The Big Sleep (1945 pre-release version) (1945)

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In its plot essentials, the 1945 "pre-release" version of Howard Hawks's The Big Sleep is almost identical to the familiar 1946 edition of the movie. It's in the details, and specifically in 18 minutes of scenes (mostly involving Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall) that were later reshot for the 1946 release, however, that this version -- released to the public officially in 1997 and available on DVD in 2000 -- differs considerably from the finished version of the film. As completed in March of 1945, The Big Sleep was a tense, violent, complicated, first-rate detective film, a match for The Maltese Falcon in most respects, except for the interaction of Bogart's Philip Marlowe and Bacall's Vivian Sternwood Rutledge, which was never fully explored or exploited in the film -- Bogart had generated far more sparks opposite Mary Astor in The Maltese Falcon and Across The Pacific, opposite Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, and, most importantly, opposite Bacall in Howard Hawks's To Have And Have Not, which had become a box office bonanza for the studio because of their interaction, more so than because of its plot. Neither the studio nor Bacall's agent, Charles K. Feldman, were happy with The Big Sleep which, they felt, missed many opportunities to play off the same chemistry -- embodied by the sexual sparring and quasi-erotic banter -- that Bogart and Bacall had displayed To Have And Have Not. In keeping with wartime studio policy, The Big Sleep was shown to servicemen overseas, but was officially held back from release to the public -- rewrites and retakes were ordered, and director Howard Hawks, seeing that he'd already made a very good detective film that could be much more, decided to strip out not only several scenes in which either Bogart's and Bacall's dialogue, or her wardrobe, or the camera angles used to shoot her, proved unsuitable, but also added more scenes in which Bogart and Bacall could interact. In the process of reshooting and re-editing the movie, an entire scene in the district attorney's office, involving Bogart, Regis Toomey, James Flavin, and Thomas E. Jackson, which explains all of the action up through the first hour of the movie, and also delineated a notable level of corruption and ineptitude in the Los Angeles Police Department, was dropped entirely. Additionally, actress Patricia Clarke, who portrayed Mona Mars in the 1945 version, was replaced -- possibly because of her unavailability for the retakes -- by Peggy Knudsen in the reshot version of the same scene, in which the handcuffed Philip Marlowe tries to confront Eddie Mars' wife with her husband's murderous nature. These changes resulted in a movie that moved more briskly and had more exciting dialogue, but a far less logical and explainable plot. The 1945 pre-release edition of the movie, which runs two minutes longer, was finally issued 52 years later -- it is the better detective movie of the two, and the more satisfying mystery film in that regard. Although the plot isn't easy to follow in this film, it can de sorted out much easier than it was in the 1946 version, partly because the pacing is slower in some key spots and also because there are details given to us here that are deliberately withheld in the 1946 version of the movie. Both are good films (and both are on the DVD edition of The Big Sleep), but the pre-release version of the film is merely a good, enjoyable movie, where the final version plays more like a cinematic roller-coaster ride with lots of sexual tension between the two leads. Clearly the later cut, which runs two minutes shorter but has a very different texture, is the more enjoyable of the two versions, but it couldn't have existed if Hawks, Bogart, and Bacall hadn't already reached a certain high artistic plateau with this version of the film.