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The very embodiment of '70s Hollywood genre revisionism, Robert
Altman's film of The Long Goodbye stands as one of his most accessible,
wittily misanthropic films, and probably the finest performance of
Elliot Gould's career to date.
A warning for Raymond Chandler purists: you probably won't like this film. Altman and screenwriter Leigh Brackett had quite a task in adapting Chandler's second-last novel to the screen, for in it the 'knight errant' Phillip Marlowe comes over more like a prudish sap. Altman and Brackett have streamlined the narrative, removed peripheral characters, and crucially transformed Marlowe into a murkier, more comically ambiguous protagonist.
In Altman's and Gould's hands, Marlowe is laconically relaxed, murmuring, alternately amused and annoyed at the world. Like Chandler's hero, he is an outsider, a spectator, everywhere he goes. Unlike the literary Marlowe, Gould's character seems washed up on the shores of an unfamiliar land, his nobility as crumpled and stale as his suit.
Along for the ride are the archetypal Chandler villains and victims: self-hating celebrities, young wives trapped in loveless marriages, crooked doctors, low-rent psychopathic gangsters, bored cops, flunkies lost out of time. Typically, the milieux Marlowe moves in range from the affluence of the Malibu Colony to the cells of the County Jail. Altman, however, wishes to make a film in and about 1973; the film is shot through with the psychic reverberations of the end of hippiedom and the remoteness of the 'Me Generation'.
Another Altman touch is his openly expressed contempt for Hollywood and its conventions. As if to acknowledge the artificiality of a private detective story in the midst of 1970s Los Angeles, the film is suffused with jokey references to cinema. Bookended with 'Hooray for Hollywood', the film shows gatekeepers impersonating movie stars, characters changing their names for added class, hoods enacting movie clichés simply because that's where they learnt to behave. Even Marlowe himself refers to the artifice when talking to the cops: 'Is this where I'm supposed to say 'What's all this about?' and he says 'Shut up, I ask the questions' ?'
As for the supporting cast, Sterling Hayden shines out as the beleaguered novelist Roger Wade. There is more than a touch of Hemingway in Hayden's bluff, blustering, vulnerable old hack. Baseball champ and sportscaster Jim Bouton is casually mysterious as Marlowe's friend Terry Lennox, Laugh-In alumnus Henry Gibson is suitably greasy as Dr Verringer, actor/director Mark Rydell (best known for 'On Golden Pond') is convincingly chilling as gangster Marty Augustine, and Nina van Pallandt lends a dignified, defiant pathos to her role as Eileen Wade.
Special note must be made of Vilmos Zsigmond's tremendous photography, employing his early 'flashing' style of exposure to lend Los Angeles a suitably sultry, bleached-out aura. Also deserving attention is John Williams' ingeniously minimalist score. Comprised solely of pseudo-source music, the score is a myriad of variations on a single song, appearing here as supermarket muzak, there as a party singalong, elsewhere as a late night radio tune.
The film's controversial ending is utterly antithetical to Chandler's vision. The message from Altman, however, is loud and clear: Chandler's world no longer exists if indeed it ever did.
Altman was on a roll by 1973 when he chose to film Leigh Brackett's
screenplay of Raymond Chandler's "The Long Goodbye", which is considered
last great novel.
But Altman decided to transmogrify the novel's serious hard-nosed private
eye, Philip Marlowe into a bumbling "Rip Van Winkle" type character who
figuratively been asleep for the last two decades and has missed all the
psychedelia of the Sixties and the dark cloud descended in the Seventies.
And who better to play such a role, than the great Elliot Gould? Even
the novel's tone and time period have been changed, the highly-complex
remains, and due attention must be paid.
One of the film's greatest strengths, is the cinematography by the great Hungarian DP, Vilmos Zsigmond. He has worked with Altman on "McCabe & Mrs Miller" (1971) and "Images" (1972) and on the former, he used a technique known as "flashing", this was an unpredictable method for eliminating contrast from the negative to give a pastel look to the show and to bring out subtle shadows in the nighttime scenes by exposing the already-exposed negative to more light in the lab during processing. But on "McCabe", it was used in moderation, but on "The Long Goodbye", he, Altman and Skip Nicholson at Technicolor all worked together to more or less use varying degrees of flashing for the WHOLE picture! It was a big risk, but it paid off - the movie has a look all of it's own. The camera constantly keeps moving in this film and gives a the viewer a great sense of voyeurism and keeps you studying the frame for details. This film is a visual marvel, in my opinion.
Altman excelled himself here, he took risks and put all he could into the film, and I think that "The Long Goodbye" can now be seen as a pivotal Seventies masterpiece - though those words may be hard to swallow for some people.
Thanks for reading.
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!
I can say, without feeling too stupid, that is my favourite film of all
It has it all, firstly an incredibly brave screenplay that brought Raymond Chandler forward a generation after Bogart's best attempts to turn the great author into an insomnia remedy.
The casting of Elliot Gould as Marlowe is a stroke of genius - this Marlowe is undoubtedly very cool, but his 'coolness' comes from his idiosyncrasies, nerdy quirks and inability to fit into defined social circles. Sterling Hayden's performance, for me out-does his work on Dr Strangelove and can be added to Jack Nicholson in The Shining, Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy and Brando in The Godfather as one of the finest examples of character acting you will ever come across. His 'Hemingwayesque' alcoholic rages are violent, visceral and disturbing and yet he contains a brittle fragility that draws you to his performance.
The shining light though is Altman. Not only did he get the best career performances out of his finely assembled ensemble (did Gould, Hayden or Van Pallant ever do better?), but also produced one of the best shot films of all time. Only bettered in this era by Coppola's The Conversation (not a bad film to come second to).
On top of all this is an overwhelming sense of the auteur, the soundtrack, camera work and acting performances all combine to create a synthesis of near perfect cinema.
Turn your computer off, run out of the house and rent/steal or buy this film. Watch it, you won't be disappointed.
It's true. You can't have mixed feelings about The Long Good-bye;
you'll either love it or hate it. I started the movie with what I
pretended was an open mind, but a secret hope that I'd be fully
justified in hating it. In my defense, The Maltese Falcon is my
favorite movie and Bogie is my favorite actor. Noir is my favorite film
genre and I love Howard Hawk's The Big Sleep wihich had Bogart as the
Altman's take on Chandler's other book with private eye Marlowe, The Long Good-bye, updates the action to the 1970's. He introduces a very 70's theme song and finds as different an actor as he can from Bogart for the role of Marlowe. From the opening frame, Elliot Gould plays Marlowe like a push-over. He's a man who constantly mutters to himself, suffers nervous tics, can't even fool his cat, is afraid of dog's and seems to be the only man not attracted to his sexy hippie neighbors despite their friendliness towards him and obvious promiscuousness.
However, Gould really creates a unique persona with the way he walks, talks, wise-cracks and operates. He becomes a believable person - which is why the uncharacteristic ending is so impacting. The photography, especially the night scenes, are beautifully filmed. The theme music plays everywhere - a Mexican funeral, a doorbell, a car radio etc and with different singers. There are other layers of flesh added to the telling that really work - like the compound security guards impressions of James Stewart, Barbara Stanwyck, Cary Grant and best of all Walter Brennan aka Stumpy from Rio Bravo.
This movie worked great for me and the plot, intricate though it was, was understandable. I will not compare this Marlowe to Bogart's, but do find it admirable that Altman just stuck to the goal of making a good movie without trying to ape or make obvious references to the noir genre.
Easily one of Altman's best films and an early precursor to other films later in the decade by the director. The Long Goodbye is a fine transition in style to Altmans later films like "Nashville" and "A Wedding" Elliot Gould does an outstanding job portraying the outre detective Phillip Marlowe, using his mumbling, bumbling, smart ass speaking style, as a technique to keep the film under the illusion that everything is in motion, like the ocean waves in the film, Marlowe speaks in a sort of beatnik type "Daddy-O" style combined with a smooth talking private eye, and the result works perfectly. The film works like it is timed by a metronome, it rolls along, seamlessly in a way that only Altman can achieve, and like the rhythm of the waves and Marlowe's speech, the camera is constantly in motion as well. The roving camera does an excellent job of allowing the viewer to feel as though they are witnessing more action than actually exists on screen.
Wade (Sterling Hayden) is a fantastic Hemingway-esque writer in the film. Hayden's size and booming voice, in conjunction with his alcoholism and potential brutality, lend an aroma of unpredictableness to his character. Wade's beautiful wife, who has a mysterious bruise on her face, is like a timid, loyal animal, subjected to the whims of her over bearing master. Henry Gibson, who plays Wade's doctor, is excellent as a sort of despotic mouse, who frightens an elephant into conforming to his will, this irony is one of the films intriguing, bizarre twists.
This film works well as a character study, and is one of the best films of the seventies. A must see for every student of film. 9/10
The first time I saw this movie was back in the seventies and this was the
film that won me over to Robert Altman's great works in the American
Granted, at the time of the movie's release Raymond Chandler purists naturally didn't appreciate the transformation his knight errant private eye underwent. But nowadays, the viewer must see the film for its great direction, terrific performances, Leigh Brackett's excellent screenplay and the fine cinematography. Not to mention simply the challenge of understanding a truly baffling plot. As in all of Altman's works, this one is peppered with offbeat characters and subtle (and some not-so subtle) situations that positively take you by surprise. As a maverick figure in Hollywood, Altman made sure "iconoclast" was stamped all over this film, it's a true nose-thumbing at every institution that Hollywood reveres; idealistic movie heroes, neat happy-ever-after endings, big budget spectacles, dependable money-making conventions and all around ass-kissing.
But the real treat here is, of course, Elliott Gould, and I don't believe that it's the best thing he's ever done on screen, as many think. He's certainly turned out even better performances than this one throughout the past 3 decades. But yet, in The Long Goodbye, Gould is just so much fun to watch, especially when he's being interrogated by the police or just muttering lines like, "He's got a girl, I got a cat" or "a melon convention" when he gives up trying to get his topless next-door neighbors' attention.
An interesting thing to note at the end of the film - we see the back shot of Marlowe walking away and that to me, was the private eye's closing shot, but then we have a front shot of Elliott Gould who begins playing his harmonica and then continues on up the road doing his little number, dancing a jig, etc. And to me that shows where Marlowe left off and where Gould takes over. So they weren't one and the same after all. Once again, a statement to those who would be too quick to take the Marlowe myth seriously.
The Long Goodbye is vintage Altman, a masterwork to be savoured forever.
Phillip Marlowe is out getting food for his cat at 3am when friend
Terry Lennox pops over and asks for a lift to Mexico. Marlowe obliges
but returns to his home to find the police waiting for him with stories
of Terry murdering his wife and Marlowe being an accessory. Three days
later he is released from a holding cell whereupon he learns the news
of his friend's suicide and all charges are dropped. Determined to get
to the bottom of this open and shut case, Marlowe finds himself
involved in the stormy marriage of Roger and Eileen Wade and the
criminal activities of Marty Augustine.
Hailed as a classic, this film is actually a bit of hard work crossed with cool style in a plot that gets somewhere but seems to take a long time and a million back roads to get there. It won't be to everyone's tastes as a result because, even though I quite liked it, I must confess that the narrative is hard to follow and hard to particularly care much about. The wit of it is watching Marlowe updated a device that will annoy as many as it pleases. In Gould's laidback and shabby detective we have the opposite of the tough and snappy detectives of the genre, but it sits well within the modern setting of the modern generation (as was) with its hedonism and fads. This is interesting but not the same as a good detective story, which sadly this isn't. If you're not won over by the overall approach then it is unlikely that you will find a lot more to fill the time.
Altman's direction is focused on the style and, although he is fairly respectful to the material in regards what happens, he doesn't go out of his way to make it engaging. Gould fits the role well and enjoys his character. I would have liked more of the complexity underneath to come through to contrast with this surface. He is the film but he is well supported by a hammy show from Sterling and solid turns from Rydell, Pallandt, Gibson and Bouton.
Overall then a difficult film to really like. It has enough of its own style to be interesting but not enough of a hook in the narrative to please a mass audience. Altman's hands are all over the film and I understand why some viewers don't like it for that reason. Not one for those looking for a gripping detective story, but still interesting.
Much like the 30's hard-bop jazz music that opens the movie, The Long
Goodbye appears on the surface to take its cue from classic film-noir.
No surprise here, it IS based after all on the Raymond Chandler novel
by the same name, Chandler as iconic a figure in the noir realm as
you're likely to get and responsible for some of the most distinctly
classic moments of the genre (Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep, also
Strangers on a Train for Hitchcock). But instead of rehashing styles
and themes from a bygone era of film-making, slaving them in the
service of a hip or serviceable crime flick that passes the time,
Altman instead takes Chandler's film-noir exoskeleton, strips it of all
fat and hangs on it his own unique take.
Elliot Gould is Phillip Marlowe. Scruffy, sardonic and alienated private dick with a smart mouth and a cigarette eternally glued to his lips. He's cool alright but not the suave kind of cool that would impress dames in the 40's. He seems constantly out of place, doomed to observe and comment in his witty repartee on what's going on around him or just let the chips fall where they may. And they do.
Chandler's story is as good as one would expect from such a patriarch of hardboiled hijinks and the screenplay matches it every step of the way. All the staples of a noir film are present, simultaneously fulfilling the genre promise of a Phillip Marlowe film and in the same time preparing the ground for Altman's take on it; murder, missing money, unhappy marriages, a private eye hired to investigate, twists and turns. The works. Sprawling and convoluted like the best of noirs usually are. The dialogue crackling with inventiveness, shedding toughguy lingo for a sense of playfulness, rolling in and out of the picture in a stream-of-consciousness way.
Some of the twists and characters seem to carry a sense of seething malice, a fleeting glimpse on the seemy underbelly of the Great American Beast, the scars and ugliness of Hollywood showing behind a faded facade of glamour, an escalating creepiness factor that recalls the later works of David Lynch, predating him by a good number of years as it does. The mousey Dr. Verringe and the whole clinic subplot reminded me of Lost Highway for example.
What really elevates The Long Goodbye in another level is Altman's direction and Vilmos Zsigmond's cinematography. This is only my second Altman picture (after the very good McCabe and Mrs. Miller) but 2 hours in his presence were enough to leave an indelible sense that I'm watching the work of a director on top of his craft. Altman's camera is always on the move, slowly panning and zooming in and out of the frame, picking up details, guiding the eye but never getting in the middle of the story or screaming for attention. The whole thing has a naturalistic, subdued feel to it, what with the unobtrusive lighting and bleached-out, hazy look; no glitz or glamour here. Only the faded, long-gone impression of it.
The Long Goodbye is both a fantastic and somewhat hidden gem of 70's crime cinema and also one of the missing links in the evolution of noir, all the way from Sunset Blvd. to Mullholland Drive. Strongly recommended.
When I first saw the film it was after I've read Chandler's book and I was
disappointed, because it was not the same Marlowe and not the same story.
Now, after seeing this film many times I can say without hesitation that
this is a masterpiece an Altman is a master of his craft.I think, that if it
was made according to the book, it would be long forgotten.
The film is all about masks, misleading and misinterpretation.These are the bases of P.I. s' movies, and as Marlowe says all over the film "That's alright with me", but when it gets to Marlow's inner circle and ruins its basic beliefs its not "alright" anymore.
The cynical mask Marlowe wore in the relatively "naive" 40', so he could cope with the harsh reality then, isnt enough for the "sober" 70',and he had to change it to an indifferent clown mask. He think he could get away with this mask, but the treacherous reality gets to him at last. Eliot Gould is terrific in this role
Unlike many reviewers, I think the real Chandler's Marlow without the masks is revealed in the finale scene with Terry.
Nina Van Planndat who played Eileen Wade was known as the misstress of a well-known hoaxer at the time, and that contributed to her enigmatic role.She plays the fragile beaten woman (The blond femme fatale). Sterling Hyden is great as full of rage and bad manners Roger Wade.These impressions are of course all masks, but Marlowe fails to interpret them right, until its too late. The only one who doesn't wear mask is augustine (Mark Rydel in a real horrific performance)and he is the key for solving the mystery.
Dont expect a Marlowe regular. this film reflects the mood of one of the worst eras in US recent history, and its dark soul is masked by colors and brilliant directing and performance.
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