The New York Times
9 January 1997
Some film classics are born. Others are made. ''The Big Sleep,'' Howard Hawks's classic mystery starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, falls into the second category.
The 1946 film that audiences have known and loved is actually a revised version of an unreleased ''Big Sleep'' that was made in late 1944 and early 1945 and left forgotten in the Warner Brothers vaults for nearly half a century.
The original film was discovered several years ago by Bob Gitt, the preservation officer of the Film and Television Archive at the University of California at Los Angeles.
The revised film, which was cut to accommodate 18 minutes of new material, ran 114 minutes, making it 2 minutes shorter than the 1945 version of the Chandler story. It played up the glamour and sex appeal of Ms. Bacall by adding more of the saucy back-and-forth between her and Bogart that audiences had loved in her first film, ''To Have and Have Not'' (1944). It also added a scene between Bogart and Martha Vickers, who plays Ms. Bacall's sex-crazed sister, Carmen.
To make room for the added Bogart-Bacall material, Hawks cut an important scene, more than nine minutes long, in which Bogart and Regis Toomey review the facts of the case for the district attorney and a police detective. As a result, the 1946 version of the film has always confounded viewers trying to figure out the plot. ''The 1946 version is definitely a more enigmatic film, and there's more of Lauren Bacall in it,'' said the critic Leonard Maltin. ''The original is more linear, a bit clearer and somehow a little less intriguing. Stylistically it's less exotic.''
Mr. Maltin saw the original film in July when it was shown for the first time since 1945 at the Festival of Preservation, an annual event organized by the University of California Film and Television Archive.
The road from ''Big Sleep I'' to ''Big Sleep II'' is a twisted one. The original version was ready for release in March 1945, when historical events and the iron will of Ms. Bacall's agent, Charles K. Feldman, intervened.
''With World War II coming to a close, Warner Brothers was concerned that films with wartime themes would be dated, so they rushed them into release,'' said Mr. Gitt. One such film was ''Confidential Agent,'' Ms. Bacall's second film, which was put ahead of ''The Big Sleep'' on the studio's release schedule. Unfortunately, the film was a failure that put her career in jeopardy.
''She was universally panned,'' said Mr. Gitt. ''The critics said the acting was wooden and that she was miscast.''
In November 1945, Feldman, who represented Ms. Bacall and Hawks, wrote to Jack Warner, the head of Warner Brothers, urging him to reshoot several Bacall scenes in ''The Big Sleep,'' especially her entrance, in which her face was hidden by a heavy black veil.
''Give the girl at least three or four additional scenes with Bogart of the insolent and provocative nature that she had in 'To Have and Have Not,' he wrote. Feldman added a warning: ''Bear in mind, Jack, that if the girl receives the same type of reviews and criticisms on 'The Big Sleep,' which she definitely will receive unless changes are made, you might lose one of your most important assets.''
Warner agreed, halted release of the film and ordered a reshoot, although the 1945 film was shown to American servicemen stationed overseas, who customarily saw Hollywood films before the general public. In February 1946, Warner watched a sneak preview of the new version, which ''comes off great,'' he wrote in a wire to the studio's New York executives. ''In my opinion we have a 100 percent better film,'' he added.
The new, sharpened Bacall scenes worked magic. ''It's not that the role expanded or that there's more depth to it,'' said Mr. Maltin. ''She has a couple more good scenes with Bogart. It's as simple as that.''
Sharp-eyed viewers will notice several other changes. In the 1945 version, when Bogart returns to the Sternwood house holding the semiconscious Carmen, he has a conversation with the butler; in the 1946 version, the scene plays between Bogart and Ms. Bacall. In the film's final scene, in the hideout of the gangster Eddie Mars, Mars's wife, played by Peggy Knudsen in the 1946 version, is played by Patricia Clarke in the earlier version.
Mr. Gitt, meanwhile, continues to rummage. ''It's always interesting what you find in studio vaults,'' he said.