The Big Sleep is quintessential Bogart. Bogie plays Philip Marlowe, the world-weary knight-errant private eye created by Raymond Chandler. And it is as if Bogie was born to play it.
There have been many Philip Marlowes, with other fine actors taking the role including Dick Powell and Robert Mitchum and even Elliott Gould in the eccentric but eminently watchable Robert Altman take on the legend. But Bogie defined the character. And it played a mighty part in defining Bogart.
The movie was first released in 1945, and shown to American servicemen. And then it was quickly released, as it was felt it didn't play up the role of Lauren Bacall as Vivian Rutledge sufficiently. There followed some quick shooting of new scenes and new editing, and The Big Sleep Mark 2 was released the following year. Some of the logical plot development was lost in the new version; linear story-telling was replaced by heightened sexual allure between Bacall and Bogart.
This is deservedly a film noir classic. Forget that the plot of this mystery contains loose-ends which are never cleared up. Not even Raymond Chandler could quite work out just who had done what to whom by his novel's end. It's simply a great movie with snappy dialogue, relentless tension, mystery and some breathtaking final action.
It's remarkably faithful to Chandler's own nuances and style. Read the opening chapter of the novel, then watch the movie. Rarely has a writer's atmosphere been carried across so effectively to the screen. The screenplay was adapted by a trio of writers that included William Faulkner and Leigh Brackett, both of them superb writers in their own right - and their class does show.
I can't say The Big Sleep is my absolute favourite Bogart movie. That changes with what I'm watching. But it is definitely up there in the top quartet of his titles - a very select quartet indeed.
Lauren Bacall delivers one of her better performances in this flick. She still can't really act, but she does add a certain seductive atmosphere to the movie, even if it's much the same atmosphere she brings to all her screen pairings with Bogie.
Overall, it's a capable cast, with a strong contribution from Dorothy Malone as Vivian Sternwood's dotty sister Carmen, and with a strong and touching vignette performance from Elisha Cook Jr. And keep a special eye open for the town librarian... this is one girl wearing glasses at whom men should emphatically make passes.
The quality of this black and white transfer is generally excellent. Blacks are simply luscious, and high values are preserved throughout the tonal range. There's nothing too murky in this film noir presentation.
The print condition is not as good as the tonal values would suggest. The film has not undergone the sort of extensive restoration this title deserves, and there are quite a lot of flecks and scratches evident. But these are not too distracting - you really only notice them if looking for them. Otherwise, the eye quickly adjusts to the vintage nature of the material, and quickly ignores the transient marks of damage.
The Big Sleep should be part of any serious film collection. And having it presented as part of the second Bogart Collection is a handy way of having it delivered.
But real Bogart and film noir fans will want to seek out the Region 1 edition, to gain both versions of this classic movie. The differences between them are profound, and deserve study.