Thursday, 4 September 2014
The Big Sleep (1978 version) (4 Stars)
After watching the first version of this film, made in 1946, I thought I would watch the 1978 version. I didn't even know the novel had been filmed a second time until last month. Robert Mitchum has long been one of my favourite actors, so I rushed to buy it, and I was happy to find a brand new copy of the DVD for only one pound ($1.65) on Ebay.
From what I've read, the 1978 film keeps closer to the novel than the 1946 version, apart from changing the location from 1930's Los Angeles to 1970's London. I can't judge this, not having read the novel, but I did notice a few differences. The general's older daughter is called Charlotte in this film, not Vivian, and she is married to the general's aide Sean Regan, the man who has disappeared. His younger daughter is called Camilla. Arthur Geiger's bookshop specialises in selling illegal pornographic books. The books contain photos of underage girls, and the general's daughter Camilla is one of the models. She's an adult at the time the film takes place, but she is being blackmailed because of the photos taken when she was younger. The incident with Owen Taylor's suicide didn't make sense in the the 1946 version, it seemed like a random occurrence. In the 1978 version Owen kills Arthur Geiger, is then attacked by Joe Brody, after which he commits suicide.
The women of the 1970's are presented as self-confident and liberated. The main female characters, Charlotte (Sarah Miles), Camilla (Candy Clark) and Agnes (Joan Collins), never wear bras, which is obvious because they wear thin white tops that let their nipples shimmer through.
The 1978 version is a lot brighter than the old version. Despite telling the same story, it has less of a film noir feeling. In fact, there's even something of a camp element to the film. It's difficult to describe why. Maybe it's because of Philip Marlowe's almost superhuman qualities as portrayed by Robert Mitchum. Humphrey Bogart was very much a man, and it was obvious that he was nervous in the presence of the femme fatale, Lauren Bacall, ultimately falling to her charms. Robert Mitchum is immune to female wiles, never once glancing at the hard nipples pointing at him through the skimpy tops. When he goes home and finds Camilla naked on his bed he turns his back on her. That's not normal.
The two films are very different in their character, but they can stand side by side. Neither needs to be ashamed of the other.