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Chain-smoking, wisecracking private eye Philip Marlowe drives a buddy from LA to the Tijuana border and returns home to an apartment full of cops who arrest him for abetting the murder of his friend's wife. After Marlowe's release, following the reported suicide in Mexico of his friend, a beautiful woman hires him to locate her alcoholic and mercurial husband. Then, a hoodlum and his muscle visit to tell Marlowe that he owes $350,000, mob money the dead friend took to Mexico. Marlowe tails the hood, who goes to the house of the woman with the temperamental husband. As Marlowe pulls these threads together, his values emerge from beneath the cavalier wisecracking. Written by
Quirky, Atmospheric, Unique Altman Spin to Chandler!
I admit, when I first viewed "The Long Goodbye", in 1973, I didn't like the film; the signature Altman touches (rambling storyline, cartoonish characters, dialog that fades in and out) seemed ill-suited to a hard-boiled detective movie, and Elliott Gould as Philip Marlowe? No WAY! Bogie had been perfect, Dick Powell, nearly as good, but "M.A.S.H.'s" 'Trapper John'? Too ethnic, too 'hip', too 'Altman'! Well, seeing it again, nearly 34 years later, I now realize I was totally wrong! The film is brilliant, a carefully-crafted color Noir, with Gould truly remarkable as a man of morals in a period (the 1970s) lacking morality. Perhaps it isn't Raymond Chandler, but I don't think he'd have minded Altman's 'spin', at all! In the first sequence of the film, Marlowe's cat wakes him to be fed; out of cat food, the detective drives to an all-night grocery, only to discover the cat's favorite brand is out of stock, so he attempts to fool the cat, emptying another brand into an empty can of 'her' food. The cat isn't fooled by the deception, however, and runs away, for good...
A simple scene, one I thought was simply Altman quirkiness, in '73...but, in fact, it neatly foreshadows the major theme of the film: betrayal by a friend, and the price. As events unfold, Marlowe would uncover treachery, a multitude of lies, and self-serving, amoral characters attempting to 'fool' him...with his resolution decisive, abrupt, and totally unexpected! The casting is first-rate. Elliott Gould, Altman's only choice as Marlowe, actually works extremely well, BECAUSE he is against 'type'. Mumbling, bemused, a cigarette eternally between his lips, he gives the detective a blue-collar integrity that plays beautifully off the snobbish Malibu 'suspects'. And what an array of characters they are! From a grandiosely 'over-the-top' alcoholic writer (Sterling Hayden, in a role intended for Dan Blocker, who passed away, before filming began), to his sophisticated, long-suffering wife (Nina Van Pallandt), to a thuggish Jewish gangster attempting to be genteel (Mark Rydell), to a smug health guru (Henry Gibson), to Marlowe's cocky childhood buddy (Jim Bouton)...everyone has an agenda, and the detective must plow through all the deception, to uncover the truth.
There are a couple of notable cameos; Arnold Schwarzenegger, in only his second film, displays his massive physique, as a silent, mustached henchman; and David Carradine plays a philosophical cell mate, after Marlowe 'cracks wise' to the cops.
The film was a failure when released; Altman blamed poor marketing, with the studio promoting it as a 'traditional' detective flick, and audiences (including me) expecting a Bogart-like Marlowe. Time has, however, allowed the movie to succeed on it's own merits, and it is, today, considered a classic.
So please give the film a second look...You may discover a new favorite, in an old film!
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