The Big Sleep (1978 film)

The Big Sleep is a 1978 British neo-noir film, the second film version of Raymond Chandler's 1939 novel of the same name. The picture was directed by Michael Winner and stars Robert Mitchum in his second film portrayal of the detective Philip Marlowe. The cast includes Sarah Miles, Candy Clark, Joan Collins, and Oliver Reed, also featuring James Stewart as General Sternwood.[1]

The Big Sleep
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMichael Winner
Produced byJerry Bick
Lew Grade
Elliott Kastner
Bernard Williams
Michael Winner
Screenplay byMichael Winner
Based onThe Big Sleep
by Raymond Chandler
StarringRobert Mitchum
Sarah Miles
Richard Boone
Candy Clark
Joan Collins
Edward Fox
James Stewart
Narrated byRobert Mitchum
Music byJerry Fielding
CinematographyRobert Paynter
Edited byFrederick Wilson
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • 13 March 1978 (1978-03-13)
Running time
99 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

The story's setting was changed from 1940s Los Angeles to 1970s London. The film contained material more explicit than what could only be hinted at in the 1946 version, such as homosexuality, pornography and nudity. Mitchum was 60 at the time of filming, far older than Chandler's 33-year-old Marlowe (or the 1946 film's 38-year-old Marlowe played by a 44-year-old Bogart).


In 1970s England, private detective Philip Marlowe (Robert Mitchum) is asked to the stately home of General Sternwood (James Stewart), who hires Marlowe to learn who is blackmailing him. While at the mansion, he meets the general's spoiled and inquisitive daughter Charlotte (Sarah Miles) and wild younger daughter Camilla (Candy Clark).

Marlowe's investigation of the homosexual pornographer Arthur Geiger (John Justin) leads him to Agnes Lozelle (Joan Collins), an employee of Geiger, and to Joe Brody (Edward Fox), a man that Agnes has taken up with. He also discovers Camilla at the scene of Geiger's murder, where she has posed for nude photographs, and takes her home safely to a grateful Charlotte.

Returning to the crime scene, Marlowe is interrupted by gambler Eddie Mars (Oliver Reed), who owns the house where Geiger's body was found. Mars' wife Mona hasn't been seen in a while and may have run off with Rusty Regan (David Savile), Charlotte's missing husband. Due to Charlotte Regan's gambling debts, Mars appears to have a hold over Charlotte as well.

Camilla tries to get her pictures back from Brody, who is now in possession of them. Marlowe intervenes but Brody is shot and killed by someone unseen.

A man named Harry Jones (Colin Blakely) comes to Marlowe with a proposition. He is working with Agnes now, and she is willing to sell information as to Mrs. Mars' whereabouts. But on the night Marlowe shows up for their meeting, Harry is poisoned by Lash Canino (Richard Boone), a hit man who is working for Eddie Mars.

Marlowe pays Agnes for the address. He tracks down Canino at a remote garage, where he is overpowered and taken prisoner. Mars' supposedly missing wife Mona (Diana Quick) is there as well. At a moment when Canino is out, Marlowe persuades her to set him free. In a shootout, he then kills Canino.

Camilla Sternwood appears to be grateful to Marlowe and asks him to teach her how to use the gun he just returned to her so that she can protect herself. He takes her to a wooded area so she can learn. After he sets up an empty can on the ledge of a wall of the ruins of a Roman castle for her to use as a target, she points the gun at him and begins pulling the trigger repeatedly. Marlowe was prepared for this and had given her the weapon loaded with blanks. She becomes hysterical at the ruse and he takes her home. It turns out that the emotionally disturbed Camilla had murdered her sister's husband Rusty and that Charlotte had covered everything up with Eddie Mars' help.

After confronting Charlotte with the facts, Marlowe tells her to have Camilla hospitalized. He then drives away from the Sternwood residence the same way he came in, hoping that the gravely ill general will never know the truth about his two wicked daughters.



Mitchum had also portrayed Philip Marlowe three years earlier in Farewell, My Lovely, a film shot as a period piece rather than set in the present day. Mitchum remains the only actor to play the character in more than one movie. Dick Powell portrayed him in a movie, an episode of Climax! adapting The Long Goodbye, and several radio plays. Powers Boothe portrayed the character in a series of 1986 dramas made for HBO.

Actors who had earlier played Marlowe in feature-length films include Powell (1944), Humphrey Bogart (1946), Robert Montgomery (1947), George Montgomery (1947), James Garner (1969) and Elliott Gould (1973). Marlowe would be played by James Caan in the 1998 television film Poodle Springs.

Mitchum, Sarah Miles and John Mills reunited for this film, having starred together eight years before in Ryan's Daughter.

Diana Quick performs the song "Won't Somebody Dance with Me", a ballad composed by Lynsey De Paul.[2][3]

Critical response

Roger Ebert gave the film 2.5 stars out of 4 and wrote that "despite all the great costumes and sets and London locations they’re given to work with, the actors don’t seem engaged".[4] Janet Maslin of The New York Times described the film as "senselessly gaudy" and "overloaded with big names, and in this case the net effect of an all-star cast is to make an already confusing mystery even harder to follow".[5] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film 1.5 stars out of 4 and wrote: "All of the zigs and zags of the original story are in the remake; what's missing is the enthusiasm. Talented actors such as Edward Fox and Oliver Reed sleepwalk through their parts."[6] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times panned the film as "a flat, routine procedural detective mystery utterly devoid of any film noir atmosphere".[7] Arthur D. Murphy of Variety wrote: "The production is handsome, but in the updating and relocation a lot has been lost."[8] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post wrote: "Everything is out of whack in this transposition of Chandler's material. The actors seem to be going through the motions, but they look wrong, sound wrong and inhabit the wrong settings."[9] John Pym of The Monthly Film Bulletin write that the location and time change had "destroyed the crucial geographical and temporal context of Chandler's novel; almost every aspect of the narrative now seems ludicrously out of place". He added that Winner "ploughs step by step through the complicated plot with a curious lack of interest in, among other things, the nature of his hero's character".[10]

Home Media (DVD & Blu-ray)

The Big Sleep has been released twice on DVD:

  • Artisan Home Video (now Lionsgate) under license from Carlton Media (successor in interest to ITC Entertainment) on April 30, 2002 as a Region 1 fullscreen DVD.
  • Shout Factory, under license from ITV Studios (successor in interest to ITC Entertainment and Carlton Media) on September 23, 2014 as a Region 1 widescreen DVD.

The Big Sleep was released in high-definition on Blu-ray by Shout Factory on February 20th, 2018, as part of a two movie package along with Farewell My Lovely (1975 remake). Both the 1946 version (featuring Humphrey Bogart) and this version have now been released on Blu-ray.


  1. The Big Sleep on IMDb
  2. The Big Sleep—Soundtrack at IMDb
  3. Frank's 500: The Thriller Film Guide by Alan Frank, Batsford publishing, 1997, ISBN 978-0713427288
  4. Ebert, Roger (24 March 1978). "The Big Sleep". Retrieved 19 December 2018.
  5. Maslin, Janet (March 15, 1978). "Film: Winner's Version of 'Big Sleep'". The New York Times. C19.
  6. Siskel, Gene (March 28, 1978). "'The Big Sleep' is one tired movie". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 4.
  7. Thomas, Kevin (March 29, 1978). "'Big Sleep' Aptly Named". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 1.
  8. Murphy, Arthur D. (March 15, 1978). "Film Reviews: The Big sleep". Variety. 20.
  9. Arnold, Gary (March 23, 1978). "'The Big Sleep,' the Second Time Around". The Washington Post. B17.
  10. Pym, John (September 1978). "The Big Sleep". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 45 (536): 172.
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