Benedict Cumberbatch’s version of Sherlock Holmes comes to America tonight via PBS. Making it a month to consider all the best takes on the private detective business in entertainment. The 1978 film version of The Big Sleep could be seen as an attempt to show how Raymond Chandler’s pulp classic anti-hero Philip Marlowe would perform on Sherlock’s home ground. (Check here for availability of Sherlock on PBS via FilmOn in your area).

Produced by ITV power man Sir Lew Grade (The Prisoner, Return of the Pink Panther, The Muppet Show, Sophie’s Choice), as was his wont, this Big Sleep filmed in the U.K.,  has an eye towards success on both sides of the Atlantic. Robert Mitchum was 60 at the time of shooting  (three years on from his first turn as Marlowe in the Grade-produced Farewell, My Lovely, also available at FilmOn OnDemand), holds his own in laid-back comparison to Bogart’s iconic 1946 performance, or for that matter Jeff Bridges ”The Dude” from the Coens’ Big Sleep-inspired The Big Lebowski. (Mitchum’s 60 in this ‘78 version could be compared to Bogart’s 46 in the ’46 take – all I know is I could only hope to be half as sexy at any comparative age).

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Mitchum also sweeps the floor with famous British ‘hard men’ such as Oliver Reed (presaging Bob Hoskins’ character in ’79/’80′s The Long Good Friday) and Dudley Sutton (as well as the tough Brit chick Joan Collins) and keeps institutional authority figures such as John Mills (In Which We Serve – available OnDemand) and James Donald (The Great Escape) at bay.

His biggest challenge comes from fellow American ex-pats: Richard Boone (Have Gun Will Travel, The Shootist, turned down the role of McGarrett in Hawaii 5-O) as the excellent, viscerally menacing fixer Lash Canino, and Candy Clark as Camilla Sternwood, still channeling her Bowie-induced freak-out in ‘76’s The Man Who Fell To Earth. Her scenes with Mitchum have an erratically-pulsing electricity that convincingly portray a mentally disturbed addict and nymphomaniac.

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Jerry Fielding, among many things a favored composer of Sam Peckinpah and Clint Eastwood before his death in 1980, puts together a tense soundtrack reminiscent of Lalo Schifrin’s Bullitt, with funky bass at the fore.

The Big Sleep is available to watch online and mobile free via FilmOn:

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