The Big Sleep (1978) **


Updating the story to seventies London, this audacious production was asking for trouble, though as director Michael Winner pointed out, the fact that Henry Irving did a pretty good Hamlet was not seen as grounds for denying anyone else a crack at it.
Of course it isn't really a remake at all, just another adaptation of the novel, and one that actually plays somewhat fairer by its source, notwithstanding the changes to location and era. Nonetheless, because it 'dares' to retell the story rendered so perfectly in 1946 it is critically impermissible to do anything but dismiss it as an abject failure. In truth, however, it is nothing of the sort.

It's a totally different take on the material from the 1946 version, and Robert Mitchum, who had debuted his older, wearier Marlowe in 1975's Farewell, My Lovely, is a totally different Marlowe to Bogart. He's outstandingly good, and the supporting cast, likewise, is uniformly excellent. The result is a rather splendid film: at least as clever a rejigging of source material as Altman's Long Goodbye (and my money's on cleverer) and a first class crime thriller in its own right.
Its only sin is that it is not the 1946 version of The Big Sleep. But then, not many films are.