The Big Sleep (1978)


The Big Sleep Storyline

Having long been based in London, American private detective Philip Marlowe is hired by fellow American expat, ailing, widowed General Sternwood – net worth in the range of £10 million – to handle a blackmail, minor by monetary standards, situation. The purported blackmailer, bookstore owner Arthur Geiger, has seemingly bought a promissory note signed by one of the General’s two wild and reckless daughters, younger Camilla Sternwood, it stated as being a gambling debt, the General unsure if it is legitimate or extortion. This situation may or may not be related to an earlier blackmail where the General paid a man by the name of Joe Brody to leave Camilla alone. Marlowe takes the case despite he believing it just as easily and more appropriately handled by a lawyer. As Marlowe proceeds with the investigation, he ends up being sidetracked by other issues having to do with the General’s daughters. In meeting older daughter Charlotte Regan, she seems to be preoccupied if her father hired him to locate her missing husband, Irishman Rusty Regan, who left a month ago without a word, him leaving which was mentioned in passing by the General in he considering Rusty a welcome companion. And in tracking Geiger, Marlowe discovers a deeper connection between him and Camilla. As the case wraps up in the situation having been resolved in an unexpected way, more and more people in Marlowe’s sphere associated to the case end up dead. As such, Marlowe continues to investigate to protect himself, he, in the process, musing if there was more to the blackmail than met the eye, including if the General had something else he wanted him to discover for him in the process.

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The Big Sleep Movie Reviews

Winner’s take on The Big Sleep

Most people would probably run a mile at the thought of Michael Winner getting his hands on the rights to film Raymond Chandler’s masterpiece novel ‘The Big Sleep’; but personally, I was rather excited at the prospect. Michael Winner may not be a great director; but his films generally turn out to be entertaining in spite of not being brilliant, and with a story as strong as this one; I felt confident that The Big Sleep would be a good film. However, as it turns out; this film is not as good as it could have been. The story focuses on private investigator Philip Marlowe. He is hired by an old man who goes by the name of General Sternwood to investigate a case of blackmail against one of his daughters. After meeting the daughters and some of the other main players involved, our hero soon comes to the conclusion that the blackmail doesn’t really constitute a threat and becomes suspicious; leading to him thinking that everything seems to be more connected with the disappearance of the man’s son in law, and decides to investigate that instead.

For one reason or another, Michael Winner has decided to move things over to England; although the lead man remains American. This change in location has not really had an effect on the story; but it did leave Winner free to recruit an excellent roster of British stars. Among the names in the cast list are Oliver Reed, John Mills, Joan Collins, Richard Boone and Edward Fox. The film is lead by Robert Mitchum, who while not as great as Humphrey Bogart, still makes an excellent leading man and there’s also enough room in the cast for an aging James Stewart. The film is a lot shorter than the earlier version of this story and Winner has really trimmed things down a lot, which means that the story is much more straight forward than it was in the 1946 film. This is not really a bad thing as it does mean that the film is easier to follow; although it also seems less expansive. The characters take something of a backseat too, with only the lead character getting any real development. Still, this is at least an entertaining thriller and I don’t feel like I wasted my time watching it; although Howard Hawks’ version is better.

see it or the Bogart version–but not both

Having first seen the Humphrey Bogart version first, I think I was quite spoiled. Yes, I’ve heard that this remake is closer to the book, but I can’t shake the fact that I just prefer Bogart over Mitchum. And, being made in glorious black and white (which is perfect for Film Noir), I just couldn’t get used to color for the film. Plus, at times, the two stories are nearly word-for-word identical–so watching this film became a real bore. It’s a shame but I just couldn’t accept this film because of these reasons. Instead, it’s a shame the producers didn’t just pick an entirely new Raymond Chandler story or that of some other mystery writer. Then, perhaps, I could have enjoyed it more.

Moving It To the UK

This version of The Big Sleep is the classic reason why you don’t remake a classic. Funny thing is that Robert Mitchum got deserved plaudits for what he did in remaking Farewell My Lovely a few years earlier.

As Monk would say, here’s the thing. A masterful job was done in keeping the story within it’s 1940s milieu. Except for some things that couldn’t be in the film because of the Code and the color photography, Farewell My Lovely could have been shot side by side with the Dick Powell Murder My Sweet. Raymond Chandler’s noir world of the forties was recreated brilliantly.

So who was the genius who thought to age Marlowe thirty years and bring him into the swinging seventies of London? Sherlock Holmes was brought to Washington, DC for a war time propaganda piece to the dismay of all Holmes purists. Chandler purists were similarly affronted here.

Sad because a really great cast was wasted in this. One thing I’m sure the audience must have felt is how the American expatriate general played by James Stewart could have one English accented daughter in Sarah Miles and an American accented one in Candy Clark? I’m still scratching my head over that one. English gangster/gambler Oliver Reed employs an American hit man on retainer in Richard Boone. Another puzzle.

It was nice however to see Robert Mitchum and James Stewart in the one and only film they made together. Stewart’s only scenes in the film are with Mitchum and when the two Hollywood icons died in successive days in 1997 clips from The Big Sleep were running for a week.

I don’t need to give any plot details for those who’ve seen the fabulous Humphrey Bogart-Lauren Bacall version. If you want to stargaze, watch this film, if you want to see some classic performances don’t miss the Bogart one.