Sunday, March 27, 2016

Tonight's Movie: The Big Sleep (1946) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

The Warner Archive has released the classic THE BIG SLEEP (1946) in a beautiful Blu-ray with a deluxe package of extras.

I first watched THE BIG SLEEP dating back to my earliest years as a classic film fan, when KTLA's Channel 5 showed it regularly as an 8:00 p.m. movie. Of course, watching it then as a kid, with commercials and missing scenes, I couldn't have envisioned enjoying it in such a beautiful print.

And as much as I love seeing films in 35mm, I suspect this print also surpasses that which I saw in the '70s at the Fine Arts Theater in Beverly Hills. It's a glistening black-and-white beauty.

I really enjoyed sitting down with this film for the first time in at least a decade...and no, as many times as I've seen it, I can't claim to understand it any better than I have in the past. I won't even attempt a plot summary. Suffice it to say Humphrey Bogart plays Raymond Chandler's private eye Philip Marlowe and interacts with some of the craziest, crookedest people in Los Angeles.

The really curious thing about THE BIG SLEEP is that as hard as the plot is to follow, the individual scenes are each so stylish and arresting that it really doesn't matter. Somehow the parts are worth more than the whole, and the movie just washes over the viewer like a fascinating, slightly disconnected dream.

There are many great scenes, but I think my favorite is Bacall at the roadhouse singing "And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine" as she and Bogart nod and acknowledge one another from a distance. It's got great style, and you can feel their connection across the room.

Beyond the legendary chemistry of Bogart and Bacall, it's the wealth of supporting actors who make the film so endlessly interesting. Martha Vickers, who more typically played girl-next-door sweethearts, makes a splash from the moment her disturbed, thumb-sucking Carmen throws herself into Marlowe's lap (as he notes, while he's standing up).

There's Dorothy Malone, killing it in her one sequence as a bookstore clerk who takes off her glasses and enjoys an afternoon with Marlowe when he uses her store for a stakeout.

Then you've got faves like Regis Toomey as the police inspector, John Ridgely as Eddie Mars, and Louis Jean Heydt as Joe Brody...plus Elisha Cook Jr., Bob Steele, and even Bess Flowers. It's a bit like attending a party to which all your favorite character actors show up.

Howard Hawks directed, with gorgeous filming by Sid Hickox.

The theatrical release runs 114 minutes.

This Blu-ray set also includes the 116-minute pre-release version which was mostly seen by servicemen overseas; this version, included here in standard definition, was extensively edited and Lauren Bacall's role reshaped. The disc also includes a presentation by UCLA's Robert Gitt comparing the two versions, which is longer than an edited version which appeared on the previous DVD release.

I've never seen the prerelease version of the movie and intend to watch it soon; I'm especially intrigued that Glenn Erickson says the cops have much more screen time in that one, as it sounds like I'll get to see more of Regis Toomey's character.

Coming soon: A look at the Warner Archive's new Blu-ray release of Bogart and Bacall's KEY LARGO (1948).

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop.

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