The Big Sleep
The enormous reputation of this convoluted thriller has everything to do with the charisma of stars Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall and, critically, the latter-day cachet of director Howard Hawks, considered the ultimate filmmaker by everyone from Jacques Rivette to Quentin Tarantino. Plenty of other mid-'40s films are as confusing as this legendary muddle -- which can finally be figured out thanks to this 1945 "preview cut" with about two reels of different scenes than the 1946 release version. Bogart, as tridimensional on-screen as a chipped, stained coffee cup, set the standard for screen detectives with his Philip Marlowe, his hangdog face and tattered lip giving him the authenticity all stars seek and only the carpentry-scarred Harrison Ford and the BB-sprayed Tommy Lee Jones, of today's crop, can approach. Both versions of this film -- the one you know, and this early cut -- flatter Bogart by serving him up as catnip to the ladies. It's Lauren Bacall, chipper and flip, who really gained in the reshoot, built up into a semiequal partner. The Big Sleep in whatever version is certainly enjoyable, but its canonization needs rethinking; while David Thomson's Biographical Dictionary of Film calls this work "mature," it's really more a middle-aged man's fantasy, Bogart as an Indiana Jones of gumshoes, irresistible and indestructible. Films noir should be doomier, with heroes who bruise and die ... like poor little Jonesy (Elisha Cook Jr.) in this movie, too short for the woman he loves and thus damned to guzzle poison in Hawks' Darwinian scheme.
The Big Sleep screens Friday, Aug. 8, at 8 p.m. at the Paramount Theater, 2025 Broadway (at 19th Street) in Oakland. The evening includes a newsreel, cartoons, previews, and the theater's Dec-O-Win game. Tickets are $5; call (510) 465-6400.