RARA-AVIS: Unseen version of THE BIG SLEEP movie

16 Jan 99 09:17:00 -0500 --UNS_gsauns2_3036551304
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The other evening, my wife and I went to the movie theatre at
Chicago's Art Institute to see a previously unreleased version of
Howard Hawks's film adaptation of *The Big Sleep*. Very interesting.

Principal photography on this version was largely completed in 1944.
It was originally slated for 1945 release. However, because it was
clear that the war was winding down, Warners decided to hold *The Big
Sleep* back. They wanted to get all their films with a war-time theme
into release while the war was still going on. A PI film, without any
real connection to the war, could be held up until after the war was
over without seeming dated. (It isn't mentioned, but I think the fact
that RKO was planning to release *Murder, My Sweet* in '45 might also
have influenced the decision).

In the meantime, Lauren Bacall's agent urgently requested that certain
scenes be re-shot. *The Big Sleep* was Ms. Bacall's second film, but
it wasn't yet released (except to miltary audiences overseas). Her
third film, *The Confidential Agent*, was released in '45, prior to
*The Big Sleep*. Her reviews for *Confidential Agent* were very bad.
Ms. Bacall's agent wanted some scenes re-shot to show his client to
better advantage and to enhance the romantic but sassy banter between
Bogie and Bacall.

Almost a year after principal photography ended, new photography
began. A scene in which Marlowe returns the younger Sternwood sister
to her home, a scene in which Bacall doesn't appear, was re-shot, this
time with Bacall taking a major role in the scene. A scene in which
Bacall comes to Marlowe's office to pay him off was re-shot in a fancy
restaurant, with new dialogue using a horse-racing metaphor for
romance added. This newly-shot scene became one of the
best-remembered in the movie.

To shorten the already-long film, a couple of scenes in the original
version were dropped completely. The most important cut was a long
sequence in the DA's office in which Marlowe and DA's Investigator
Bernie Ohls are explaining what happened to the District Attorney and
the Captain of LAPD Homicide. Aside from being a dynamite scene (as
good as the similar scene in the DA's office in *The Maltese Falcon*),
it makes a lot of the bewildering plot much clearer. I think cutting
it was a big mistake.

Aside from that cut, most of the changes did, in fact, improve the
film. The original version was very good. The final version (the one
most of you are probably familiar with) was better. The metamorphosis
between the two versions is very interesting. - Jim Doherty

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