"The Big Sleep" (1946), Blu-ray. A Warner Archives release.
Video on this one is 1080p/24, Black & White, 4:3 (Embedded). Audio is DTS-HD MA 2.0 48kHz (Dual Channel Mono).
The only HD Extra on this disc is the Theatrical Trailer.
SD Extras are something special however. Included are both the COMPLETE, "pre-release", 1945 version of the film AND a video essay (36 minutes) comparing the changes made for the 1946, Theatrical Release version. Although only in SD, the 1945 print -- discovered in the UCLA film library in the late 90s -- has been given full physical (not digital) restoration, and is in pretty good shape. The video essay is ABSOLUTELY worth a look. And, although you may not want to play the full 1945 version, it is still fun to go to specific scenes to see the differences for yourself.
Sometimes it's truly weird how Hollywood cranks out a hit. Howard Hawks' film adaptation of the notoriously convoluted and confusing Raymond Chandler novel was actually completed, and in the can in 1945. But then Warner suddenly realized, with the war coming to an end, they had to rush all their WAR themed movies out the door RIGHT NOW while there was still a market for them! So "The Big Sleep" was put on the shelf.
And THAT gave Lauren Bacall's agent a chance to lobby with Jack Warner. To wit: The film should be reshot and reedited to give Bacall more screen time with Bogart, along with new dialog geared at reprising their fiery chemistry from, "To Have and Have Not" (1944). The result is truly amazing of course; even iconic. It probably helped that the Bacall/Bogart affair going on during the 1945 shoot had turned into the Bacall/Bogart marriage by 1946!
The original, 1945 film, was only distributed for viewing by soldiers, overseas, and was thought lost until a good quality print was discovered in the late 1990s at UCLA. That provides a fine opportunity to see just how much change could be made to a "finished" film once the studio bosses put their foot down. And the changes ARE substantial -- some obvious and some subtle. The included, video essay Extra details all that. The bottom line: Here is an instance where, beyond argument, studio interference actually resulted in a BETTER film!
This is also an instance where fine acting, character chemistry, clever dialog, and nicely paced action COMPLETELY trumps plotting and story! Chandler's 1939 novel could never be accused of being tightly plotted, and Hawks and his writing team (including William Faulkner!) didn't even TRY to make the story more understandable, or tie up the numerous loose ends.
One famous anecdote is about a victim (discussed in the film, but never seen) who is found dead in his car in the ocean; the car having plummeted off the end of a pier. It is established that the victim is (relatively speaking) a good guy, who has just committed murder himself in a fit of passion. The question being, did he then commit suicide, or did somebody kill him? The filmmakers couldn't figure out how to play it, and the novel didn't make it clear. So they telegrammed off to Raymond Chandler to ask HIM what he had in mind. As Chandler latter recounted it, "They sent me a wire, asking me ... and dammit, I didn't know either!"
The dialog, largely lifted straight from his novel, doesn't help. Bogart's character frequently jumps to deductions -- not all that surprising for a detective flick. But not only doesn't he explain HOW he arrived at a deduction, sometimes he doesn't even clarify what his deductions ARE!
Meanwhile the filmmakers didn't help clarify things, either. The 1945 version includes an extended scene between Bogart and the DA where Bogart explains what has happened up to that point in the movie. But that explanatory scene got CUT to free up time for new scenes, featuring Bacall, elsewhere in the 1946 film! And as far as the ultimate mystery, the filmmakers were forced to leave it deliberately vague whether Bacall's drugged up sister has committed murder or has simply been CONVINCED she did. Why? Because if she HAS committed murder then Bacall's character is guilty of being an Accessory After the Fact. And the Hay's Office censors wouldn't allow THAT because her character is not shown as receiving punishment!
In his contemporary review for the New York Times, Bosely Crowther put it this way:
"The Big Sleep is one of those pictures in which so many cryptic things occur amid so much involved and devious plotting that the mind becomes utterly confused. And, to make it more aggravating, the brilliant detective in the case is continuously making shrewd deductions which he stubbornly keeps to himself. What with two interlocking mysteries and a great many characters involved, the complex of blackmail and murder soon becomes a web of utter bafflement. Unfortunately, the cunning script-writers have done little to clear it at the end."
And none of that matters! It's STILL a terrific, and terrifically entertaining, film!
This 2016, Warner Archive transfer derives from a new 2K scan, and complete, frame by frame, digital restoration. And it looks spectacular!
The original film elements were already pretty worn from use making production prints when a safety, archive print was finally made -- i.e., the print used as the basis for this restoration. But you'd never know it from the final result. In fact some scenes look almost TOO good, as if this were a modern attempt to shoot a film noir. The film is largely set in darkness, and with numerous scenes shot through fog, but the transfer handles all of that without a hitch. Top marks for B&W restored PQ!
AQ on the dual channel Mono track is also surprisingly good for the vintage. Dialog is clear, the Max Steiner score sounds fine, and even the shock of gunfire is present.
The trick to enjoying this film, of course, is not to get too hung up on plot details. Think of the persistent confusion as, "setting a mood". At the end of 2 hours you will STILL have no clear idea what just happened. But you'll have had one heck of a time!