Reviews of The Long Goodbye
Displaying all 7 reviews
Robert Altman was of a generation prior to the movie-brat group that revitalised the American film industry in the late ’60’s and ’70’s, but his philosophy and métier perfectly fit the new mood of quasi-deconstructionist revisionism and he. more than any other, produced a body of work during that period that is the exemplar of imagination, daring and zest. Leigh Brackett adapted Raymond Chandler’s final novel ‘The Long Goodbye’ as she’d help do with his ‘The Big Sleep’ nearly 20 years before, and Altman only came to direct after Peter Bogdanovich turned it down, and in turn recommended it to Altman. Altman also only agreed to do it if Brackett’s ending remained unchanged, a far more cynical ending than the book had, which allowed him to make a far more effective payoff for what is a leisurely paced build.
Altman makes it plain from the outset that he at once has an affection for the old Hollywood, and a certain contempt for it as well. ‘Hooray for Hollywood’ plays over the opening titles which then makes way for a bravura ten minute riff on Philip Marlowe (Elliot Gould) attempting to feed his very fussy cat at 3AM. The scene is reminiscent of Paul Newman’s opening to the 1965 detective film ‘Harper’ and indicates an allegiance to an oblique aesthetic in this Marlowe, rather than the directness of Bogart’s Marlowe, who wouldn’t have had a cat in the first place let alone attempt to outfox it with inferior food. Altman avoids a voiceover narration device by simply having Marlowe talk to himself in his mumbling sub-Brando tones, and this enables us to connect with the characters thoughts, even the inane and innocuous, as we get to know this laconic loser. The mood is also established of a ‘man out of time’, this Marlowe wears a dark suit when everyone else wears contemporary clothes, he’s the only one who smokes, he is in every way a man apart.
Marlowe is visited in the middle of the night by his friend Terry, who is in trouble and asks Marlowe to drive him to Mexico, which he does. On Marlowe’s return he finds the police waiting who inform him that Terry is wanted for the murder of his wife, and that makes Marlowe an accessory. Altman takes the opportunity to subvert the genre during the traditional police interrogation scene, and has Marlowe put on a ‘blackface’, at once compromising the integrity of the process and also making a subtle political point about who is usually the victim of these police tactics. Marlowe is released from the lock-up on the news that Terry has been found dead in Mexico as a suicide, but Marlowe doesn’t believe it. Marlowe takes a job from Eileen Wade (Nina Van Pallandt), a near neighbour of Terry’s at a rich Malibu beach side address, and soon both cases are intersecting. Marlowe tracks down missing husband Roger (Sterling Hayden) at a private hospital run by a sleazy Doctor (Henry Gibson) and brings him home to Eileen. The Wade’s marriage is obviously on the rocks and Marlowe catches some small inferences that Eileen knew more about Terry and his dead wife than she’s letting on. The sting in the tail is a vicious Jewish gangster called Augustine (Mark Rydell) claims Terry stole $350k from him and he pressures Marlowe to find it or suffer some drastic consequences. The trail leads Marlowe to Mexico and a confrontation with the truth.
Altman fills this California neo-noir dreamscape with all kinds of misfits and miscreants that manage to create a quotient of unease, an environment where Marlowe is never particularly comfortable or on top of the situation. His neighbours at the apartment block are a group of hippie, barely clad, pot head girls, doing their yoga and avoiding the ‘real’ world as much as possible, in their own way as disconnected as Marlowe. The gangster is a Hollywood Jew, a telling comment of Altman’s opinion of the industry, and also enabling him to bring some nasty violence into the action in an unexpected and sobering way, telling the audience and Marlowe as well ‘wake up, this is no hippie reverie’. Marlowe is called to action, his out of date apparel and choice of car (a vintage 1948 model) now serving as armour and steed as he charges into the fray. Another man out of time is Roger Wade, and Hayden gives a brilliant performance as the disheveled and alcoholic Hemingway-esque writer, who’s presence and gravitas further emphasises the ‘phony’ world of the Malibu rich that he’s obviously sold his artistic soul to, a world his wife is attached to. Wade is suffering writer’s block, or impotence in relation to his pretty wife, who needed to go elsewhere to get her sexual needs taken care of.
Altman’s soundtrack for much of the film is the churning and endless Malibu surf, reminding us of the constant impermanence of life, and also the John Williams and Johnny Mercer composed title song which is cleverly rendered in every genre imaginable from supermarket muzak, to Mexican funeral song! If Hawk’s ‘The Big Sleep’ was a classic standard song, it would be a Sinatra record, timeless and solid, whereas Altman has delivered a film that approximates a John Coltrane free-form improvisation, fluid, mercurial and unpredictable. Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, who has filmed the remarkable ‘McCabe and Mrs Miller’ for Altman, shot the film with a washed out ambience that reflected the hazy disconnect of the culture, this haze that Marlowe eventually emerges from in the strongest possible terms to enact the bracing finale. Altman’s hommage to the detective genre comes full circle as ‘Hooray for Hollywood’ strikes up again, to accompany Gould’s now liberated Marlowe, a man who’s re-discovered his core, who’s gone through the trial to find his own throwback beating tempo is several notches higher than the laid back ’70’s one he’d been living.
Gould’s stoner era laconic attitude works fine with the approach Altman takes and Gould makes the role his own, and considering the studio wanted either Robert Mitchum or Lee Marvin it’s a tribute to Altman’s vision that he backed Gould to do the lead. Rydell is a standout as the edgy Jewish gangster, and Van Pallandt hit the right tone as the ambiguous Eileen. Altman continued his explorations of various genres, and never spent too much time on any one in particular, and ‘The Long Goodbye’ remained his only neo-noir. He dedicated the film to the actor Dan Blocker, who’d played ‘Hoss’ in the TV show Bonanza and who Altman had originally cast as Roger Wade, but who died just prior to production. Altman worked on Bonanza as well as many other TV shows before establishing his feature film reputation and becoming one of the pre-eminent directors in cinema history.
The hard-boiled detective is hardly easy to rely on in noir fiction as he is never a friend to either side of the law and only works with himself, which puts him way in over his head and situates him with the dangerous of folk. Philip Marlowe has been regarded as an honorable and slick version of the hard-boiled detective as he has been good with seducing women, talking touch with the baddies, and using quick skills to get out of any mess, thanks to Humphrey Bogart’s interpretation of the character. However, Elliot Gould takes Marlowe to a different level in Robert Altman’s adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, in which Marlowe appears as a war-beaten man who drowns himself in cynical misery in his home with his needy cat and a drunken manner.
Although Gould was only in his 30s at the time, his Marlowe has the behavior of a drunken old man who has seen a lot and has had enough, especially when he’s stuck in a different era that is nothing like it was before. We see him living in an apartment high above Los Angeles in the hills, looking across at his female neighbors as they indulge into drugged states and yoga practices, personifying the hippie culture of the 70s. The fact that this film is set in the 70s around the time the film was made is a huge contrast to the 40s that Marlowe was defined by. Marlowe appears out of place with this era as he shows lack of interest in the women’s strange behavior and keeps tending to his cat. His life is not as luxurious and straight-laced as Bogart had made Marlowe appear to be given that Marlowe is living in a high apartment overlooking the city with a glass elevator to lift him up, which shows how isolated he has become. However, Marlowe is forced out of that misery when he has to drive his friend Terry Lennox to Tijuana and then later hears from the police that Lennox murdered his wife. Marlowe is still able to behave like a wise-ass to the police, refusing to answer questions and trying to figure out on his own the mystery behind his friend and his connections to the eccentric drunk Roger Wade (Sterling Hayden) and the ruthless gangster Marty Augustine (Mark Rydell). What he finds in these colorful characters is a mixture of eccentricity and ferocity, as he see Wade blabbering and lecturing in a drunken state of his problems and Augustine talking sarcastically before exploding with a Coke bottle to his girlfriend’s face. There is an edge to these characters that Marlowe is hardly a match for because he’s looking at a reflection of his own broken mind in Wade and is at the mercy of Augustine’s violent behavior that he has very little hand for. Marlowe appears weak and paranoid in the way he reacts to the events that take place that he’s hardly as reliable and suave in his crime-solving skills as Bogart made him to appear, thus making the story more suspenseful and unexpected in the direction it goes.
Robert Altman is clever in how he takes time with actors in one shot and the camera moves back and forth as they talk, providing a sense of unease and eccentricity in unpredictable situations, sometimes showing things in the background that the main characters cannot see, but what Altman is bringing our attention to as signs of foreshadowing, such as the beach that is right next to Wade’s house. The oddball behavior of Gould’s performance, the theatrical insanity of Sterling Hayden, the frighteningly unpredictable intensity of Mark Rydell, and the eccentric performance of Henry Gibson as the duplicitous Dr. Verringer all add a collage of color, eccentricity, and intensity to the film, making its tone all the more unpredictable as it goes from quirky to strange to moody to violent. In the end, Marlowe appears as a broken loser who is lost in the world, symbolized by a long shot of him walking down the road in between columns of trees with other people walking around and he’s stuck in a vast world that is filled with a socially problematic atmosphere that he blends in with without thinking or ignores. The song “The Long Goodbye” constantly plays throughout the film in different versions, which either refers to waiting a long time to tell someone goodbye when it’s planned or someone has been gone for too long without officially confirming it to anyone. In a way, that’s what Marlowe is living through as he’s waiting for an answer as to when and where people are heading to understand what their purposes are and what purpose he is as he’s in a world he doesn’t understand and feels shut off from.
- Currently 5.0/5 Stars.
I put off seeing Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye, mostly because I had mixed feelings on some of Altman’s output. Although I loved many of Altman’s 70’s films particularly McCabe and Mrs. Miller, 3 Women, and Nashville. The overlapping dialogue grew tiresome for me at times, as in M*A*S*H. Now that I finally took the opportunity to watch The Long Goodbye on Netflix instant I think I’ve seen my new favorite Altman film. All of Altman’s stylistic touches are here, and paired with an irresistibly charming performance by Elliot Gould I could not have wanted more. The film tells the story of a gumshoe named Phillip Marlowe(Gould) whose best friend ends up dead mexico and the mystery this leaves for Marlowe to unravel. From the amazing score that is played a million different ways throughout the film, to the constant barrage of sarcastic one-liners that Gould delivers perfectly. I can’t help but love every way Altman guides us through this unusual adaptation of a Raymond Chandler story. The overlapping dialogue serves in this case to enhance the off the cuff nature of Marlowe’s lines. The camera work by Vilmos Zsigmond is impeccable and was obviously a big influence on a wide variety of filmmakers. John Williams gives his most unorthodox score and shows he could do a lot more than sweeping orchestral music for Spielberg and Lucas. In summary if you liked the aesthetics Altman employed in many of his films from this period, and the new Hollywood of the 70’s tickles your fancy than The Long Goodbye is for you.
- Currently 5.0/5 Stars.
The Long Goodbye (1973)
To get this out of the way: I am a major Chandlerite. Okay, more of an extremely devoted fan to the Marlowe novels. (Which are the best literature I’ve ever read-still to this day.) To think that Chandler’s best novel (and my favorite book of all time) was made into a film by Robert Altman with Elliott Gould as Marlowe made my blood run cold years ago when I first heard of it. I just didn’t want to know. I really didn’t.
I’m not typically a huge Altman fan, but I like the points he tries to get at. What this version of The Long Goodbye gets at is alienation. Gould plays Marlowe as a throwback to earlier times in an ever increasingly hostile 70’s LA. I enjoyed the fact that the book’s plot was more window dressing than actually important to the story. Chandler himself would have likely enjoyed this. This Marlowe exists as a stodgy alternate version of himself. He is as if cast off into this new LA and wallows in the sewers with the same grace as before.
This is truly an alternate vision of Chandler’s literary world juxtaposed with a critique of the early 1970’s. This is what makes the whole thing work, and it’s really the only adaptation of Chandler that works well, save for Edward Dmytryk’s Murder, My Sweet (1945) and of course Hawks’s The Big Sleep (1946). On fact, writer Leigh Brackett also co-wrote the Hawks film with William Faulkner. What carries over from the earlier film is the sacrifice of Chandlerism for movie storytelling. Goodbye works well because it doesn’t care about itself. It doesn’t care about the story, the plot, the characters…absolutely anything. It is irreverent, and this is what keeps you watching, oddly enraptured as Gould tries to feed his cat at 3 AM.
That cat is representative of the whole film. Marlowe must go to the store to buy food for the cat and grumbles about it the whole way. They’re out of the particular brand his cat eats. He gets a different one and switches cans. Then the cat comes to eat and refuses as it is different. This whole episode takes about 15 minutes of screentime and sets up everything you need to know about this world.
This Marlowe constantly talks to himself. This is a nice reflection of the original character’s constant self narration. It allows for the audience to more easily bond with Gould’s characterization. Another bonus is a rare appearance form Sterling Hayden as the alcoholic Roger Wade. (Watching Hayden here can give the viewer an alternate “what if?” view of Jaws-if Spielberg had gotten his choice of Hayden for the Quint role.) The ending is surprising, but also leaves you with a certain sense of satisfaction oddly enough. Hooray for Hollywood.
This is very good film, but I still feel a straight adaptation of Chandler’s original novel could be a great film. There is still so much more there that is completely unexplored in Altman’s film.
Three and a half stars out of Four.
Editions: I watched the original Letterbox MGM Laserdisc for this review. The available DVD is anamorphic 2.35 with several nice extras. The LD was clear and had a very nice deep sounding PCM mono track.
- Currently 3.0/5 Stars.
I am a huge fan of Raymond Chandler and am also quite fond of Robert Altman’s films and I kind of put off seeing The Long Goodbye for a long time for two reasons: 1. Robert Altman has a very irreverent sensibility and has stated in interviews and shown through his films that he doesn’t have much respect or interest in genre stories and their conventions and that his adaptation of The Long Goodbye was updated from the 1950’s to the 1970’s. 2. The Long Goodbye is Raymond Chandler’s best novel and is much more serious and tragic in some ways than his other work and is noir to the core. The film is actually quite good and the most I can say about it in comparisson with the novel is that it is much more Altman and a lot less Chandler. It’s Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye.
The greatest thing about Chandler’s novels and the films that were made from them in the past like Murder, My Sweet and The Big Sleep was that the plots were always less important than the individual moments. The greatest pleasure is derived from watching Chandler’s hero, Philip Marlowe, out-talk the other characters in any given scene with the most exciting, humorously clever dialogue ever written. To a certain extent you really couldn’t care less who killed who or who did what to whomever. Marlowe gets hired for a job, finds himself in some crazy situations, meets dangerous people, deadly women, talks tough, hard-boiled talk, and wraps it all up in the end can descibe any Chandler novel really.
Altman’s film does maintain that certain distance from the plot the way the novels do but the film, in it’s individual moments, doesn’t have the punch that that they do in Chandler’s work. Altman continues what he started with M*A*S*H and McCabe & Mrs. Miller and on through the rest of his career in having characters talk over each other and kind of mumble and throw away lines. In most films it works brilliantly, especially McCabe & Mrs. Miller, but in The Long Goodbye by doing that you miss out on the dialogue that makes Chandler’s work so fun and unique and gives those moments so much life.
Elliot Gould is the highlight of the film as Altman’s Marlowe, not Chandler’s. I really loved this interpretation of the character. He’s a bit of a clown and much more of a bum and a loser than Chandler’s Marlowe. This is about as far from Bogart’s portrayal of Marlowe as you can get and yet it works brilliantly for this film.
I liked this film version of The Long Goodbye as a Robert Altman film. But as a Chandler fan this film is disappointing. It doesn’t quite deliver what I love most about Chandler. Amazingly, as of today, this is the only adaptation of The Long Goodbye to ever be filmed. Nobody’s attempted to do a straight version of it set in its proper time period. That’s a film I’d like to see.
- Currently 3.0/5 Stars.
Terrific movie with lots to savour and meditate upon. You really need to be able to visually read the movie in a subtle way in order to enjoy it. I love the use of the various settings (above all Marlow’s apartment overlooking LA). Great use of cinematography. I love the way the genre’s usual suspense is almost frozen out the story. Noir is just a loose structure within which Altman is free to explore his own creative vision hoping to fool the studio executives and the pop-corn crunching moviegoers. Unfortunately the cat can’t be fooled even if the cat food can (movie marketing & genre expectations) say’s it’s the real thing.
Elliot Gould’s casting as Philip Marlowe in Altman’s THE LONG GOODBYE was misinterpreted by some people as some kind of parody or jape at Bogart in THE BIG SLEEP. Altman’s 1973 masterpiece(the first and last masterpiece of neo-noir) while extremely funny in spades and Gould excellent as a laidback solipsistic Private Eye is actually closer to the Marlowe of Chandler’s novels than Bogart’s iconic and idealized incarnation. Marlowe is lost in the cruel, suburban world of early 70s LA but he is still a damn good detective and his mind is as sharp as it always was. The film’s influence can be seen in everything from PULP FICTION to Jim Jarmusch’s GHOST DOG. The cast is brilliant, Gould is brilliant as Marlowe and Sterling Hayden who plays an alcoholic novelist(and prime suspect) is stunning in his best performance. His character was based on Raymond Chandler himself and the passages concerning his despair and loneliness are the saddest and most moving scenes in all of Altman’s films.