The Big Sleep (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hired to find blackmailer.

Philip Marlowe (Robert Mitchum) is an American detective living in London who gets hired by a aging, retired general named Sternwood (James Stewart) to locate the person who has been blackmailing him for money. He thinks it may have something to do with his colorful daughters: the gambling addicted Charlotte (Sarah Miles) and the promiscuous Camilla (Candy Clark) who enjoys posing for nude photographs.

The film is based on the 1939 novel of the same name by Raymond Chandler and a remake of the 1946 film that starred Humphrey Bogart. Here though the setting has been updated from the 1940’s to the 1970’s and the venue changed from New York to London. The movie was also able to tackle many of the more kinkier aspects of the story that the 40’s version was only able to allude to.

Personally I felt the changes worked and made the premise more interesting. Why an American detective would be working in England is never properly answered, but the new setting does allow for some interesting on-location shooting like having the Knebworth House used as the Sternwood Mansion, which is breathtaking to look at both inside and out. The erotic undertones get used to their full potential especially with Candy Clark’s nude scenes who looks fabulous naked and she plays the part with such spunk that every scene she is in is highly amusing and the whole film could’ve easily been built around her alone.

Mitchum’s presence isn’t as distracting as it was in Farewell, My Lovely where he played the same part, but in a 1940’s setting. Having it upgraded to the modern-day actually makes him come-off as younger and a lot of the reason could be the snazzy suits he wears as opposed to the drab hat and trench coat. He also isn’t forced to get into any physical confrontations with anyone, which would make him look foolish as he’d be too old to kick any young guy’s ass, nor is there any romantic overtures with a younger woman, only Camilla who immediately throws herself at him the second she meets him, but since she does that with every man it doesn’t matter, which all helps to make his advanced age, which was 60 at the time and far older than the intended character, a non-issue.

The main problem is the story, which I found to be just too damn confusing. I like mysteries, but more in the Agatha Christie realm where we have actual clues to follow and an interesting array of suspects as opposed to something with a dizzying pace where every line of dialogue creates a new twist and potential suspects popping up out of nowhere only to quickly get killed off or just disappear completely. It’s possible in the novel, which I never read, this all got laid out better, but here it became convoluted to the extent that after the first 30 minutes I became lost and didn’t care what happened next, or for that matter who got killed and who didn’t.

Having a side-story thrown-in like Marlowe taking up some sort of quirky hobby that had nothing to do with the mystery that the film could cut back to every once in awhile in order to allow the viewer to catch their breath would’ve helped. The film still manages to be watchable mainly from the high production values and the eclectic cast. I also enjoyed the beginning and end segments where the camera takes the driver’s point-of-view as we see the car drive through the winding roads as it enters the Sternwood Mansion property and then at the end while it leaves the property as the credits roll past.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: March 13, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

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