The Big Sleep (1978)

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Released 9-Apr-2002

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Mystery Main Menu Audio
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1978
Running Time 95:21
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Michael Winner
Sir Lew Grade
Magna Home Entertainment
Starring Robert Mitchum
Sarah Miles
Richard Boone
Candy Clark
Joan Collins
Edward Fox
John Mills
James Stewart
Oliver Reed
Case Click
RPI $19.95 Music Jerry Fielding

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio Unknown Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

Before we even start, let me clear up one point. No, this is not the "Big Sleep" made in 1945 (but released in 1946 after some editing) starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Rather, this is the 1978 remake, directed, written and co-produced by Michael Winner. It stars, among others, Robert Mitchum, Joan Collins, James Stewart and Oliver Reed.

Unlike the 1945 version, which was only loosely based on Raymond Chandler's novel (his first, and regarded by many - including myself - as his best, but more importantly, probably one of the best mystery novels ever written), this one follows the book very closely; so closely that huge chunks of the dialogue are transcribed line-by-line from the book, which can only be a Good Thing.

Not so good, however, is the setting, which has mysteriously migrated from 1940s Los Angeles to 1970s London. It is to the story's credit that the trans-Atlantic migration, not to mention time shifting, works at all. The whole connection between the Sternwoods and oil has disappeared, but they now live in a lavish English country manor that speaks of old money. Geiger's bookshop is now in a quaint London street, Eddie Mars now runs his night club and gambling den in a Pall Mall style London club environment, and the disused oil well becomes a Roman ruin.

Certain other "changes" do not work as well. Robert Mitchum is far too old to play Philip Marlowe (even though he does play him with some considerable charm and the personality almost perfect), and you can't imagine the Sternwood daughters finding him attractive, let alone jumping into his bed. And whoever heard of Philip Marlowe being able to afford a Mercedes convertible? Candy Clark is completely silly as Camilla, and Sarah Miles is okay, but nothing compared to Lauren Bacall as Charlotte.

The story, like most Chandler novels, is fairly complex but runs like this: General Sternwood (James Stewart), an old, rich and crippled American who has moved to England in the twilight of his years, is being blackmailed by a bookseller called Arthur Gwynn Geiger (John Justin). The General hires Philip Marlowe (Robert Marlowe), an American private detective working in London, to investigate. Along the way, Marlowe runs into Sternwood's very wild daughters - Camilla (Candy Clark) and Charlotte (Sarah Miles). He has barely started when Geiger is killed whilst taking nude photos of Camilla.

Incidentally, James Stewart is delightful as General Sternwood - that combination of pride and power against frailty.

Marlowe meets a variety of characters during his investigations: Owen Taylor (Martin Potter) - Sternwood's chauffeur; Agnes Lozelle (Joan Collins) - the receptionist at the bookstore; Joe Brody (Edward Fox) - another blackmailer; Eddie Mars (Oliver Reed) - a gangster and night club owner; and Lash Canino (Richard Boone) - Eddie's hitman. All these characters of course turn out to be related and a fair amount of them will experience "The Big Sleep" (Chandler's euphemism for "death") at some point in the film.

Marlowe solves a set of interconnected mysteries before the final, and most difficult one: Whatever happened to Rusty Regan (David Savile), Charlotte's husband and personal friend of General Sternwood? By the way, this film goes one step further by revealing who killed the person driving the car into the sea - a mystery that Chandler "accidentally" left unsolved in the book - but the "explanation" sounds fairly lame and unconvincing.

Despite its faults, I ended up quite enjoying this film. The London setting does not have the "film noir" atmosphere of the 1945 version, but works nevertheless. Bogart may look and talk more like Marlowe, but Mitchum has his soul. Now, if we could have the cast of the 1945 film together with the screenplay of this one, we would have the perfect Big Sleep.

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Transfer Quality


This transfer is presented in widescreen 1.78:1 (with 16x9 enhancement). I am not able to verify what the intended aspect ratio is, but I would suspect that it would probably be 1.85:1 or 1.66:1. I did not notice any instances of cropped or incorrect framing. The transfer itself appears identical to my Region 2 DVD (which is part of a budget-priced 9.99 DVD series entitled "The Silver Collection").

Despite the age of the film source, the transfer is quite pleasant looking, although it does look a bit soft and grainy. Colours are a little bit faded but still reasonably vibrant, and blacks are quite deep. The amount of detail is acceptable, and enough to allow me to read the handwriting at 43:31-43:33 and the newspaper at 49:16-49:24.

I did not detect any evidence of compression or video artefact, apart from some slight pixelization of the steering wheel during the opening titles and very slight shimmering every now and then. The film source itself is relatively clean, apart from the softness and the grain previously mentioned.

An English subtitle track is available. It faithfully transcribes most of the dialogue and even some Foley effects.

This is a single sided single layered disc.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


There is only one audio track on the disc: English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s).

The soundtrack is easy to listen to and does not feature any highlights - good or bad.

Dialogue is natural sounding and easy to understand. I did not notice any audio synchronization problems.

The music score by Jerry Fielding is also pleasant sounding though sounding somewhat dated.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


There are no extras present on this disc. The main menu is 16x9 enhanced and includes background audio.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

An earlier Region 1 release by Pioneer Entertainment no longer appears to be available and currently this title is available as a bare bones pan & scan title from Artisan. Therefore, I see no reason to purchase the Region 1 release.


The Big Sleep is a 1978 remake that is far closer to the original Raymond Chandler novel, except it is set in London in the 1970s instead of Los Angeles in the 1940s. Although deeply flawed, it is watchable especially if you have read and enjoyed the book. The 16x9 enhanced video transfer is surprisingly good, and the audio transfer is acceptable. There are no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Christine Tham (read my biography)
Monday, June 03, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-626D, using Component output
DisplaySony VPL-VW11HT LCD Projector, ScreenTechnics 16x9 matte white screen (254cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationDenon AVR-3300
SpeakersFront and rears: B&W CDM7NT; centre: B&W CDMCNT; subwoofer: B&W ASW2500

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Comments (Add)
Lew Grade= low Grade - Anonymous
RE: 'Big Sleep'ing pill - Christopher