Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Name Changing, Re-Castings and Personality Swaps

From: Patrick Kennedy (
Date: 02 Sep 2010

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    'The Big Sleep' is a difficult book to adapt and make Hollywood-accessible, mainly due to its dark and convoluted plot, but this difficulty was compounded for Hawks by the censorship restrictions which made amoral character motivations more enigmatic than they could have been. Winner's take on the book, although not so restricted by censorship, suffers greatly from its budget-driven relocation from Los Angeles to London and from the 'Fifties to the then contemporary late 'Seventies. Winner also pronouncedly lacks Hawk's cinematic verve and energy, and Mitchum seems determined to underline this trait in his lethargic performance. I think Bogart's delivery of Chandler's dialogue (and Hawks' movie retains a huge percentage of what Chandler wrote, making one almost wonder exactly what the scriptwriters were being paid for) was terrific.  Chandler professed himself more than pleased with the movie's first three-quarters and with Bogart's performance.  I doubt whether he would have been quite so pleased with Altman's movie; in fact I imagine he would have been at his most irascibly acidic about it, just as he was about the arty camera-as-character treatment of 'The Lady in the Lake'. I know that Hawk's 'The Big Sleep' was what first led me to read Chandler, and very much doubt that I would have felt similarly inspired if Altman's 'The Long Goodbye' had performed that introduction.  So in that way an off-centre reinterpretaion of a fine book can do some damage, not to the book's intrinsic qualities of course, but potentially to its finding of a deserved wider audience. I agree that a young Mitchum would have made a fine Marlowe - who never struck me as being more than normally 'beat down' by the way.  Well, I guess I had to agree with somebody about something sometime, didn't I?


    ________________________________ From: Kevin Burton Smith <> To: Sent: Thu, 2 September, 2010 22:16:02 Subject: RARA-AVIS: Re: Name Changing, Re-Castings and Personality Swaps

      On Sep 2, 2010, at 4:12 AM, Patrick wrote:

    > despite Howard Hawk's comically racy liberties and the
    > standard tacked on happy Hollywood ending, his 'The Big Sleep' is still
    > essentially recognizable as Chandler's story in atmosphere, dialogue and
    > character.

    Despite all the differences they're "essentially recognizable" as the same? Gotcha.

    I'm not buying it, though. Especially when it comes to the hero's character. Racy liberties, sexually charged banter and happy endings aren't a minor part of the film, so easily swept aside.

    Disappointingly, Bogart plays Marlowe more like a rerun of Sam Spade than as Chandler's beat-down hero. The bittersweet, world-weary romance and crushed idealism of the novel is given very short shrift in the final, released version of Hawks' THE BIG SLEEP. The novel itself is much darker and disturbing, much closer to noir.

    I'm not saying one film is necessarily better than the other -- I enjoy both, but I don't think either is particularly faithful to Chandler. Both idiosyncratic directors used the novel as a mere starting point, not a blueprint. Ironically, the almost universally derided Mitchum version of THE BIG SLEEP (Marlowe goes to England!) is probably in some ways closer in tone to its source than either Hawk or Altman's take. Assuming you can swallow Marlowe as a tired old man sucking in his gut and muttering to himself a lot...

    Mitchum shoulda/coulda been Marlowe in 1946. Me, I always liked Dick Powell.

    Kevin Burton Smith Editor/Founder The Thrilling Detective Web Site
    "Wasting your time on the web since 1998."

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