The patrician bearing of Mitchum, the venerable Jimmy Stewart, the late Sir John Mills, and the intense magnetism of Oliver Reed provide the star quality to this breathless, over-paced, over fast cut adaptation of The Big Sleep. It is backed by (some of) Chandler's masterful writing, yet nowhere near enough. For balance, Joan Collins provides gormless mediocrity. Calm down dear! The British setting does add a peculiar air that sits oddly with the novel. Director Michael Winner does not let the pace -and audience- relax and breathe to develop tension and to enjoy the performances from the good actors - you may notice it feels like like a collection of first or second takes made quickly. "Take 1...", "blah blah blah - blah blah..." "cut!....next!" Winner wrote the screenplay. Perhaps they were on a tight budget and couldn't afford Elmore Leonard, Ed McBain or some such, but it shows in the great liberties and clumsy re-writing of parts of the novel. Marlowe's office is too modern rather than spartan, like one of a civil Engineer or an Architect. Moreover, his apartment is too fusty and British, his chess set rather baroque. In his apartment he has a television - he does not seem the kind of man who would bother with television. And as to him wearing a Rolex Oyster automatic wristwatch? No, Marlowe is an uncomplicated, practical man, not one for extravagance - though vintage Rolexes are reliable as a character like Marlowe is, he would be more likely to wear a Hamilton, Timex or even a Zodiac Seawolf. And his suits are really too fine for a man like him. Good to see so much talent in this feature, though they're phoning in their performances at times, with the possible exception of the ever-enjoyable Reed, delivering his clipped lines like a baleful pressure cooker. Stewart is under-used, feeling like an extended cameo, Mitchum looks bored or impatient. The film lacks the grit or weariness to make it more than it could have been. The character portrayal of Carmen (Camilla) Sternwood is ridiculous and brattish rather than nubile and tantalising, even as Sarah Miles curiously neuter and harmless portrayal of Vivien will inevitably be compared to Bacall's sizzle. The key opening first scene with a voice-over by Mitchum feels perfunctory - the initial -and vital- first scene fails to evoke the dusty, Gothic atmosphere of the Sternwood house as successfully as in the Bogart/Bacall version. A more successful Chandler-Mitchum vehicle would be the earlier Farewell my Lovely [DVD] A curio for Mitchum?Chandler completeists, then?
The Big Sleep
Time Out saysThe residue of Chandler in Winner's remake of The Big Sleep might just con audiences unfamiliar with the novels and who haven't seen the 1946 Hawks/Bogart version. Otherwise, it's on very shaky ground indeed. Spuriously relocated in London (Winner's facility with luxurious location set pieces is anything but masterful), and with Marlowe dressed by Savile Row (Mitchum seems to sleepwalk through the part), the film sorely lacks any of the seediness and menace which made the 1973 remake of Farewell My Lovely at least watchable. Winner's insistence as a director on making everything as explicit as possible is often stultifying beyond belief.