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THE BIG SLEEP ($25) is another great Humphrey Bogart classic that has found its way to DVD. However, this film is unique amongst Bogartís movies, since it exists in two somewhat different versions. When Warner Bros. finished THE BIG SLEEP, the completed film sat on a shelf for quite some time because the studio had a glut of War themed films it needed to release before they lost their timeliness. However, as THE BIG SLEEP sat on the shelf, scenes were reshot and other changes were made to the body of the film. A number changes were designed to give Lauren Bacallís character more screen time with Bogart, generating more of the same winning screen chemistry that the duo displayed in TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT. Reasons for other changes are less clear, since they only seemed to make the convoluted plot more difficult to follow. The DVD edition of THE BIG SLEEP includes the familiar theatrical release version, as well as the earlier and somewhat different version of this classic detective story.

THE BIG SLEEP is based upon Raymond Chandlerís popular detective novel, although as I stated above, the plot of the movie is somewhat incomprehensible. Still, there is no way that you canít help liking the film, thanks to Bogartís top drawer performance as detective Philip Marlowe. THE BIG SLEEP follows Marlowe on one of his most difficult cases, in which he agrees to handle a small matter for the elderly General Sternwood (Charles Waldron). Unfortunately, Marlowe has no idea how many complications the rich manís two spoiled daughters can cause. What starts out as a simple blackmail case, grows into a much larger murder mystery that has a number of shady characters dropping like flies. The case, however does have one obvious benefit, Marlowe finds himself getting closer to Vivian Sternwood Rutledge (Lauren Bacall), the generalís older, but not too much wiser daughter. The cast of THE BIG SLEEP also includes John Ridgely, Martha Vickers, Dorothy Malone, Peggy Knudsen, Regis Toomey, Charles D. Brown, Bob Steele, Elisha Cook Jr. and Louis Jean Heydt.

Warner Home Video offers both the 1946 theatrical version of THE BIG SLEEP, as well as the 1945 pre-release version on opposite sides of the DVD. Both presentations are similar in quality, which is acceptable, but not outstanding. The black and white transfers properly frame THE BIG SLEEP at 1.33:1 and both are very watchable. In both instances, the levels of sharpness and detail are relatively good for a film of this vintage. As you might expect, both film elements tend to show their age, with respect to scratches and other age related makings. Another problem is that the black level doesnít remain consistent throughout the presentation. In various places on both prints, the blacks have a tendency to become dark gray. This only effects a portion of the frame, so the problem may be related to nitrate deterioration or improper storage. THE BIG SLEEP really could have benefited from some restoration work on its film elements, or at least a bit of digital restoration during the transfer stage. MPEG-2 compression artifacts did not adversely affect the image in any way.

The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack has the frequency limitations one associates with a film from the mid-1940s, although dialogue reproduction is clear and intelligible, and Max Steinerís musical score sounds reasonably good. English and French subtitles have been encoded onto the DVD. The interactive menus include music, but are otherwise rather basic. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the DVDís extras. THE BIG SLEEP features a short documentary with Robert Gitt of UCLA, who analyzes the differences between the 1945 and 1946 versions of the movie, as well as giving some background information on the production. Also included are production notes, a cast listing and a theatrical trailer.


The Big Sleep (1946)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2000 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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