The Big Sleep
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Robert Mitchum (The Night of the Hunter, Cape Fear) stars as Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep, a 1978 reimagining of the Raymond Chandler classic. When London-based Marlowe takes on what appears to be a routine case of blackmail, the world-weary private eye soon uncovers a more sinister plot, one that spirals into murder and madness!
Sarah Miles (Blowup), Candy Clark (American Grafitti)/, Joan Collins (television's Dynasty), and James Stewart (Vertigo) also star in this bold take on the noir classic. Directed by Michael Winner (Death Wish). Widescreen, color, includes subtitles
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The plot of Mitchum’s version of “The Big Sleep” is far more faithful to the original Chandler novel than Bogart’s somewhat confusing story was (despite a screenplay by William Faulkner, of all people). In the Mitchum film, Marlowe is hired by aging tycoon General Sternwood (James Stewart), who is being blackmailed by a pornographer posing as a rare book dealer. Marlowe soon learns, that the blackmailer has some nude photos of the general’s younger daughter Camilla (Candy Clark), but, before he can question the blackmailer, the man is murdered. Eventually, several other dead bodies turn up before Marlowe gets to the bottom of the case.
As in “Farewell, My Lovely,” Mitchum’s portrayal of Marlowe is clearly the best thing about “The Big Sleep.” He has the right world-weary air to his performance and the ability to crack deadpan one-liners. Also, Mitchum’s smooth, powerful voice makes him an excellent narrator in the movie’s frequent voiceovers as he recites some of Raymond Chandler’s classic dialogue. Mitchum is also backed up by a terrific supporting cast, including Oliver Reed, John Mills, Edward Fox, and Richard Boone, along with the aforementioned James Stewart.
Unfortunately, while Mitchum, is excellent in the part of Marlowe, despite being too old for the role, “The Big Sleep” is a bad fit for its London setting. The movie was financed by Lew Grade, and his influence resulted in the film being set in modern-day (1978) England instead of period Los Angeles, and that was a major mistake. The story doesn’t work nearly as well in England, in large part because the authentic Los Angeles street feel of Chandler’s novel is completely missing here. In addition, the plot doesn’t update well to the 1970s. People just didn’t frequent high-end bookdealers to buy porn that was by then readily available at any newsstand, nor would nude photos of a single woman be the sort of sleaze that would trigger the movie’s wave of violence.
“The Big Sleep” has other problems as well. Candy Clark is a talented actress, but she’s badly mishandled by director Michael Winner, who turns her into a nymphomaniacal ninny who loves to prance around naked. Clark’s sister in the movie is played by Sarah Miles, who substitutes some eccentric daffiness for the sex appeal Lauren Bacall exuded in the role 30 years earlier. Robert Mitchum manages to camouflage his age well in most scenes, but, when he rejects the advances of both Sternwood sisters at different times in the movie, the scenes have a creepy, dirty-old-man vibe absent in both the source material and the Bogart version of the film. Richard Boone, although delightfully hammy as usual, is also way too old for his role as a hired enforcer who tangles with Marlowe. Boone had a broken foot at the time of the filming, which is clearly evident in his scenes, and his attempts to play his character as a physically menacing thug just aren’t convincing.
“The Big Sleep” is still decent entertainment, especially for fans of the genre. I’m giving it a mild recommendation, primarily for the performances from the excellent cast and for Raymond Chandler’s marvelous dialogue, delivered courtesy of Robert Mitchum. However, those who want to see Mitchum at his best in the role in a far better film should seek out his “Farewell, My Lovely” instead.
Top international reviews
But the original isn't mainly about the story. It's about atmosphere and some stellar performances, mainly from the two leads. This remake just doesn't have the magic. Worth getting for the very modest price I paid and it passes the time well enough.