivations behind them. I don't usually comment on picture quality unless there is a glaring issue, but several reviewers have noted portions of this print have a flicker or seem a bit washed out. I noticed these problems, but I can't say that they in any way distracted from my enjoyment of the film, and they certainly don't prevent me from recommending it--be it on video or this DVD. And I recommend it very, very strongly indeed.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
on February 25, 2000
"Two...Two... Two Movies in One," could be the ad line for this wonderful DVD. Warner clearly understands that DVDs should offer the customer something new other than just a new play format. Here we get a two-sided disc containing both versions of this movie: a pre-release cut from 1944, seen mostly by servicemen oversees; and, the 1946 release, recut with reshot scenes to promote the chemistry between Bogart and Bacall (she had become a star between '44 and '46). This would be enough to justify buying this DVD, but Warner goes even further, providing an insightful documentary explaining the cuts and changes between the two movie versions--it's like being in a very good film appreciation class. While most DVDs seem overpriced to me, this one may be underpriced--especially considering it's one of the most intriging movies ever made. After watching both versions of the film, and also the documentary, I still don't fully understand the plot, but this movie really is all about atmosphere, dialogue and great acting. A wonderful addition to any movie collection.
If you haven't already seen THE BIG SLEEP, buy this DVD now! If you have, but don't own this DVD release, buy it now! Why? Both the 1946 classic and the pre-release 1945 edit are on this disc. The differences are quite interesting. The 1946 version shows Bogart (as Philip Marlowe) as the epitome of "Cool" in every situation, even when he has a gun pulled on him or is getting beaten up. Lauren Bacall comes off much better in the 1946 version as well, as she shows the spark that was seen in TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT. The 1945 version has a few scenes cut from the 1946 version which are quite good, and is actually a little easier to follow. Whichever version you watch, THE BIG SLEEP is one of the greatest movies ever in the "Film Noir" or detective "Murder Mystery" genres. The disc also includes a documentary on the making of the film, and the differences between the two versions, which is very interesting. The picture and sound quality are actually quite good, as any flaws in the picture are so minor that they would not be noticed unless you're watching for them, and not watching the movie itself. As stated before, if you don't already own this DVD, BUY IT NOW! It's a classic movie and an outstanding package!
"The Big Sleep" is one of the most unique adaptations of a detective novel ever brought to the screen. Watching this film is one of the true joys of being a film buff. This is extraordinary entertainment that grabs your attention quickly and holds it until the final shot. It is exciting and engaging, and a favorite of all detective film fans.
Director Howard Hawks turned Raymond Chandler's most popular story into an absolutely mesmerizing celluloid masterpiece. Chandler's complex novel was adapted for the screen by William Faulkner, and while we may never know for sure who committed one of the murders in this blurry crime noir, like all Hawks' films, it is so incredibly entertaining we really don't care. It is full of sharp dialog and dreamy images comparable to being slipped a "mickey." One critic actually compared it to a hangover.
The story itself moves at a terrific clip, and there is so much going on you might get lost if you blink. Humphry Bogart is Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, and from the moment he arrives to talk to General Sternwood and gets mixed up with his daughters this is a film classic.
One would think with a young and sultry Bacall getting tangled up with Bogart for the first time, they would be everything in this film; they are not, however. Bacall portrays the General's sultry older daughter, Vivian, but it is the sexy and thumb-sucking Carmen whom Marlowe meets first.
Martha Vickers gives a performance that has you thinking about her throughout, even when she isn't present. She steals every scene she is in and is one of the most memorable dolls in noir history. This was Vickers' finest moment on film and forever earned her a place in movie history.
The story takes off quickly as the very sick Sternwood wants Marlowe to look into a little matter involving blackmail and his daughters. But as Marlowe follows the trail of gambling debts, he finds one body after another and spends all his energy trying to extricate Carmen and Vivian from the mess.
Marlowe and Vivian have a spark that gives him incentive to get the job done, but he may not be able to head off the rollercoaster headed for the little kitten, Carmen, who may turn out to have some very large claws. Dorothy Malone has a brief but sexy role as a clerk who shares more than a drink with Marlowe.
Hawks filmed this as a moody dream of dialog and images hard to forget. Bogart's Marlowe has his hands full trying to keep Carmen out of trouble. And the sparks that begin to fly between he and Carmen's big sister, Vivian, may not be enough to overcome her involvement with some of the players for the other team.
Trying to find a way to keep the fast-rising body count from getting any higher, while at the same time keeping Vivian and her little sister Carmen in the clear, will take some dangerous turns for Marlowe.
Bacall has never been more beautiful or inviting than when she is slumped down in the seat of Bogart's car, just waiting for him to kiss her. You have to see this film to really appreciate it. No description could ever do it justice. You'll never see anything else like it in American cinema. A true noir classic, and one of Howard Hawks' many masterpieces.
on April 8, 2000
The re-mastering of this great 1945-46 film to DVD is flawed by frequent flickering on the right side of the screen, causing a loss of contrast so that a portion of the picture looks slightly greyish and washed-out. You can already spot this going on during the opening credits of the film, both in the 1946 version on Side A and in the 1945 "pre-release" version on Side B. Although this flaw comes and goes in both versions -- now you see it, now you don't -- it might prove particularly annoying to Bogart fans who've been waiting for this classic to finally be presented in as perfect a way as possible, which was certainly the intention, I'm sure, of the Warner Bros. arm of Turner Entertainment in packaging the two versions together with a little documentary that outlines the differences between them. So, we've all been let down a bit here by some technical carelessness which, nevertheless, could have been corrected if someone in Turner's quality control dept. had taken the trouble to look at the final product before giving it to the public! [Note: For definite places to spot the washed-out flicker problem, check the DVD by going to Chapter 7, 23:20 or so, Bogart's first visit to Geiger's house; chapter 13, at Geiger's house again in wonderful scene between Bogart and head-draped Martha Vickers; chapters 23 through 25, the stuff with Harry Jones and Canino, and chap. 31, the final showdown at Geiger's house.]
on March 8, 2004
They were one of Hollywood's all-time legendary couples, both on screen and off; producing celluloid magic in the four films they made together between 1943 and 1948 as much as by their off-screen romance, which in itself was the stuff that dreams are made of. He was the American Film Insititute's No. 1 star of the 20th century, Hollywood's original noir anti-hero, who in addition to the AFI honors bestowed on his real-life persona also played two of the 20th century's Top 50 film heroes ("Casablanca"'Rick Blaine and this movie's Philip Marlow); epitome of the handsome, cynical and oh-so lonesome wolf, looking unbeatably cool in dinner jacket, trenchcoat and fedora alike, a glass of whiskey in his hand and cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth; and endowed with a legendary aura several times larger than his physical stature. She, despite a 25-year age difference his equal in everything from grit and toughness to mysterious appeal; chillier than bourbon on the rocks, possessing more than just a touch of class whatever her role; and long since a bona fide AFI movie legend in her own right.
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall met on the set of Howard Hawks's 1944 realization of Ernest Hemingway's "To Have and Have Not," where an obvious chemistry quickly developed between 45-year-old veteran Bogart, who had just scored two of film history's greatest-ever hits with "The Maltese Falcon" and "Casablanca" in the two preceding years, and the sassy, exciting 20-year-old newcomer who possessed the maturity and sex-appeal of a woman good and well 10 years her senior. They were reunited two years later for this adaptation of Raymond Chandler's first Philip Marlowe novel "The Big Sleep" (1939), based on a screenplay written, like that of "To Have and Have Not," by William Faulkner and Jules Furthman, together with Leigh Brackett (who had not participated in scripting the Hemingway adaptation). By the time the movie was released in 1946, Bogart and Bacall were married.
Reprising Bogart's noir gumshoe role with a character not unlike Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade in "The Maltese Falcon," the movie "The Big Sleep" is as infamous as Chandler's literary original for its labyrinthine plot, which reportedly even the author himself couldn't completely untangle (nor did he care to). The plot is essentially faithful to Chandler's novel, from which it takes much of its dialogue; albeit streamlined and with some changes made to fit Bogart's physical characteristics, and eliminating or softening a few scenes considered unfit for display to a moviegoing audience in the 1940s. The story begins when Marlowe is hired by wealthy old General Sternwood to handle a blackmailing attempt involving gambling debts incurred by Sternwood's younger daughter Carmen (Martha Vickers) (whom the detective has already met when she literally threw herself into his arms upon his entry into the house, sucking her thumb and coyly telling him "you're cute"). After his interview with the dying general in the latter's hot and humid orchid house, a disheveled Marlowe is summoned to the rooms of the general's older daughter Vivian (Lauren Bacall), who tries to worm out of him the purpose of his engagement and who, as Marlowe quickly concludes, has more than a minor hidden agenda of her own. Soon the detective is up to his ears in the classical film noir brew of murder, damsels in distress, shady characters and a world where nothing is what it appears to be, and where he'll be able to consider himself lucky if he gets out alive - yet, he is determined to see the case through and will neither be bought off by money nor by sweetness and seduction.
Looking back at the movie and its stars' almost mythical fame, it is difficult to imagine that, produced at the height of the studio system era, it was originally just one of the roughly 50 movies released by Warner Brothers over the course of one year. But mass production didn't equal low quality; on the contrary, the great care given to all production values, from script-writing to camera work, editing, score (Max Steiner) and the stars' presentation in the movie itself and in its trailer was at least partly responsible for its lasting success. Indeed, the release of "The Big Sleep" was delayed for an entire year - and not only because its first version was completed around the end of WWII and Warner Brothers wanted to get their still-unreleased war movies into theaters first, but also, and significantly, because Lauren Bacall's agent convinced studio boss Jack Warner and director Howard Hawks to reshoot several scenes to better highlight the sassy, mysterious new star Bacall had become after "To Have and Have Not." And it certainly paid off: "The Big Sleep" firmly established then-22-year-old Lauren Bacall as one of Hollywood's new leading ladies, and even more than her first film with Humphrey Bogart laid the foundation for the couple's mythical relationship.
Bogart and Bacall would star together two more times after "The Big Sleep": In "Dark Passage" (1947) and "Key Largo" (1948). But of their four collaborations, the first two - and in particular, "The Big Sleep" - remain unparalleled for their secretive, shadowy aura, tight scripting, snappy dialogue, cynicism and underlying seductiveness; due in equal parts to the story crafted by Raymond Chandler, its adaptation by Faulkner, Furthman and Brackett, Howard Hawks's masterful direction and its starring couple's irresistible chemistry. After three failed marriages, after having produced on-screen magic with Mary Astor in "The Maltese Falcon" and, even more so, with Ingrid Bergman in "Casablanca" (and although he would go on to star in such memorable pairings as next to Katherine Hepburn in "The African Queen" and Audrey Hepburn in "Sabrina"), Humphrey Bogart had finally met his match - and while his and Bacall's marriage was painfully cut short by the cancer to which he succumbed in 1957, the magnetism they created on screen will live on, and nowhere more brilliantly than in "The Big Sleep."
Humphrey Bogart - The Signature Collection, Vol. 1 (Casablanca Two-Disc Special Edition / The Treasure of the Sierra Madre Two-Disc Special Edition / They Drive by Night / High Sierra)
Humphrey Bogart - The Signature Collection, Vol. 2 (The Maltese Falcon Three-Disc Special Edition / Across the Pacific / Action in the North Atlantic / All Through the Night / Passage to Marseille)
Bogie and Bacall - The Signature Collection (The Big Sleep / Dark Passage / Key Largo / To Have and Have Not)
Complete Novels: Red Harvest, The Dain Curse, The Maltese Falcon, The Glass Key, and The Thin Man (Library of America #110)
Raymond Chandler: Stories and Early Novels: Pulp Stories / The Big Sleep / Farewell, My Lovely / The High Window (Library of America)
Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930s and 40s: The Postman Always Rings Twice / They Shoot Horses, Don't They? / Thieves Like Us / The Big Clock / Nightmare ... / I Married a Dead Man (Library of America)
The Postman Always Rings Twice
Double Indemnity (Universal Legacy Series)
Chinatown (Special Collector's Edition)
on April 30, 1999
Following the success of To Have and Have Not(1944), director Howard Hawks again teamed Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. This time the film was The Big Sleep. Bogart was cast as private eye Philip Marlowe; Bacall as wealthy, spoiled Vivian Sternwood. Marlowe is hired by wealthy, ailing General Sternwood to investigate the General's wild daughter, Carmen, and her involvement with a blackmailing pornographer named Arthur Gwynne Geiger. Before long, Marlowe learns that Cramen is involved in numerous sordid indiscretions. Martha Vickers' performance as Carmen, to quote Raymond Chandler, who wrote the novel from which the movie was adapted, "shattered Miss Bacall completely." When we first meet Carmen in the opening sequence, she makes an indelible impression on Marlowe and the viewer. Carmen is just one of several interesting women characters who make a pass at Marlowe: there are the Acme Bookstore proprietress, played by 20-year-old Dorothy Malone; the brash, quick talking cab driver, played by Joy Barlowe; the hostesses who work for gangster Eddie Mars; and, of course, Vivian, Carmen's sister, played by Bacall, whose attraction to Marlowe evolves during the course of the film. But it's Martha Vickers' Carmen who's the most strking and intiguing of them all. Sadly, Warner Bros. didn't capitalize of this gifted actress's potential: her career never went anywhere, and she died in 197l, at age 46.
on March 6, 2000
A classic film, done remarkable justice in this DVD release where we get both of the known versions, and supporting material.
There is one major problem with the DVD transfer, in that the lower right of the screen is washed out in many scenes. For example, outside Eddie's place, on side A (the 1946 version) the blacks in the lower right are gray, while they are black on the left of the screen.
Other than that re-curring glitch, this is the sort of release that we rabid fans have been waiting for.
on September 25, 2004
The movie itself is perhaps the most chaotic plot in the history of mystery yarns, which is why it helps a lot that there are two versions of the movie on the disc. It's a very well scripted moody noir that should be on your watch list, if only for Bacall's steamy scenes (and this was 1946!)
My quibbles arise with the quality of the print. It is tragic, at times the B&W picture totally fades out, especially on the right-hand side of the screen, turning several lighter shades of gray or brown. The 1945 version of the movie seems slightly less afflicted than the 1946 one. This has to be one of the best detective thrillers of all time and certainly deserved a lot better digital transfer than the blurry dated print it has been left as.
on July 22, 2002
This is one of the all-time classics featuring Bogie & Bacall. Technically not film noir, rather a witty, stylized and romanticized treatment of a rather hard-boiled detective story from Raymond Chandler. It's everything others here have so eloquently stated: the plot is a bit convoluted (but it's not the point), Bogie was never cooler, the dialog is simply a joy and just about every scene is a gem unto itself. And there is a beautiful dame lurking around every corner!
I got this DVD as part of the Humphrey Bogart collection (which also included Casablanca, Key Largo, The Maltese Falcon). Imagine my surprise to find this DVD contained BOTH the pre-release and post-WWII versions on one disc! Also a good documentary comparing the two. I would highly recommend purchasing this movie on DVD if you appreciate great classic movies--or just great movies period. If like me you are a Bogart fan, get the collection. I'm hoping if more people buy these DVDs the studios will start to release some of the other great Bogart classics on DVD, like To Have And Have Not (Bogie/Bacall debut), Treasure of the Sierra Madre ("Badges?"), High Sierra, etc.