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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I found this one on Netflix streaming movies, I saw it as a nostalgia
movie, and because it is directed by a Robert Altman.
Elliott Gould is private detective Philip Marlowe, playing it in his own unique style. He get to know him first in his messy apartment, needing to feed his cat, a cat that seems very particular about its food.
Then an old friend shows up, asks for a ride. To Mexico. That very brief part is played by Jim Bouton, former major league baseball pitcher. He has few lines so it works out OK. Right after the cops question Marlowe, it seems the friend's wife is found dead. Then Marlowe gets hired by a woman to find her husband, Sterling Hayden as Roger Wade, author, who is pretty strange.
I enjoyed it not so much for the story but to see the old Altman movie, and Elliot Gould in an early role. Also fun was to see Arnold Schwarzenneger in an uncredited part as one of the body guards for a mobster. Arnold has no lines, and the scene requires him to take off his shirt to reveal his muscles, in his prime during his run of world bodybuilding titles. It is strange to see this guy in his early 20s, knowing what a big action star he was to become.
Private investigator Philip Marlowe has a major shortcoming - he is
easy to push around. Even his cat has his ways with him and sends
Marlowe off in the middle of the night to get some cat food. But when
he fails miserably, the cat smells a rat, well, sort of. And now that
we've set the tone: How about a favor for a friend? That's OK with our
hero as well, no need to ask too many questions. Well, big mistake,
When getting into "The Long Goodbye" it helps to know that the version of a Philip Marlowe as Eliott Gould portrays him in Robert Altman's film is far removed from the original character created by Raymond Chandler in his novel series. It's a "Rip Van Marlowe" as Altman himself referred to it, a character from the fifties who wakes up in the seventies. Only to tumble into a strange kind of film noir. In color of course. With a coolness bordering on lethargy exhibited by the protagonist, exquisite deadpan humor with dozens of sharp-tongued one-liners and a serious dosage of Altman approach. The latter translates to nothing less than a bold re-invention of a whole genre. The plot is negligible, quite complicated actually to untangle, be it on first or subsequent viewings, but it's not what this flic is about. All the ingredients of a Chandler noir are still there, but Altman wouldn't be Altman if he hadn't some own ideas up his sleeve. He satirizes conventions, plays with them, lets Gould improvise and eventually opts for a different ending which sets everything that happened before in perspective. Also a nice touch: Throughout the movie the film's title theme - with or without lyrics - is repeated over and over again in variations, making perfectly clear where it's heading... To conclude: If you love film noir and are appreciative of a fresh take on it I'm sure you'll welcome the often seriously underrated "The Long Goodbye" with open arms.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I hear the name Raymond Chandler and already I'm thinking Bogey in "The
Big Sleep" as detective Phillip Marlowe. Elliott Gould is about the
last person I'd think of casting as Marlowe, and his take on the
character quickly made me forget about the original source material and
had me viewing the story as a Seventies murder mystery. On that level
the picture works well enough for me. I enjoy the sarcasm coming from a
straight character like Marlowe, though the writing was somewhat
lacking in the snappy banter department. The contrast to Bogey getting
grilled by Ward Bond and Barton MacLane in "The Maltese Falcon" is what
I'm referring to, the dialog here didn't quite pull it off. I know,
Bogey was Sam Spade in that one, but you get the idea.
Cinematically the picture's a treat, and I don't think I've ever been as enthralled with a filming technique as much as the one used here when Roger Wade (Sterling Hayden) and his wife (Nina van Pallandt) have the conversation in his study as Marlowe hangs out on the beach behind them. The double exposure technique, or whatever it's called, constantly shifts your attention between the parties and adds to the surreal nature of the crimes being investigated.
You know, when gangster Marty Augustine (Mark Rydell) had his henchmen strip down in that confrontation with Marlowe, I didn't know what to make of that guy with the bulging muscles who looked like Arnold Schwarzenneger. Turns out it was him after all when I checked the uncredited cast list, imagine that. I'd also like to find out how Jim Bouton was selected to play the part of Marlowe's pal Lennox. Not being that much of a baseball fan, I didn't recognize him playing the character, but learning about it after the fact made me do a double take.
The kicker in all this of course is the fatal ending for the already presumed dead Terry Lennox. I don't know that Chandler's hero ever took it personally, but here was Marlowe collecting payback big time. Just goes to show that you can only take friendship so far.
What a wild movie. And when I say that I don't mean to say it as a
fault. Quite the opposite in fact! This has quickly become a top ten
movie for me as it is just so interesting on so many levels.
First, Elliot Gould is a revelation as the chain smoking, wise cracking private detective living as a man out of his time in the wild 70's of LA. His under the breath come backs are so snarky and perfect, you have to love him. He's got a cat that has special dietary needs, wild next door neighbors, a doorman who does impressions, and a friend who needs a ride to Mexico at three in the morning (Who later winds up dead, setting off the movie) If it all sounds a bit odd, it is. But it's so good, you'll wonder what took so long to find this movie.
As with many great movies, there's more going on here than a great leading man and his wisecracks. Director Robert Altman tries some different things here, which really work. First, the title song which is great, is repeated throughout the whole movie in different arrangements. I've never seen that before in any movie, and it works great. The second, which is much more subtle, is the fact that the camera never stops moving for the entire two hours. Not one static shot. A ingenious device IMO.
Finally, we have the supporting cast. Without being more familiar with Sterling Hayden's work other than the Godfather, and the great The Killing, his role as an alcoholic writer is so impressive, that you have to wonder if he's really acting at all. Mark Rydell, later a director (For the Boys) has a small role as a gangster who is terrifying.
To try and accurately describe this movie wouldn't do it justice, needless to say it is a must watch. Highly recommended!
"The Long Goodbye" is an amusing dropping of Philip Marlow,
prototypical noir detective, in the decadent and aimless 1970s. That
alone makes this movie worth a watch to any fans of the genre,
especially as much of it indulges in subtly spoofing the absurdities of
the golden age detective pulp fiction by putting them in a realistic
I suppose Elliott Gould is as good an actor as you're likely to find to pull this off. We meet Marlow as he struggles to please his picky-eating cat, and soon is tasked with ferrying his wealthy friend Terry Lennox to Mexico. Lennox's wife was just murdered, and Marlow is picked up by the bullying police, the first of several misadventures his helping Lennox puts him in. We don't meet the femme fatale, Eileen Wade, until well into the movie, and we gradually learn she isn't just hiring Marlow to retrieve her drunken husband, as she initially claims.
As a detective story, the plot is too confused and haphazardly delivered to be all that effective. But the movie is more of a satire of the detective genre than a serious attempt at a mystery movie, so I suppose that's excusable. Marlow, who refuses to remove his American flag tie and drives around an antique car that screams "noir", is mildly amusing as he wanders through some very stereotypical 1970s surroundings.
The cheeky "fish out of water" joke is a bit much to hang an entire movie on, though. This movie does have some funny moments aside from the main joke, though, mostly provided by Gould's ad-libbing, and the casting of a very young Arnold Schwarzenegger as a nameless goon provides yet another reason to revisit this movie. A lot of elements of the movie, like the clichéd Mexican characters and the repetition of the title theme, are downright corny.
The screenplay (Leigh Brackett) of The Long Good-bye is unusually well
thought out and coherent. For a private-eye movie, that's an exception,
and I suspect it's that very tightness which forced the famously
anarchic Altman into a disciplined groove. It also helped produce this,
his most accomplished, film. Then too, only an audacious film-maker of
Altman's calibre could have brought such an irreverent approach to the
screen. Small wonder Chandler purists detest this 1960's version of
Phillip Marlowe. Like others of that period, the film sets about
subverting an icon of the popular culture. Elliot Gould's Marlowe is
anything but the hard-boiled professional audiences have come to admire
and expect. Instead, he's grubby, feckless, and seemingly too
disengaged to care about Chandler's prized passion: chasing after truth
despite an uncaring corrupt society. Worse, one suspects Gould's
Marlowe is a hippie at heart, ready to chuck it all and head for the
woods with his beloved cat, a load of pot, and a world-weary "Its OK
with me". Moreover, he's tossed about by most every event that comes
his way, too burned-out to complete a thought and too bummed-out to
press an investigation. He can't even find his cat. The slouching gait
and hang-dog expression have all the assurance and verve of a man
headed for a hanging. Bogart's classic impersonation, it ain't.
But Altman has laid a trap, one that only comes into focus at film's end. It's a startling yet oddly believable turn of events. Head doctors term this type of reconfiguration Gestalt Shift, and here the shift is a rewarding one, causing us to go back and re-examine the Gould character and his passage through what has gone before. It's also a brilliant stroke which at last links the counter-cultural Marlowe to the classic version. There are many fine touches in the film, including a highly effective use of sudden violence, particularly runty Henry Gibson's slam-bang humbling of lordly Sterling Hayden (he knows about drunks). And, for once, Altman's penchant for non-actors like Jim Bouton does little damage, although I wish the ending had skipped the ill-advised "Hooray for Hollywood". Nonetheless, this is one of the half dozen or so films that define counter-cultural film-making from the 60's. However, Its key Southern California ambiance is best viewed, as other reviewers point out, in wide- screen. So catch up with that mode if you can.
Taking a leaf from Jean-Luc Godard's varied book of ideas in the 1960s,
when the 'nouvelle vague' had gripped American film makers, Altman
delivers a curious, fascinating, humorous, and irreverent discussion of
Phillip Marlowe and the detective genre.
Godard had eroded the genres of the musical and detective film and showed what their limits were. That is when genre film styles are transgressed the limits of genre they could not be genre films. When something similar is done with music, mixing country with disco, it is also disturbing and funny.
This strategy had been the force behind the French structuralists, by revealing what it is, and manipulating its devices, plots, and characterizations, the work is no longer what it pretends to be.
Altman seems to have understood this idea well (perhaps only intuitively) because he did it in all his works and in The Long Goodbye its employed with some success.
The method is best in the first half and certainly in the opening 20 minutes, but in the middle, the crucial second act, it breaks down because it has to adhere to plotting and story telling but is also working against that motive. Consequently there are many dull and plain boring parts. The drinks between Marlowe and Wade on the beach being one.
It is no wonder in this world that only van Pallandt's character is normal, plays by the old rules, where everyone else is busking their way through proceedings and seems to be part of some semiotics class on the meaning of the private eye movie.
If viewed as not a Chandler movie and as an extended essay on film making (which is Godard's own view of film making, as essays), then The Long Goodbye can be enjoyable.
I was 23 when I first saw this in a theater. I left scratching my head.
I was already an Altman fan, but he seemed the last guy on earth that
would adapt Raymond Chandler. Elliott Gould, known mostly at the time
as a comic actor, as Phillip Marlowe? That was like replacing Bruce
Willis with Steve Carell in a "Die Hard" movie.
Watching it now, I see how much I missed watching it as a callow youth.
Gould/Altman decided to portray Marlowe as a man out of time. From the dim alleys and sleazy nightclubs of Bogart-era Chandler, was are transported into sun-drenched SoCal. Everyone's dressed for the beach or a patio party. Marlowe's in a black suit. People are drinking, but Marlowe has a perpetual cigarette in his mouth. He twitches and mumbles. His neighbors are a gaggle of cute girls who are usually topless. Except when he needs their help finding his cat, he ignores them.
Tough "knight errant" Marlowe has a cat? Oh yes. In fact, the entire first ten minutes of the movie are devoted to him and his cat as he goes on a middle-of-the night quest to a supermarket for cat food. He can't find the brand his cat likes, so he buys another brand, brings it home, shuts his cat out of the kitchen, transfers to cat food to an empty can of the kind the cat likes, lets the cat into the kitchen, shows it the label on the can and dishes it out. The cat turns up its nose and ends up running away.
Why is this scene in a detective movie? It shows the length he will go to take care of someone (or some cat) he cares about, even though he ends up betrayed. And that's the bottom line on Marlowe.
He's a man of deep integrity, plain and simple. That is why, handed a case, he can stroll blithely through all kinds of corruption, vanity, stupidity, sadism and treachery with total equanimity. "It's OK with me," is his constant refrain. It simply doesn't rub off on him.
The entire cast is superb. Sterling Hayden roars his way through the movie as an alcoholic Hemingwayesque writer. Henry Gibson is a sleazy doctor. Nina Van Pallandt is the glamour, floating around in billowing clothes. Marty Rydell is a gangster boss who has the second most shocking scene in the movie when he uses his meek girlfriend to demonstrate to Marlowe what he is capable of.
Marlowe himself has the most shocking scene, at the end, when he delivers justice. His final moment on camera, a long shot on a cheerful moment, reveals that we didn't really understand this guy at all.
Classic noir. Classic '70s cinema. Classic Altman.
Sometimes you watch an actor and wonder WHY they weren't bigger. Yes, Elliott Gould was/is a significant (I was going to say "big") star, but after watching this movie one has to ask themselves why he wasn't a "BIG" star. This movie had me from the beginning as this totally unique and irreverently-funny character jumped off the screen. The fact that this guy cared so much about his cat showed you the type of guy he really was. The fact that he switch the cans so the cat wouldn't know the tuna wasn't its favorite cemented the believability and the likability of the character...one that stands out considering ALL the characters I've ever seen. And when he turns his finger-printing into a Minstrel comparison during his impromptu jail stint - I was floored by the comedy of the whole thing and thought to myself "how in the world were movies this funny and clever in 1973"? I will forever love Gould and continually be convinced there are MANY gems out there to be found...as I am also convinced that NOBODY, unfortunately or otherwise...from music to movies, does it as good as they used to!!
Robert Altman will always be remembered as a daring and willing
director, not afraid to go against the conventional ideas and themes
usually associated with certain films and genres. With The Long
Goodbye, Altman takes on Raymond Chandler and his famous hard-boiled
dialog and characters, particularly the famous private eye Philip
Marlowe. However, this is not a retelling of the famous Chandler
stories that gave us Howard Hawk's The Big Sleep, considered by some to
be the greatest of all film-noir. Rather, Altman reinvents the whole
character of Marlowe and uses the typical murder plot to show a
different kind of man as well as create some very intriguing and
interesting sarcastic remarks at the early 1970s.
1973 is the setting of this film in more ways than one. Marlowe's neighbors are a group of spaced-out hippie girls constantly without tops, he runs across a guard with a knack for actor impersonations, and the style and look of clothes and homes is certainly of the times. Yet, Marlowe looks and feels like he is from a different era. His wardrobe matches closer to that of the 1950s and he seems in many ways put out and isolated from all happening around him. It is in this way that Elliot Gould deserves much praise for his performance; he doesn't embody or call to mind Bogart as Marlowe but rather creates and entirely new and unique persona that is just as memorable.
The plot itself, like most Altman films, is secondary to the quirkiness of the characters and the tone and feel of the atmosphere and surroundings. What happens to Marlowe isn't as important as how he reacts to all of it. This sets ups for a very striking ending, and one that after all that has happened makes total sense. Maybe not as memorable as Hawk's film, but Altman is more concerned with establishing his own style. And here he succeeds.
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