The odd thing is that most reviewers are puzzled firstly over why director Michael Winner would have dared to remake such a beloved classic and secondly why he chose to set his remake in 1970s London. I would have thought it was perfectly obvious that the decision to choose 1970s London was an entirely sensible attempt to distance this movie from the 1946 Howard Hawks version.
I have no problems with the updated setting. The danger of trying to make a neo-noir set in the 1940s is that you will end up with a movie that has that slightly phoney period movie look, and will also end up looking too pretty and too picturesque. Polanski got away with it with Chinatown in 1974 and I think Dick Richards got away with it in the 1975 Farewell, My Lovely but other 1970s remakes of movies from the 30s and 40s that try to reproduce the period settings do look overly pretty.
Winner makes no attempt whatsoever to reproduce the classic film noir look. He concentrates on trying instead to capture the film noir mood and the film noir thematic obsessions.
Philip Marlowe, an ageing American private eye based in London, is hired by the frail elderly General Sternwood to deal with a blackmail threat. On his visit to the general’s house he meets the old man’s two daughters and decides, correctly, that they’re going to be trouble. The elder sister, Charlotte (Sarah Miles), is obviously scheming and dishonest and hiding lots of things. The younger daughter, Camilla (Candy Clark), practically tears Marlowe’s trousers off. As the movie progresses we find out that her first reaction upon meeting any man is to get him into bed immediately.
Camilla has been posing for nudie pictures for a sleazy bookseller. Marlowe finds her zonked out of her brain on drugs in a room with a dead man. She has no idea where she is.
There are lots of murders. There are lots of suspects. Pretty much any of the characters could have committed any of the murders, for motives that remain obscure.
This version naturally has a degree of 1970s sleaze and relatively graphic violence.
Mitchum is as charismatic as ever. He was getting older but the 1970s proved to be an incredibly fruitful decade for him. In fact it’s difficult to think of any Hollywood actor who gave more great performances in the 70s than Mitchum.
The problem is the two actresses playing the key roles as the general’s daughter. Sarah Miles is ludicrously miscast and out of place and, fatally, there is zero sexual tension generated between Marlowe and Charlotte. Candy Clark’s performance as Camilla can only be described as bizarre. It’s just so wrong and so inappropriate that it’s morbidly fascinating.
Shout! Factory have released both the 1975 Farewell, My Lovely and the 1978 The Big Sleep on a single Blu-Ray and both films look wonderful.