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Second Time Around 

Wednesday, Jan 29 1997
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The Big Sleep (Pre-Release Version)
This version of The Big Sleep is a rediscovery of a lost original that never played U.S. theaters. Warner Bros. held back the whodunit in 1945 in favor of time-sensitive movies with war-related themes. Meanwhile, Lauren Bacall exploded in her To Have and Have Not debut opposite Humphrey Bogart, then crashed in the poorly received Confidential Agent. The studio upgraded Bacall's sexy, sulky schemer with a couple of new scenes with Bogart (including the cocktail chat where they discuss their romantic potential in horse-racing terms) and released the version of The Big Sleep that we all know the next year.

Directed by Howard Hawks from a Raymond Chandler novel, The Big Sleep ensures film noir's immortality. Bogart plays cocksure private dick Philip Marlowe as the last honest Knight of the Round Table, dispensing insults like gum balls and inviting every goon and dame to slug him. For all its macho humor, the sawed-off dialogue illuminates how treacherous Los Angeles was -- even then -- for a pretty young woman on the loose. (Thirty years later, Robert Towne and Jack Nicholson would borrow everything except Marlowe's moral code for Chinatown.) The "pre-release" version is more lucidly plotted but a tad slower than the released one; either way it's marvelous, malevolent fun. The feature is followed by UCLA archivist Robert Gitt's half-hour dissection of the differences between the two versions; it's of greatest interest to film buffs and academicians but a revealing, entertaining document nonetheless.

-- Michael Fox

The Big Sleep screens at 8 p.m. Friday through Tuesday, Jan. 31-Feb. 4, at the Castro, Castro & Market. There are matinees Saturday and Sunday at 1:30 and 4:40 p.m. Tickets are $6.50; call 621-6120. It also plays Feb. 7-9 at the UC Theater in Berkeley; call (510) 843-6267

About The Author

Michael Fox

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