A private eye escapes his past to run a gas station in a small town, but his past catches up with him. Now he must return to the big city world of danger, corruption, double crosses and duplicitous dames.
The Big Sleep is the story of a private investigator, named Philip Marlowe, hired by a wealthy general to find out and stop his youngest daughter, Carmen, from being blackmailed about her gambling debts; things almost immediately unravel and blow up from here, as Marlowe finds himself deep within a web of love triangles, blackmail, murder, gambling, and organized crime. Marlowe, with the help of the General's eldest daughter, Vivian, skillfully plot to free the family from this web and trap the main main behind much of this mischief, Eddie, to meet his end at the hands of his own henchmen. Written by
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 hit-man Canino. There's simply not a false note to be found any where. 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 the big screen, television, video or this DVD. And I recommend it very, very strongly indeed.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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