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The Original 'Big Sleep': Rise and Shine

By Eric Brace
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 25, 1997

When Raymond Chandler created his fictional private detective Philip Marlowe, could he have imagined a more perfect embodiment of his archetypal hero than Humphrey Bogart in "The Big Sleep"? Released in 1946, director Howard Hawksís movie is a film noir touchstone, and features one of Bogartís best good-man-in-a-tough-spot performances, alongside the irresistible Lauren Bacall.

Release of the film was delayed for more than a year while Warner Bros. got all its World War II movies through the pipeline, but also because Jack Warner wanted to orchestrate the young Bacallís rising career. After seeing the film, he ordered additional scenes shot featuring Bacall and Bogart, to recapture some of the fireworks the two had sparked in Bacallís 1944 screen debut, "To Have and Have Not."

Playing at the Key Theatre for a week is a restored copy of the original 1945 version of the film. It has a sightly slower pace than the one released a year later, and a touch less zingy interplay between Bogart and Bacall, but itís still an unqualified masterpiece.

The plot is as convoluted as they come. The two lovely daughters of Gen. Sternwood -- Carmen and Vivian -- are involved in nefarious affairs in the underworld of Los Angeles. Thereís blackmail, gambling and quite a few dead bodies. Marlowe is called on to get to the bottom of it all, but even co-scriptwriter William Faulkner (yup, that William Faulkner) admits not ever figuring out who sent the chauffeur to his watery grave.

Donít try too hard to follow the story, just get swept away by the mood of the film. Revel in watching Bogie and Bacall (married by the time the additional scenes were shot) interact. Enjoy the stunning costumes, the crisp cinematography, the snappy script, the brilliant Max Steiner score. Then after the final reel, stay in your seat for a half-hour documentary on the restoration work done by the UCLA Film and Television Archive, pointing out the differences between the 1945 and 1946 versions.

THE BIG SLEEP (Unrated) ó Contains lots of gunfire, but nothing too graphic.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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