The Big Sleep

Novel, 1932
Movies featuring Philip Marlowe
The Falcon Takes Over (1942)

Director Irving Reis; writers Lynn Root, Frank Fenton; featuring George Sanders, Lynn Bari, Ward Bond

Murder, My Sweet (1944)

Also called Farewell, My Lovely; director Edward Dmytryk; writer John Paxton; featuring Dick Powell, Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley

The Big Sleep (1946)

Director Howard Hawks; writers William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman; featuring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall

Lady in the Lake (1947)

Director Robert Montgomery; writer Steve Fisher; featuring Montgomery, Audrey Totter, Lloyd Nolan

Marlowe (1969)

Director Paul Bogart; writer Stirling Silliphant; featuring James Garner, Gayle Hunnicutt, Carroll O'Connor, Rita Moreno

The Long Goodbye (1973)

Director Irving Reis; writers Lynn Root, Frank Fenton; featuring George Sanders, Lynn Bari, Ward Bond

Farewell, My Lovely (1975)

Director Dick Richards; writer David Zelag Goodman; featuring Robert Mitchum, Charlotte Rampling, Jack O'Halloran

The Big Sleep (1978)

Director Michael Winner; writer Winner; featuring Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles, Joan Collins, James Stewart

Poodle Springs (1998)

Director Bob Rafelson; writer Tom Stoppard; featuring James Caan, Dina Meyer, David Keith

The Big Sleep

COMMENTARY | MOVIES

Farewell, My Lovely scene

Robert Mitchum is back as Marlowe in 1978's The Big Sleep, costarring with big names like Joan Collins.

Old-country Marlowe

The success of Farewell, My Lovely in 1975 led a few years later to a re-filming of The Big Sleep (1978) around Robert Mitchum. But what a difference.

Mitchum is now hitting sixty. (I think the character in Chandler's novel is supposed to be about thirty-eight.) But worse, the period has suddenly been updated from the 1940s to the then-present (1970s).

And, far worse, the setting has been moved from the mean streets of Los Angeles to the civilized lanes of Britain. Yes, Marlowe is now a gumshoe in swinging London.

Robert Mitchum as Marlowe 1978

Robert Mitchum back as Marlowe

There may be a tiny bit of justification for this in author Chandler having been raised in England, and the script by director Michael Winner (best known for making the vigilante Death Wish movies) is not bad.

Despite being about twenty minutes shorter than the 1946 Big Sleep with Humphrey Boagart, it reflects the book's text better, taking huge chunks of voice-over and dialogue straight from the novel.

It also borrows some from the earlier film. The line about meeting the younger Sternwood now becomes, "She tried to sit in my lap. I was standing up at the time." One plot improvement though: that one unresolved murder is finally explained.

But Chandler-Marlowe just doesn't work in 1970s England. The brooding moodiness is gone. Marlowe changes from slumming angel to solid, middle-class citizen. He mixes it up with characters playes by prominent actors from both sides othe Atlantic, like Jimmy Stewart, Sarah Miles, Oliver Reed, Edward Fox and Joan Collins, which makes for some confusing accents.

The sex and pornography themes are truer to the book than in the 1940s adaptation, thanks to the more enlightened times, but the scandal attached to them is gone. Marlowe shadowing umbrella-wielding Britishers around London because they're buying and selling books of, gasp, naked women?

Trailer for the 1978 remake of The Big Sleep in mod Britain.

Yet, in some ways Mitchum is a better Marlowe than Bogart. (He is better in Farewell, My Lovely anyway). He exemplifies the weary but still decent sleuth. One can only imagine what he could have done with the role in 1946.

But we already have a classic Big Sleep from 1946 that we're quite happy with. We may enjoy this later British incarnation as a curiosity. Or not.

— Eric

COMMENTARY | MOVIES