In recent years we have seen a number of Hollywood remakes of classic British crime films, such as 'Get Carter', 'The Italian Job' and, most recently, 'The Ladykillers', a phenomenon that has aroused some critical comment, especially in Britain. This film shows that, nearly thirty years ago, this same phenomenon was happening in reverse, and the British were remaking classic American crime movies.
The plot broadly follows that of the 1946 film, with the striking exception that the action takes place in London rather than Los Angeles. This does not, however, mean that the original has been completely anglicised. Both Philip Marlowe and General Sternwood are American expatriates living in London rather than Englishmen, and they are played by two of Hollywood's biggest stars, Robert Mitchum and James Stewart. With the exception of Richard Boone as Canino and Candy Clark as Sternwood's younger daughter, the other main parts are all played by British actors.
The film was clearly made as homage to the famous Humphrey Bogart classic, and it is inevitable that comparisons will be made between the two. In some respects, in fact, the later film is superior to, or at least as good as, the earlier one. (I have not read Raymond Chandler's novel, so I cannot say which film is closer to the original source material). The 1946 film is a fine one, but it is not perfect and has a number of weaknesses, not least its insanely complicated plot containing threads that are never developed and events that are never explained. The plot of the 1978 film, while complex enough, is somewhat easier to follow than that of its predecessor. To the purist Bogart fan there can be no substitute for the original, but to anyone else Robert Mitchum, himself a fine exponent of the film noir style during the early part of his career in the forties and fifties, seems like the best possible replacement. He is, of course, older than Bogart was when he played the role, and his portrayal of the character is perhaps less cynical and more thoughtful, but it is a perfectly acceptable interpretation. There are also good performances from Stewart in the cameo role of Sternwood, from Oliver Reed and from Joan Collins.
As a whole, however, the film does not live up to the standard of the original. Certainly, not all the actors are as good as their 1946 counterparts (Sarah Miles, for example, is no Lauren Bacall), but the main reason for its comparative failure goes deeper. The Bogart movie is perhaps the quintessential film noir, a film that one watches less for its plot, or even for its acting, than for its unique atmosphere of cynicism, menace and dubious glamour. An important factor in creating that atmosphere is its dark, brooding black-and-white photography. Unfortunately, in the late seventies the use of black-and-white was generally regarded as the equivalent of hanging a sign on the cinema door saying 'Warning! Art-house Movie! Intellectuals Only!' A few established auteur directors such as Woody Allen ('Manhattan') and Martin Scorsese ('Raging Bull') could get away with using monochrome, but there was no way that the studio would allow such latitude to Michael Winner, a director generally associated with violent commercial thrillers. So colour it had to be. In fact, the photography of London and the English countryside is quite attractive, but it is no substitute for the authentic film noir look.
I mentioned that the atmosphere of the earlier film was also one of dubious glamour; besides Bacall it has a large number of other strikingly beautiful but sinister women (some of them only in minor roles). The later film cannot compete in this respect. With the exception of Joan Collins (who could do sultry but sinister glamour in spades, even in her mid-forties), none of the female characters has the required touch of the femme fatale about her.
As a London-based crime thriller, Winner's 'The Big Sleep' is not a bad film; it is better than most of its director's other thrillers and better than a lot of other British films from the seventies. As homage to its namesake, however, it falls some way short of its aims. 6/10
The Big Sleep
Crime / Drama / Mystery / Thriller
The Big Sleep
Crime / Drama / Mystery / Thriller
Philip Marlowe is asked by the elderly (and near death) General Sternwood to investigate an attempt at blackmail on one of his daughters. He soon finds that the attempt is halfhearted at best and seems to be more connected with the disappearance of the other daughter's husband, Rusty Regan. Rusty's wife, seems unconcerned with his disappearance, further complicating the mystery. Only General Sternwood seems concerned as mobsters and hired killers continue to appear in the path of the investigation.
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March 31, 2018 at 03:49 PM