The Long Goodbye, at least to me, is my favorite Robert Altman film. Altman, like Hitchcock and a few others, were artists. Their films, because of their unmistakable look, construction, and dialog are each in their own genres. The Long Goodbye has been called a film noir, neo-noir, comedy. It’s best to call it an Altman film.
I rewatced The Player last week and was taken back. Back to the 1990s. The film is brilliant but also a time machine back to a particular time in Hollywood. But it also affectionately references a number of film noirs including Sunset Boulevard and The Big Sleep. That was enough inspiration for me to rewatch The Long Goodbye.
After watching I reads some of the old reviews of Altman’s take on Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. I think most critics got it wrong. I don’t think it’s a longhair’s take on quaint crime films of the 40. I don’t think it’s a spoof or parody of noir. It’s a solid crime film that’s not nearly as dated as The Player — despite being 20 years older and taking place in a time of crazy 70s styles.
Unlikely choice Elliott Gould was Marlowe. He’s excellent. He has later said that he and Altman wanted to have Philip Marlowe wake up — like Rip Van Winkle — and all of a sudden it’s not 1953 but the 1973. He plays the part always wearing a suit like Bogart would. Despite the grown-up clothes he’s always seems to be acting like an overgrown child. Maybe unique for the time but his portrayal seems to be the template for all future action heroes. His spoken dialogue — sometimes overlapping with others — is used like Philip Marlowe film voiceovers used in Murder, My Sweet and The Big Sleep.
The beginning of the movie shows some of Altman’s unique touches. A long scene showing Marlowe trying to feed his cat. The cat only eats a specific brand of cat food. Marlowe gets in his car and drives to the all-night supermarket. Night owl Marlowe is known by nearly everyone working at 3am by name. He also picks up brownie mix for his stoned neighbors. The young candle-making sirens are always on their deck in various states of undress.
This entire part of the film is unneeded. But it’s there and it’s amazing.
From there it’s a cryptic L.A. detective story filled with Raymond Chander-inspired characters. Jim Bouton — the former baseball player that wrote Ball Four — plays Marlowe’s blonde playboy friend that may be involved in a murder. Director Mark Rydell is terrifying as gangster Marty Augustine. Film noir veteran Sterling Hayden is a bear-sized Hemingwayesque writer. He’s about as intimidating as he was in the Godfather a year before. Finally there’s 70s celebrity Nina Van Pallandt as the femme fatale.
The film — like ALL Philip Marlowe mysteries — doesn’t make much sense. The screenplay was penned by the legendary Leigh Brackett. The script was rewritten on set by Altman and dialog sometimes improvised by Gould. Brackett found the book from the early 1950s filled with cliques and attempted to instead updated it to modern times instead of creating a period piece. Brackett – a writer that accepted that her work was always a collaboration with the film makers – was satisfied with the final result. Her work on the original The Big Sleep — with William Faulkner and Jules Furthman — is one of the most quotable movies ever. Having Brackett write the screenplay is a clear sign that they didn’t want to just make a tired Bogie spoof like The Black Bird or Peeper.
Finally there’s the end. The only misstep. After a killing that’s very un-Marlowe, the detective walks into the sunset while “Hooray for Hollywood” plays. He jumps up and clicks his heels. It’s a wink at the audience that’s says, at least to me, “look how clever we are. We know how silly these old movies are!” Movie hipsters probably love it. I think it shows contempt toward the viewers that just spent 2 hours watching it. Ugh. But I guess it can be forgiven because it’s right at the end. Critics ravaged the film in it’s initial release, I suspect it’s because of the flippant ending. Time Magazine’s review at the time of release wrote
“Altman’s lazy, haphazard putdown is without affection or understanding, a nose-thumb not only at the idea of Philip Marlowe but at the genre that his tough-guy-soft-heart character epitomized. It is a curious spectacle to see Altman mocking a level of achievement to which, at his best, he could only aspire”.
And it’s still my favorite of all Altman films.
A few stray observations:
The soundtrack features two songs, “The Long Goodbye” and “Hooray for Hollywood”. While “Hooray” is only played once, “The Long Goodbye,” composed by Johnny Mercer and John Williams, is reworked in a number of different ways — grocery store muzak and even a doorbell features the tune. Good thing the song is so good.
David Carradine is unrecognizable as one of Marlowe’s cell mates.
Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a thug in it. A few years later in the next Phillip Marlowe film Farewell My Lovely Sylvester Stallone plays a thug.
Morris the Cat plays the finicky cat in the film. Morris was a rescue cat that was discovered in the late 1960s. He went on to appear in Shamus. He left film noir and got typecast as a finicky cat on TV commercials for 9lives.
The comic poster art for the film — a clear sign that United Artists didn’t know how to market it — was painted by Mad Magazine’s Jack Davis.
Written by Steve-O
Comment below or in The Back Alley
from Film Noir of the Week http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/filmnoiroftheweek/~3/VJQitdL3F3I/the-long-goodbye-1973.html