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The Big Sleep

I’ve been watching a lot of Humphrey Bogart movies lately, a mini-kick if you will. Bogart was sort of the earliest idea of a classic Hollywood star I ever had. Everyone, to a certain degree, has an awareness of “Casablanca” (and if you don’t, go watch it now), so he’s always been floating around in the national conciseness. I think part of the reason too was the numerous times Bogart was characterized in Looney Tunes cartoons that were a huge part of my childhood. My love for movies goes way back, and one of the first classics—after having watching as many Marx Brothers movies as I could get my hands on—I ever saw was 1946’s “The Big Sleep,” based the book of the same name by Raymond Chandler. 

“The Big Sleep” is a quintessential Film Noir, by one of the great American directors, Howard Hawks. Bogart plays Phillip Marlowe in the movie, a private eye hired by an aging general to look after some gambling debts one of his daughters has raked up. Now that’s all I will share, if you want to know what happens, watch the film. However, one of the universal truths about “The Big Sleep” is the plot is a bit muddled and not quite as clear in its resolution. But hey, you don’t watch “Bullitt” for the plot, and neither do you “The Big Sleep.” 

“The Big Sleep” is a great film because of how well crafted and acted it is. It was the second film to pair Bogart with Lauren Bacall. The scenes between the two of them are simply electric, thanks to their chemistry together, a witty script, and style for days coating every aspect of the production. The film is a great argument for why black and white cinematography is a lost art. The film is also an interesting look at how—on rare occasions—studio interference can help. 

In the late ‘90s a 1945 “pre-release” cut of the film was discoverer in the UCLA film and television archive. The 1945 version of the film is Howard Hawks’ original cut, and was released overseas to play to military troops in the South Pacific. As World War Two was winding down, WB held back release of “The Big Sleep” to rush out their remaining wartime pictures, for fear they’d do poorly at the box office in the post-war days. 

One of those films was a movie with Lauren Bacall, where critics savaged her performance. Her agent advised studio boss Jack Warner that maybe they should try to beef her scenes up in the “The Big Sleep,” adding more sequences like her and Bogart had shared in “To Have and Have Not.” A year after principal photography on the film was warped, retakes were shot for “The Big Sleep.” Though the 1945 version does give a more linear plot line, it also isn’t quite as good as the 1946 version.

After this pre-release version of the film was restored, it was released to art house theaters along with a comparison sequence of the differences between the two versions. This 1945 version of the film, along with the comparison reel, and an introduction, is included as an extra on Warner Archive’s new Blu-Ray of “The Big Sleep.”

I’ve seen “The Big Sleep” numerous times over the years and in numerous formats. This new Blu-Ray is the finest home video presentation the film has had to date. The movie looks sharp, rich, and stunning. Little detail such as white pinstripes in Bogart’s suit in dark scenes come out—I’ve never noticed them before. “The Big Sleep” is a film that anyone who is even a little serious about movies should see.. For someone whose love for this film goes way back, it’s been the most wonderful gift of all to see this classic come to the world in sparking HD for the first time ever.


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