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The Big Sleep

Bogie & Bacall: The Signature Collection

The Big Sleep is a slice of Hollywood history as complicated as a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle, the most obvious reason being the plot, which takes on such a labyrinthine complexity that nobody can figure out the entire story on first viewing. But the film is additionally complicated by the fact that two versions exist — the 1945 "pre-release" version, and the 1946 theatrical release. Kudos to Warner, because even if they can't make Raymond Chandler's story any more comprehensible, they have generously added both versions of The Big Sleep to their DVD edition, and even a short documentary that explains what changes were made — and why. Based on Raymond Chandler's first novel (with a screenplay by William Faulkner, Jules Furthman, and Leigh Brackett), Humphrey Bogart stars as Phillip Marlowe, a Los Angeles private detective who is hired by the wealthy Sternwood family to break up a blackmail plot involving younger daughter Carmen (Martha Vickers). However, before long Marlowe discovers that some members of the family are not on his side, including older daughter Vivian Sternwood Rutledge (Lauren Bacall), forcing him to constantly guess at peoples' motivations as he works his way through a series of cheats, crooks, and killers in a desperate attempt to solve the case. Yes, the plot is convoluted (even Chandler, who wrote the book, claimed he didn't understand every part of it), but The Big Sleep contains several fascinating scenes — anchored by the superb Bogart — that keep the viewer watching to the very end, each riffing with classic noir banter ("So many guns around town, and so little brains," Bogie hisses at one two-bit hood). The details come at a breakneck pace, but a second viewing will help the viewer sort out the many intricacies, and The Big Sleep, like a modern novel, is a rare film that will continue to reward its admirers after a dozen viewings. Thanks to Warner, our enjoyment of The Big Sleep is enhanced that much more, since both versions are presented on this disc in their entirety. Film preservationist Robert Gitt succinctly explains in a supplemental short (with clips) why The Big Sleep didn't arrive on the screen until almost two years after initial shooting was completed (Gitt is also featured on Columbia TriStar's excellent Lost Horizon DVD). A great deal of the delay had to do with the studio's desire to enhance Bacall's role, re-writing many of her scenes — and even creating new ones — to get more of that crowd-pleasing Bogie-Bacall banter on the screen, and after fans have sorted their way through the '46 film, they will find the '45 version, with Bacall in a much more understated role, equally fascinating. Score by Max Steiner. Great transfer from restored materials (in the original 1.33:1 ratio), audio in Dolby 2.0 mono (which, regrettably, contains some ambient noise). Also includes production notes and the original theatrical trailer, wherein Bogart visits a library and asks a librarian if she has anything similar to The Maltese Falcon. Great menus too, which feature the film's juicy original tagline: "The Violence-Screen's All-Time Rocker-Shocker!" Snap-case (reissued in keep-case in July 2006).
—JJB



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