on December 2, 2003
There are so many good ideas and concepts at work in this film. Here are a few:
1: In the DVD Special Features, Director Robert Altman talks about his overall concept for this film. His problem was how does a filmaker take a character that is so much from a different era and place him in modern times? Altman came up with a conceptual framework: look at the film as though Philip Marlowe, Chandler's ace detective from the 1940's, has been sleeping for thirty years and wakes up in the 1970's. Altman called it his "Rip Van Marlowe" concept. He thought of the film this way because he wanted to place the classic 1940 Marlowe sense of integrity and ethical code in the free-wheeling Seventies. This idea is ingenious and fits Eliott Gould's hip but outsider acting style to a tee.
2: Altman keeps the camera moving at all times. The lens does not jerk around in a mise en scene way, but more with long, smooth tracking and pan shots. This gives the movie a great feeling of constant action and forward movement, even when folks are just talking. The camera movement is done in such a smooth way, it seems very natural - as if you, the viewer, were really watching the action and simply turning your head to follow the flow of life.
3: The movie theme song is beautiful and was written by Johnny Mercer. It has a classic feel, and it dominates the sound of the film. Altman has put this haunting melody everywhere; in the sound of a doorbell, in the tune played in a Mexican funeral, in songs that come over half-heard radios - everywhere. It is the song the small time lounge piano player is trying to learn in the background of one scene, and it is the song that you will find yourself humming once the film is over. All this is almost done on a subliminal level, and it is brilliant.
4: The casting is tremendous and original. Elliott Guild is perfect as the man that seems out of place and almost lackadaisical on the surface, yet has a steel hard code of ethics that he lives by even - especially when - no one else does. Jim Bouton, the ex baseball star and writer of Foul Ball, is cast as Marlowe's friend, and he is a treat to watch - all smarmy smile and charm. Another Altman favorite, Henry Gibson of Laugh-In fame is around as the reptilian Dr. Verringer and Sterling Hayden booms through his tragic turn as the Hemingway-like writer Roger Wade. Everyone is very good. Watch for two cool cameos: David Carradine as a hip-talking anti-establishment inmate that Marlowe meets in a short stay in prison, and Arnold Schwarzenegger (that's right, governor Schwarzenneger) as a wordless muscle bound enforcer.
I really love this movie. As a director, Robert Altman gives actors more room than any other director in film history. He lets them, as he says in the DVD special features, "do what they became actors to do: be creative." This has its pluses and minuses, but it could, in some films, really make magic. There is a "lifelike" quality to the best of Altman's work, which is to say some of the best moviemaking ever done. I am thinking about Nashville and McCabe and Mrs. Miller, both films that linger and gain power in memory.
I will not give the end away, but it is worth waiting for and a real surprise. It is the moment in the film when the fairy-dust and dope smoke of the 70's is stripped away to reveal Gould/Marlowe's adamantine core; a center constructed around a very tight code of loyalty and integrity.
Do yourself a favor and buy it.
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 cellmate, 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!
What director, Robert Altman did with "The Long Goodbye" is what he does best. He takes either a subject or genre and turns it inside out, until it becomes something completely different. He has done this to everything from the myths of the old West ("McCabe & Mrs. Miller") to most recently, the old standbye of the English drawing room murder("Gosford Park").In "The Long Goodbye" Altman works his movie magic on Raymond Chandler's private eye, Phillipe Marlowe.In this film Altman plops the iconic 40's & 50's detective (masterfully played by Elliot Gould) right into the middle of 1970s, Southern California.The plot is the usual labyrinth, that you would expect a Chandler character to be in. Marlowe's good friend, Terry Lennox mysteriously drops by and asks the detective for a ride to Mexico. Days later he winds up dead from an apparent suicide.Meanwhile, Marlowe is hired by the wife of an alcholic writer, in a missing persons case.Is there some how a connection between all these events?Along the way the movie viewer gets the fun of following Marlowe, as he meets tough guy cops, psychotic gangsters,a quack doctor, even a cult of naked yoga enthusiasts.Gould reinvents the character and plays him as a figure who is an anachronism, a man lost in time. He wanders the landscape in a haze, mumbling smart remarks and nonsequiturs.He is a man who is preplexed by the antics and lifestyles of the modern world.Everytime he is confronted by 1970s California weirdness, he responds with the mantra "its O.K. by me".Not only is his cheap suit and car decades old, but so are his values and that famous moral code that he lives by.But in the twisted surprise ending of the film, it is those values and moral codes that he sticks by.This is a really great film, that humourously turns the Marlowe legend upside down.Gould really shows us his acting chops and gives a great performance.He is backed up with a wonderful supporting cast(Henry Gibson, Nina Van Pallandt, Mark Rydell, Jim Bouton) that gives us some amazingly crazy characters.Especially good is veteren actor, Sterling Hayden as the drunken, Hemingway-like author. Hayden gives a very vigorous and moving portrayle of a man at the end of his emotional rope.Finally a mention should be made of the movie's theme song. The Mercer/Williams tune is played throughout the film in many weird and different ways, that are too many to list.Keep an ear out for them.This is a simply great movie that will fascinate and entertain.What would Humphery Bogart think, if he saw all of this? I think Bogie would have had a good laugh...
on January 13, 2015
(5 stars for the film itself, 1 1/2 stars for the botched transfer of the Blu-ray version)
Warning: STAY AWAY from the new Blu-ray edition, a horrible video transfer of a great film. Due to the semi-experimental way the film was shot, special, tender loving care was needed to produce a good Blu-ray image. Sadly this didn't happen here. The innate grain in the film image has been blown up in the many scenes filmed in darkness to look like some bubbling rash filling the screen. Unfortunately Kino Lorber really botched this one. Stick with the older, standard definition version, it's much more watchable. A quirky, offbeat little classic that's been done a huge disservice.
Phillip Marlowe is a man out of time. He has the values of the 40's and 50's thrown into the swinging 70's. As with everything Altman did, he tackled the film noir genre in his own unique way. Altman had a string of critical and commerical successes which added to his confidence with "The Long Goodbye".
Those expecting Chandler's novel should adjust their expectatons.
Shot by Vilmos Zsigmond,"The Long Goodbye" looks pretty good in its Blu-ray debut. Keep in mind that the softness evident in the image was intended. "The Long Goodbye" will never be a demo disc but it looks exactly as it was intended to look for a 1970's film. Colors, although muted, look quite nice and detail is pretty good although a bit more care in the transfer or a better source might have helped with better grain management (more consistent grain). There is also a bit of video noise in a couple of shots but, again, while this is not a perfect transfer it looks pretty decent given the source.
The audio isn't the best but, again, it's a typical Altman soup of merged voices and background sounds. The audio sounds fine if you know what to expect from Altman.
The special features are solid if not spectacular. I honestly didn't expect anything here but we get the original promotional featurette "Rip Van Marlowe" which runs 24 minutes and perfectly describes Altman's approach to the material.
Vilmos Zsigmond appears in a 14 minute interview where he discusses working with Altman, the film and his general approach to the material.
We also get a copy of the original American Cinematographer article, radio ads and the trailer.
I am a bit disappointed that we didn't get a commentary track or a new featurette on Altman and shooting the film but it's nice that we got anything for a catalog release. Kinko Lorber does a fine job with this release. "The Long Goodbye" doesn't look or sound perfect but it was never meant to. Along with the James Garner film "Marlowe", this provides an interesting modern interpretstion of Chandler's material contrasting nicely with Michael Winner remake of "The Big Sleep" (or even better the Hawks film with Boggie and Bacall)
on December 22, 1999
When Robert Altman decided to keep Raymond Chandler's milieu (Los Angeles) but update the era from the freighted 40s and 50s to the sleazy 70s, he added a lot more than color and unkempt hair. He rethought the whole myth of the hard-boiled private eye and handed it to Elliot Gould (who never did anything finer on film). Matching him is an oddball cast prominent among which are Sterling Hayden, Nina von Pallandt, Henry Gibson, and a very suspicious cat. Scene trumps stunning scene, leading to a twist undreamed of by Chandler that is triumphantly right. (Altman may have a hidden flair for thrillers; his Gingerbread Man also worked wonders with tired material.) This is one of the key films from a decade where movies were one of the few bright spots (and dazzlingly bright they were).
on November 28, 2000
The Long Goodbye is vintage Altman. It ranks not only as one of his best works, but one of the best films of the 1970s. Ignore the negative comments, this is supposed to be an updating of Chandlers character Philip Marlowe to a more contemporary setting which was the whole point and Altman does it very cleverly in the most unexpected ways. Elliot Gould truly shines in his interesting interpratation of Marlowe. Seemingly lacking the confidence and self assurance of Humphrey Bogart ( "It's Okay with Me"), Gould more than makes up by proving himself with his wit which remains firmly intact from how Chandler originally envisioned the character. It is truly a brilliant, understated performance and better than Altman and Gould's previous collaboration Mash. The film has many quirky touches from Altman with a terrific supporting cast of players including Sterling Hayden, Henry Gibson, Nina Van Pallandt, Jim Bouton and director Mark Rydell. The stunning photography by Vilmos Zsigmond once again gives yet another Altman film a unique aesthetic look. It is severly diminish when cropped up in pan & scan as other reviewers have mentioned. The film begs for a proper transfer to widescreen. Let's pray MGM/ UA comes to their senses and stop releasing James Bond box sets while these masterworks continue to be neglected.
I saw "The Long Goodbye" when it appeared in the theaters in 1973, and I was impressed with it then, and the memory of its main events has stayed with me for all these years. So, I thought it was time to dust it off and give it a serious viewing and review. Unlike some other older movies about which I had fond memories, this "The Long Goodbye" did not lose its charm after 40 years.
The first thing I recall is that in spite of the fact that this may be Elliot Gould's best performance outside of the film M*A*S*H, I think the stars of the film are director Altman, cinematographer, Vilmos Zsigmond, screenwriter, Leigh Brackett, (relatively unknown at the time) composer John Williams, and a strong nod to the presence of actor Sterling Hayden. They all contribute to the image of a character from New York City the '40s transplanted to Malibu in the '70s. Gould's Philip Marlowe is the film noir gumshoe, but he lacks all the panache of the famous earlier actors who filled that role such as Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum. He has certain skills, but none of the clever competence of the greatest of film noir detectives, Jake Giddes in "Chinatown", who has a nose for incongruities and the talent to hunt them down. Gould's Marlowe seems buffeted about by both the police (with whom Giddes has a respectable relation), who also seem to be caught in Brackett's time warp (no cool Joe Fridays here)and the hoods, lead by a gangster, Marty Augustine, who does seem to have made the transition from 40s hood to 70s wise guy. Situations with both get resolved behind Marlowe's back, and Marlowe has no clue to how that happened.
Although Altman may not do it quite as often as Woody Allen, I suspect in this movie he was intentionally copying some of the conventions of "film noir", and making fun of them just a bit. Almost all the interesting stuff seems to happen at night, or in closed rooms where you can't see the daylight. The song, credited to John Williams, sounds just like something which may have been written for an early John Houston film or the film "Laura" which had a famous theme covered by lots of major jazz performers. It seems so utterly not California for Gould's Marlowe to always wear a suit jacket and tie, when all the other characters are dressed as you would expect in 1970s LA. Just as the ending to "Chinatown" is a surprise which I never saw coming, the end to "The Long Goodbye" succeeds in the same way.
What seems so puzzling is that there are three different plot lines early in the movie, all of which are connected by nothing except the common location, a gated, exclusive colony of residences on the beach in Malibu. The three plots seem to have nothing connecting them until the last 15 minutes. One benefit of this disconnect is that we can appreciate the role of Sterling Hayden, who, I am convinced, is patterned after the last years of Earnest Hemingway. This and his appearance in "Dr. Strangelove" may be his two most memorable film appearances. However, his appearance here is a nice reminder that Hayden began his career in some notable film noir classics such as "The Asphalt Jungle".
The showpiece of Gould's performance is the first 10 minutes, where he is virtually the only speaking character, who does a monologue for the benefit of his cat. Here is were all his anomalies begin, as he puts on a tie to go out to a 24 hour supermarket to buy cat food at 3 AM.
According to Wikipedia, the film was not well received at first, but, as I said at the outset, I was immediately impressed by it when I saw it in the theatre. It has one of the prime qualities of a film worth buying. It is rewatchable, maybe once a year or so. The next time I watch it, I would be especially attentive to whether there are early clues which tie the three plot lines together.
By the way, even though his role is uncredited, you can't miss Arnold Schwarzenegger as one of the gangster's "muscle". David Carradine also has an uncredited role, but he is less easy to spot.
on October 18, 2012
I didn't expect to like this movie, having read about how it changed the plot of the book. Having seen it, I will say that it's much better than I thought it would be. Transplanting Marlowe to contemporary Los Angeles was an inspired idea. The Long Goodbye spends a lot of time on the shallowness of high society, so nothing is lost by setting the film in gaudy new high-rises and beach houses, complete with trendy topless yoga. The opening sequence, in which Marlowe spends a long time buying cat food, is a good way of conveying his loneliness and sense of order. Gould's bemused mumbling is a decent way to do Marlowe's wisecracks.
The gangster Marty Augustine is also an inspired take on Mendy Menendez. In places, he's a superior take. The famous Coke bottle scene is much more cruel and violent than anything in the book, but the build-up incorporates almost all the dialogue from the source material. Mendy's bragging fits perfectly into Marty's psychotic talkativeness. The impulsive way in which he commands his subordinates to take off their shirts builds naturally on Mendy's self-absorption, and it creates an even more compelling portrait of a friendly-talking sociopath with a fondness for philosophical conversation.
The problem, unfortunately, is that Altman doesn't understand what motivates Marlowe. He doesn't understand Marlowe's sense of friendship or honour. He does understand cruelty, which is why Marty is such a great invention. He also understands betrayal, which is why Eileen Wade is still a superb femme fatale. To some degree, he understands Roger Wade's whiny depression. But he doesn't get Marlowe at all, so he turns Chandler's meditation on lost friendship into a simplistic revenge story.
First of all, in the book, Marlowe's unwillingness to cooperate with the police is actually a pretty big commitment. He gets badly beaten by an overzealous cop, and narrowly escapes criminal charges. Everyone understands that he made a substantial sacrifice, which is why people like the journalist or the literary agent start to open up to him. In the movie, he spends a few days in jail, smoking and talking to his grumpy cellmate. They take his fingerprints and he gets ink all over his hands, and it really seems like an inconvenience rather than a serious jam.
Second, the book spends some time setting up Marlowe's friendship with Terry. It started when Marlowe perceived Terry's loneliness and sympathized. He tried to reach out to someone who, in some way, was like himself. Here, it is not clear how or why they know each other. I guess they're supposed to be poker buddies or something, but that is not enough to explain why Marlowe would want to help this person, or why he would be so bitterly disappointed that his trust was misplaced.
Third, Altman doesn't understand Terry either, and makes him into a smirking narcissist. The sad part of the book wasn't that Terry betrayed Marlowe's trust, it's that he knew full well that his own conduct was dishonourable, and suffered from the knowledge, but was too morally weak to do anything about it. In the movie, it's not clear why Terry, as he is shown, would even bother to send the portrait of Madison.
Fourth, Altman's final resolution of the conflict is just plain dumb, suggesting that he doesn't understand how there might be any way to react to betrayal other than violent revenge. When, in the book, Marlowe finally writes Terry off as dead, it has a devastating effect, because you know he's right, and you know that Terry knows that he's right. There is no need for violence -- Marlowe's cold statement, "That was two other fellows, it seemed to me" is sufficiently irreversible.
You could say that Altman's treatment of Marlowe is "ironic," but that just confirms that he is out of his depth. There is nothing ironic about Chandler, and there shouldn't be. Marlowe's defining qualities are his ability to see through lies and his profound moral disgust for betrayal and dishonesty. He is not a vigilante in a bat suit. Marlowe illustrates the idea that, even if you are powerless to change the course of events, you can still maintain an unbreakable judgment of them. The whole point of Marlowe is that sometimes what you do has real consequences and determines who you are, and you have no way to ironically dance away from your actions. Terry has connections to organized crime and knows how to deal with violence, but he has no way to deal with the contempt of an honest man. To the director, this concept is incomprehensible.
on June 19, 2014
My favorite scene? Why, the very first. Have you ever seen a better example of a cat acting? Only an actor with Elliot Gould's weird rhythms could pull that off, and the only way that happens is if Robert Altman is directing. A small, but delightful pleasure from Altman's golden age.