The Film (4.5/5)
Humphrey Bogart plays Philip Marlowe (taking over for Dick Powell from the film Murder, My Sweet). As the film begins Marlowe arrives at the home of General Sternwood, who lives with his 2 older misfit daughters Carmen Sternwood (Martha Vickers), and Vivian Rutledge (Lauren Bacall). It turns out that his daughters have been causing him trouble for quite some time, including gambling debts Carmen owes to a bookseller named Geiger. Marlowe has been assigned to look into these debts, however, after his meeting with General Sternwood, Vivian pulls Marlowe aside for a conversation, and expresses her thoughts on his hiring. She mentions thinking that the true reason he was hired is to locate, a young friend of the generals, a man by the name of Sean Regan. Of course, there is much more to the case then a simple gambling debt, and before it's over there will be instances of blackmail using photographic evidence, murder, back and forth fights between various criminal factions and the mystery around the aforementioned Regan's disappearance.
The Big Sleep is frequently considered one of the most seminal film noirs of all time. It's very easy to see why when watching it. It has an excellent hard boiled detective character in Bogart's depiction of Marlowe. The dialogue is fast and sharp, and things keep moving at quite a quick pace, even if the whole picture doesn't quite add up. Hawks manages to create a dark and corrupt atmosphere surrounding the characters and the situation as a whole. The performances in the film by this point in time have attained quite a legendary status, with Bogart and Bacall playing their characters with such natural and intense chemistry. Of course, a lot of that chemistry stems from both their prior work together (To Have and Have Not), and their well publicized marriage.
The only negative point to the film is it's quite convoluted plot. Even in the 1945 pre-release cut of the film, the film tends to have more plot strands then it knows what to do with. However, due to the sudden popularity of the Bogart/Bacall pairing and of Bacall herself, her agent successfully pushed for her to have more screen time in the film, and as such more than 18 minutes of time was added to the film featuring the actress which inevitably slows down and complicates the story of the film quite a bit.
Warner Archives have presented The Big Sleep with a spectacular 1:37:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer. Having seen this on DVD, VHS, and TV broadcast over the years I will say that this quite the substantial upgrade. Detail is excellent, contrast is solid, and black levels are deep. There is a nice non-obtrusive grain structure present throughout.
The DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track in English is quite solid as well with dialogue and score coming through nicely, and no audio defects to report.
The Blu-ray contains the 1945 alternative pre-release version in SD as an alternative. There is also an introduction by Robert Gitt, a trailer, and a short documentary comparison of both versions of the film.
Truly one of the finest noirs, even if it does get bogged down in plot. The Big Sleep is truly a must see film. The Blu-ray looks and sounds amazing on this Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray, but the extras are slim and ported over from the prior DVD. I'd be insane if I didn't at least HIGHLY RECOMMEND the film and the audio visual work present here, but the lack of significant extras for this is disappointing and that leaves the Blu-ray overall RECOMMENDED.