This film is perhaps a perfect example of the 'hard boiled' detective genre. The cover describes it as ‘film noir’, however that probably does not describe The Big Sleep all that well. Robert Mitchum is Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. He’s the incorruptable ‘private dick’ on a seamy case in London, a most atypical setting for the expatriate American. There is the dry voiceover and the camera follows Mitchum as he calls on various characters. The way they are introduced tends to give the film a leisurely, even pace although some may say that clues are given piecemeal leading up to the final twist at the end.
Marlowe investigates the blackmail of a wealthy aristocratic English family headed by the paralysed General Sternwood (Jimmy Stewart). He has two daughters, two firebrands who are involved in pornography, gambling, local crime lords and a variety of unsavoury characters. Notable here is Sarah Miles, who is involved with a variety of men of ill character like casino owner Oliver Reed. Marlowe is asked to investigate who is blackmailing the Sternwoods. Marlowe has to sift through the local shady characters and he’s none to popular with the local constabulary and Scotland Yard.
Like many detective dramas, reaching the stated objective requires going in a convoluted path, sifting up peoples’ skeletons and a number of murders and stately car chases. Are people who disappear eventually found in shallow graves?
This film is full of characters played with perhaps a little too much flavour by Joan Collins, Edward Fox and John Mills. Some are introduced to be promptly dispatched. Was Robert Mitchum right for this role?
Anamorphic 1.85:1 and for its age, it's quite an impressive transfer. Colours are reasonably drab and distance sharpness is poor, however the transfer does credit to the cinematographer. Interior shots are great as are the London streetscapes and the lighting style seems to reflect the weather of the setting.
There's isolated edge enhancement and some aliasing on the many car grilles. About that, the setting of the film seems to be the late '60s to early '70s given the age of the cars and for some people spotting the various automobiles will be fun.
There is a single 192k/s Dolby Stereo track. Fidelity is quite good, although intelligibility is not the ADR excellence we have today - however there are only isolated incidents where dialogue is unclear and given that this is such a script heavy film, that is a blessing. Music is undistinguished and some residual tape hiss is present. Subtitles are also present and they tend to straddle the bottom part of the frame.
The runtime is 95 minutes. If you want some of the grittiest detective drama out there, then this is it. The London setting and interior design evokes another era. You might want to rent this one unless one wants to build a library of this sort of ‘noir’ films.