The Long Goodbye (1973)
February 6, 2016 11:22 AM - Subscribe

Detective Philip Marlowe tries to help a friend who is accused of murdering his wife.

NY State Writers Institute Film Notes: Into the smoggy twilight of 1973 wandered screenwriter-director Robert Altman, with his adaptation of THE LONG GOODBYE. Altman seemed a character out of Chandler, for like Marlowe, he was an outsider who seemed to relish being a pariah, and a man who made the lack of trappings of success into proof of his own integrity. For Altman, the new Los Angeles, and its rusting hulk of a movie industry, was a modern ruin in which his leaden vision of humanity could frolic, and where he could endlessly riff on the ironies of a hollow world of material pretense and spiritual poverty. Chandler had written in 1950 a description of an artist who could very well be Altman: "The realist in murder writes of a world in which gangsters can rule nations and almost rule cities . . . It is not a very fragrant world, but it is the world you live in, and certain writers with tough minds and a cool spirit of detachment can make very interesting and even amusing patterns out of it. It is not funny that a man should be killed, but it is sometimes funny that he should be killed for so little, and that his death should be the coin of what we call civilization." THE LONG GOODBYE captures the Absurdist universe that was always latent in Chandler’s best work, at the expense of the Romanticism the movies drew out of that same work. Here, Altman deconstructs Marlowe thoroughly, and as he does, he shows us a new L.A. If the Marlowe of old had raged against an L.A. that was too often heartless, this Marlowe can only shrug at a new L.A. that is simply spineless, gutless, and bloodless.

The Dissolve: Altman often said he never cared much about plot, but he and veteran screenwriter Leigh Brackett preserve almost every major story beat in Chandler’s book, making The Long Goodbye one of the most straightforward films Altman ever made—though it still isn’t exactly “straight.” Throughout, Altman undercuts the conventions of the hardboiled mystery movie by letting Gould play Marlowe as a smirking, laid-back dude rather than a man of action, and by repeating John Williams and Johnny Mercer’s theme song in increasingly silly iterations, including as supermarket Muzak and as a doorbell chime. The film begins and ends with a sarcastic blast of “Hooray For Hollywood”—the first over Marlowe snoozing in his sloppy apartment, the second just after he’s done something petty, violent, and unheroic—and every now and then, the story winds by a security guard who does impressions of old movie stars. The Long Goodbye isn’t explicitly about the changing culture of the motion-picture business’ hometown, but it does suggest a fundamental incompatibility between Cary Grant’s world and the world where naked hippies do yoga on their front balconies. Like The Big Lebowski after it, it throws a lazy operator in the middle of a sleazy conundrum. Marlowe isn't inept like The Dude, and while there are laughs here, this is no comedy. It's Chandler seen through the gritty eyes of Serpico, except Marlowe is no naïf. By the end, he's as cold as Sam Spade sending the girl to the gas chamber. Altman's whimsy sets us up for the staccato slaps of brutality the story deals out, and makes them hit that much harder.

The Film Experience: The Phillip Marlowe of The Long Goodbye is an anachronism, a man obviously out of place in the sun-soaked, seventies-era California environ he inhabits, but who wouldn’t appear quite at home in the dark and dour milieu of forties-era noir either. He seems stuck in some weird middle ground, trapped in a time to which he doesn’t belong and clamoring for one that he has no place in either, a pretty apt description for the film itself.

Roger Ebert: I went through the film a shot at a time two weeks ago at the Conference on World Affairs at the University of Colorado, sitting in the dark with several hundred others as we asked ourselves, What do we know, how do we know it, and is it true? Many of our questions center on the rich, sex-drenched Eileen (Nina Van Pallandt). Does she desire the death of her husband, Roger Wade, an alcoholic writer played by the gruff old bear Sterling Hayden? Or does she only want free of him? What about that seductive dinner she serves Marlowe (Elliott Gould) on the night Wade walks into the ocean? Does she intend to sleep with Marlowe? She does in the novel, and he is later part of her alibi when she kills Wade and makes it look like suicide. But here she doesn’t kill Wade. What is the link connecting Terry Lennox (the baseball star Jim Bouton), Eileen and the gangster Marty Augustine (Mark Rydell)? Does Augustine owe Wade money, as he claims to Marlowe, or does Wade owe Augustine money, as Wade implies in a Freudian slip? What is the exact connection between any money owed to anyone and the money in the suitcase? Only a final, blunt speech by Lennox, Marlowe’s unworthy friend, answers some of our questions.

Altman's Noir Suddenly Gets Plenty of Light

posted by MoonOrb (2 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for gathering those links and putting this up. This if one of my favorite movies. I really love how out of time they're able to make Elliott Gould feel.
posted by Carillon at 12:02 PM on February 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I love this movie so much. I wish I had more to say about it at the moment, but yeah.

(Well, I'll mention that I brought it up in one of our threads on The Expanse. The detective character in that show dresses in a way that's almost calculated to piss people off, and it seemed like he's deliberately invoking the thing in this movie where hardly anybody is ever happy to see Marlowe.)

Also, I love that this movie of all things is Arnold Schwarzenegger's first film appearance.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:06 AM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

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