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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.
When he awakens at the beginning of the movie, private eye Philip
Marlowe is a 1953 character in a 1973 domain. He wears a dark suit,
white shirt and skinny tie, yet sees flower power and nude yoga each
time he steps out of his apartment. He chain-smokes, and no one else
seems to take even a drag. He is allegiant to Terry Lennox and calls
him his friend, but all we see is a scene of them playing
conversational poker. Marlowe carries a $5,000 bill for most of the
movie, but doesn't commit to the risks he takes with a big pay-off in
Bogie, Mitchum, Montgomery and Powell were concise and watchful. They show us in their stylish ways contempt for phonies and resentment for trivialities. Gould's Marlowe is virtually unflappable and wryly cynical. He's not that terribly dissimilar from the other Marlowes we're used to, but the film seems to almost parody Chandler's icon by having him deliver a wandering discourse that plays as a dazed narration to himself. Gould's Marlowe has a cat, and in the endearing pre-credit opening sequence he tries to persuade the cat he is providing its preferred cat food, but the cat is no rube, so he goes out in the wee hours of the morning to buy the right can. There is no narrative reason for this sequence, except that it establishes Marlowe as a guy who, no matter how dry, has a heart, and that his cat is his one true friend.
The story can be explained in a spare sentence or a roundabout monologue. At any rate, how everyone connects to each other doesn't interest Altman nearly as much as the texture and atmosphere of the film. Probing the ever-shifting line between fantasy and reality, he wants to show a private eye from the noir era floundering through a plot he is maybe too old-fashioned to wrap his mind around. The movie's aesthetic approach accents his bewilderment. Altman and his cinematographer, Vilmos Zsigmond, "flashed" the color film with delicately gauged extra light, to give it a bleached, pastel look, as if Marlowe's domain evades rich colors and acute delineation. Most of the shots are filmed through cloudy foregrounds: Panes of glass, trees and shrubbery, building nuances, all skewing our view.
The trademark Altman overlapping dialogue makes it seem like Marlowe doesn't get wise to everything around him. Far from objecting to the darkness in his world as he did in older Chandler adaptations, Marlowe periodically recaps the fantastic logline, "It's all right with me." The line was ad-libbed by Gould, and he and Altman chose to make it a cynical motto. In a way there is another, in character with Altman's penchant for the self-reflexive use of sound and music: The title theme, which is almost the only music in the film. It plays constantly with various performers, even a Mexican mariachi band, with the sheet score pinned to some guy's shirt. I guess Altman found it funny in that detached, cynical way that Gould's Marlowe finds so many things amusing. The film is full of unexpected humor, which is often funnier than when it's expected. I laughed the most when Marlowe hand-walks a gangster's blockhead henchman through the basics of tailing him.
Casting is pivotal to film noir since the actors in the genre's essential works tend to show up already en route to their destinies. Altman's actors are as surprising as they are destined. Sterling Hayden, a humiliated lion, growls and bluffs in futility at his pathetic situation. Mark Rydell, a director, sounds as if to siphon Martin Scorsese's speech patterns in a performance that utilizes laborious politeness as a masquerade for a barbarism only the dumbest of thugs would follow; this notion is used to hilarious effect. And Gould is a Marlowe lunged into a play where everybody else knows their parts. He rambles carping and baffled, and then abruptly gets precisely what he must do.
This screamingly iconoclastic condemnation of a movie should not be anybody's first film noir, nor their first Robert Altman movie. Its entire impact comes from the way it messes with the genre and the way Altman's admirable signature attempt to subvert some of American history's most forthright myths frustrates the basis of all private eye movies, which is that the hero can walk through murky alleys, see beyond doubt, and tell right from wrong. The man of dignity from the 1950s is lost in the punch-drunk self-seeking of the 1970s.
As an avid Raymond Chandler reader, I am always interested in films
that adapt his works. When I first heard of "The Long Goodbye" I
assumed that it was a faithful adaptation of Chandler's novel. When I
learned that it was not, it dampened my enthusiasm for it and I avoided
it for awhile. However, finally I did see it and in the amusingly
repeated words of Elliott Gould's iteration of Philip Marlowe, "It's
okay with me."
The setting has been changed from the 1950s to the 1970s. However, the film does have an appropriate look that is often dark and would fit with a more conventional noir style detective film. Added to this is John Williams' excellent score, which makes the most of variations on one song.
Elliott Gould leads the cast as the iconic detective Philip Marlowe. Gould's Marlowe is in a number of respects the polar opposite of Bogart's famous portrayal of the detective in "The Big Sleep" (1946). He is exceedingly casual, sometimes mutters lines that Bogart would deliver with force and is often meek or clumsy. It was interesting to see this unorthodox version of Marlowe, and Gould handled the role well. The film even parodies the frequent smoking of Hollywood classics by highlighting the fact that Marlowe smokes in each scene and lights a match on any surface available. Amusingly one of the characters even calls him "Marlboro". Marlowe's frequent smoking appears excessive and unrefined, which is a fitting given contemporary negative perceptions of smoking.
The rest of the cast is solid as well. Especially notable from the supporting is from Mark Rydell, who is convincing and shocking as the gangster Marty Augustine. Nina Van Pallandt is also effective as the classy, suffering Eileen Wade and as is Sterling Hayden as the belligerent alcoholic Roger Wade. Henry Gibson was an apt choice as the small yet imposing Dr. Verringer. I also enjoyed Ken Sansom as the guard who excels at impressions of famous Hollywood actors and actresses.
There is still a mystery story in this film as in the novel. It is less intense than the original and liable to displease those looking for a more precise Chandler adaptation, but for me it was satisfactory. This film does effectively give a sense of the seediness surrounding Marlowe through the characters as in Chandler's novels. The combination of the novelty of Gould's Marlowe, the mystery story and the character interactions was enough to keep this film interesting despite the deviations from the novel.
The only part of the film that didn't strike me favorably was the ending. I realize that the Marlowe of this film is not the same as that of the books, but for me his decision near the film's end was too far beyond anything Philip Marlowe would do. No doubt those that favor the ending will argue it fits with the tone of the film, but ultimately my complaint about the ending is a minor one against this overall great film. However, I was amused by the crackly "Hooray for Hollywood" at the film's end. Those willing to see a revisionist approach to Chandler should give "The Long Goodbye" a chance.
Philip Marlowe is a detective who lives alone in an attic, with his
whimsical cat, and lives a bohemian life lonely and somewhat
extravagant. One night his friend Terry Lennox gets home, tells him he
has had differences with his wife and asks her to accompany him to the
Mexican border for a change. The Marlowe detective agrees, but upon
returning home finds police questioned him on the subject of travel.
Marlowe, for a short time, ends up in jail accused of complicity in the
murder of the wife of Terry, who has appeared brutally beaten.
Robert Alman can take advantage of this simple story of Noir and Police Cinema. A good script by Leigh Brackett based on Raymond Chandler novel about character Marlowe. A catchy music of John Wlliams, Vilmos Zsigmond acceptable photograph and some pretty good performances of Alliot Gould, Sterling Hayden and Nina Van Pllandt among others. I think Gould plays the role demystifying the character in the novel, filling the role of a single subject, with his perennial cigarette in mouth, with its principles and individualistic style that makes you attractive to the viewer: Elliott Gould builds an Marlowe original, and although not a masterpiece itself is an acceptable free interpretation of Marlowe as nice guy, non Bogart or Mitchum, but is able to rile their opponents in the movie. And I particularly appreciate this type of character leaving the alpha male stereotype, which is already more than enough of those in American Cinema. Sterling Hayden is also very good in the movie, by the way.
But the most curious is its final film, very taste of "The Third Man", with the choice between friendship and justice. Even the final shot looks like something out of Carol Reed's film.
In short: it's a 1973 film that can be seen and have a good time forty years later. And this is a whole merits being a recreation of the novel.
As other reviewers astutely noted, this "ain't" your prototypical
Phillip Marlowe. What we have is Elliot Gould cast as a semi-neurotic,
fiendishly chain-smoking, loquacious quasi-private dick who nonetheless
has strong a penchant for seeking out his version of truth and justice
in his own eerily calculating manner. He turns out to be the
quintessential Marlowe for the early 70's as he romps through the L.A.
environs that are rife with trendy gangsters, semi-shady cops, topless
yoga freaks, nouveau-riche Malibu jet-setters, et al. So much time is
devoted to satirizing the aforementioned crowd and the overall "scene"
at that time, with verbose and sometimes rambling dialogue, that the
actual plot story line could have probably been wrapped up in an hour
or less. But, hey, it was the 70's, and people got "buzzed" and
Yet Mr. Altman & Co. purposely includes this tangential plot fodder to add more emphasis on the characters, individually and collectively. By letting his characters verbally ramble, he lets us know more about each one's set of idiosyncrasies and how that inevitably adds to the overall plot scheme. For example, Sterling Hayden's verbal rantings were not just for a momentary freak-out show, but were a part of his inner frustrations that would manifest themselves more clearly as the plot unfolded. Each actor carried out the demands of his/her role in an interesting fashion, which made for an entertaining drama coupled with a solid detective yarn (and a cool ending)!
Lastly, the accompanying theme music, bearing the movie's title, added a poignant touch to the goings-on, especially since that theme was performed by 4 or 5 different groups of musicians, each with a different musical texture and apropos to its accompanying scene.
"The Long Goodbye" takes Philip Marlowe out of the '40s. Elliot Gould
brings a different delivery to the character, a delivery that audiences
of the '70s could respond to in a way that the audiences of the '40s
could not. He is a wandering soul who happens to be good at
investigating. He is passionless as he relies on the skills that suit
his vocation. Somehow, the murder that drives the plot in this movie
falls into his lap and he knows how to capitalize on each of the quiet
revelations, not in a forward-moving way, but in a haphazard style that
builds to an unexpected end.
The movie has lots of mood, thanks to the very slow scenes, especially at the beginning. Halfway through the movie the plot threads begin to weave together and the characters and motivations begin to make some sense. Altogether, this isn't the main point of the movie. Plot is still the driving force, but building the atmosphere around it, and highlighting the quiet non-conformity of the main character, seems to be pre-eminent in the minds of the movie makers.
Adding to the atmosphere is a score that is not what we expect from John Williams, but a nice study for fans of his work. He captures an echo of a previous era with his title tune "The Long Goodbye." It could have been a jazz standard that Billie Holiday would have sung. Instead, the melody finds itself in variations so varied that one has to listen discerningly to realize it's the same tune throughout the movie. As such, it becomes a backdrop, a part of the texture, a reminder of the theme of the movie, and even a hint toward the climactic ending.
Gould is excellent in the lead, bringing the right touch of sympathy to the character without forgetting the rough edges which are so practical to the type of character he plays. Altman controls the pacing, the contrast within scenes, enough to draw the reader into the story, so that it becomes less a voyeuristic experience that most movies strive to be, but bordering on a visceral experience, as if we are Marlowe's unseen sidekick.
The movie demands a bit of patience and some careful watching, but in the end it's worth the time to get lost in the movie experience.
It's not easy being private investigator Philip Marlowe.First his hungry cat wakes him up and then runs away.Later the cops put him behind bars for his friend Terry Lennox is accused of murdering his wife.And it was Marlowe who drove him to Tijuana, Mexico.Then we hear that Lennox has killed himself.Then he's hired by the wealthy Eileen Wade who asks him to find her alcoholic husband, author Roger Wade.He finds out that the Wades knew the Lennoxes.It's not the easiest case to crack.The late great Robert Altman is the director of The Long Goodbye (1973).We hear the fantastic title song by John Williams many times during this movie.Elliot Gould makes a great Marlowe.The legendary Sterling Hayden plays Roger Wade.This is a great movie.Watch it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Terry Lennox has a problem. He's in trouble and needs help getting out
of the country. Who else can he go to than one of his best friends,
Philip Marlowe? All he asks is that Marlowe drive him down to
Tijuana...right now. Marlowe, a private eye who probably has few good
friends other than Lennox, does it. When Marlowe gets back hours later,
he's picked up by the cops, knocked around, jailed and finally
released. It seems Terry's wife has been beaten to death and the police
want to know where Terry is. Marlowe doesn't believe that his friend is
a killer and decides he'll look into the case. He also is hired by the
sexy Eileen Wade to find her missing husband, the aging alcoholic
writer Roger Wade. Funny, Marlowe finally decides, that the Wades live
very close to the Lennox house in an exclusive, gated Malibu enclave
(with a private cop at the gate who does a good imitation of Barbara
Stanwyck). Then Marlowe is forced into a private conversation with the
gangster Marty Augustine...something about a missing $50,000 of
Augustine's that Lennox supposedly had and that Augustine wants back.
Marlowe is taught how vicious Augustine can be in one violent act so
startling it'll make your stress level rise every time Augustine shows
up. Marlowe finally puts all the pieces together, slowly and
persistently, until he finds himself in Mexico for probably the last
Is this really Philip Marlowe we're watching? Well, it's Robert Altman's Philip Marlowe, which means Raymond Chandler probably wouldn't recognize him. Is this a bad thing? Not at all. Altman (and Elliot Gould as Marlowe) has put his own imprint on the iconic gumshoe. Marlowe is often just confused by things. He's laid back, quizzical, good-natured in a reasonably skeptical way, not quite a loser, maybe not too smart the first time around but he learns and he is not going to stop looking for answers. The mystery has a vague resemblance to the bones of Chandler's book, but Altman isn't as much concerned with the trajectory of Mrs. Lennoxes murder as he is with the interplay of Marlowe and those he meets, and in how the story evolves from that interplay.
Altman put together a vivid cast. Gould would probably be glaringly miscast as a Marlowe played tough and straight. As Altman's Marlowe, however, he's the glue that holds the movie together and provides that strange Altman mixture of almost sly humor and drama. The byplay between Marlowe and his hungry cat and between Marlowe and the three luscious yoga practitioners in the next apartment lets us settle into this new-model Marlowe. Sterling Hayden as Roger Wade gives a roaring, dynamic, foul-mouthed performance. The scenes he shares with the small, precise and sleazy Dr. Verringer played by Henry Gibson are almost surreal in the disparity between the two actors' physical sizes and acting styles. Gibson, with a terrible comb-over, holds his own. When he slaps Hayden full in the face, it's almost as startling as what Augustine does with a glass Coke bottle. Nina Van Pallandt does a fine job as the complex and compelling Eileen Wade. We're no more sure of her game than Marlowe is, but he's got enough sense not to fall for her. Jim Boulton as Terry Lennox doesn't have a lot of screen time, but you'll remember him.
The end of the movie, when Marlowe puts the pieces together and provides his own sad justice, left me thinking...but about what, I'm not sure. About the nature of friendship, I guess...how friendship doesn't necessarily work both ways, even when you think it does. Altman has given us a first-rate movie that goes well beyond a private eye caper. Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe is a fine creation. So is Robert Altman's. This is a film worth watching several times.
I would like to put this in the top tier of Bob stuff with McCabe and
Gosford Park, but I feel that it has lost some of the nuance that the
viewers of three decades ago must have enjoyed. Elliot Gould seems
almost blasé in his portrayal of the prototypical noir detective,
Philip Marlowe, and his cool, detached demeanor makes the film tend
toward the soporific. Sterling Hayden felt a little too
Hemmingway-esquire (maybe it was the beard) as the alcoholic writer.
Nina van Pallendt delivers a rather by the numbers performance as the
red herring/romantic interest who momentarily diverts Marlowe's
The film has a washed out, golden look, owing to a technique of 'flashing' or overexposing the film. Altman's idea was that Marlowe has been asleep for twenty years and he wakes to find himself in the sun baked, marijuana baking L.A. of 1973, but having the same values he had in 1953. This conceit does not get voiced literally, but every scene has some little feature that crows out the modernity of Marlowe's surroundings while making him seem terribly anachronistic by comparison. In fact, the temporal displacement gag feels a bit heavy handed after a while.
If Altman had made another Marlowe movie every 10 years or so, the premise might have seemed to have achieved fruition. But 'The Long Goodbye' on its own, while still very watchable, does little that one doesn't see in scads of antecedent noirs.
Swartzenegger looks awesome in this (it was during his pumping iron days) and thankfully says nothing.
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