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This review is from: The Big Sleep (Snap case) (DVD)
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
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 17, 2015 6:54:46 AM PDT
Alter Ego says:
According to Robert Osborne on TCM, screenwriter William Faulkner said that even he didn't know who was responsible for one of the murders.
In reply to an earlier post on Jul 17, 2015 8:24:47 AM PDT
Gary F. Taylor says:
You can figure out all the killers--but it's a little easier to do it from the book--although not much!
Posted on Feb 13, 2016 9:21:48 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 13, 2016 9:23:08 AM PST
"The Big Sleep" has been reissued on Blu-Ray.
There is only a minor improvement in picture quality.
The reason to buy it is that both versions of the film + the documentary are now on the same side of one Blu-Ray.
In 2000, instead of releasing a two DVD set with one version on each DVD, Warner put them on a double-sided DVD.
Those things are a horror.
They fail at an alarming rate.
Even if it played OK 15 years ago, there is a good chance that it has deteriorated.
A good enough excuse to buy a Blu-Ray player if you don't already have one.
2016 Blu-Ray: Big Sleep,The (1946) [Blu-ray]
In reply to an earlier post on Feb 13, 2016 7:44:02 PM PST
Gary F. Taylor says:
*shrug* My doublesided DVD still works!
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