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Good attempt at remaking a classic...
on April 23, 2002
"The Big Sleep" is now and forever shall be Humphrey Bogart's movie. There's just no way around that.
Mitchum's great, as usual, but the British setting made me think of the Duke movie, "Brannigan". If you like "Brannigan" (I admit, I do), you'll like this version of "The Big Sleep". I suppose the producers had to make the location different to set it aprt from the 1946 film (also, British moneyman Lord Lew Grade financed the film; the Brits seem to have a quirky appreciation for our cowboys and private eye heroes).
However, this 1978 effort is worth a viewing for Marlowe fans. Mitchum captures the detective's character very well. Oliver Reed is a very menacing Eddie Mars, and just listening to his lines delivered in Reed's Shakesperian whispered hiss makes Reed the picture of the smooth and scary gangster.
Jimmy Stewart is in his golden years here, a big star just doing his thing. We only see him in two scenes, and they're fair. This was about the time he was guest-starring in features like "The Magic of Lassie", "Airport '77", and other big, overblown, movies packed with familiar faces and stars of yesteryear. Joan Collins also looks to have been added only for name value here.
Candy Clark is sexy and nubile enough (and nude often enough), as the troubled younger daughter Camilla, but although she plays the part well, she comes off as a little more spacey than incorrigable in this 70's Marlowe. Sarah Miles isn't really interesting or even all that sexy as the older sister Charlotte. She wasn't very convincing, and probably the weakest cast member. This is unfortunate, because Charlotte is an important character who is supposed to move the plot along.
As for the film itself, I think overall it was pretty good, but the modern setting (and being set in Britain), work against the Marlowe mystique. If you can get past those elements, and perhaps have not seen the classic Bogart film, this version will probably be more entertaining. I liked the opening and closing sequences, and the effort put forward throughout the film to bring Marlowe back and into then-modern times.
One thing that did not make sense was the proliferation of firearms in modern day Britain, which is just not as believable as a film set in 1940's America. Also, the scandal involving the nude photos, drug use, and the sexual antics of the younger daughter doesn't hold up well here.
The movie tries very hard, and is engaging enough for the casual viewer. There are even a few plot twists that diviate from the original film. If you are a big Marlowe fan, you may not be too pleased with the 70's re-make qualities on display, "50 pounds a day plus expenses", and other Britishisms/moderisms. On the other hand, if you want a good Mitchum detective movie, this one will fit the bill.