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The Long Goodbye

The Long Goodbye – 1973
Nothing says goodbye like a bullet.
Director
Robert Altman

Writers
Raymond Chandler (novel The Long Goodbye)
Leigh Brackett (screenplay)

Producers
Jerry Bick producer
Robert Eggenweiler associate producer
Elliott Kastner executive producer~

Cast
Elliott Gould – Philip Marlowe
Nina Van Pallandt – Eileen Wade (as Nina van Pallandt)
Sterling Hayden – Roger Wade
Mark Rydell – Marty Augustine
Henry Gibson – Dr. Verringer
David Arkin – Harry
Jim Bouton – Terry Lennox
Warren Berlinger – Morgan
Jo Ann Brody – Jo Ann Eggenweiler
Stephen Coit – Det. Farmer (as Steve Coit)
Jack Knight – Mabel
Pepe Callahan – Pepe
Vincent Palmieri – Vince (as Vince Palmieri)
Pancho Córdova РDoctor (as Pancho Cordoba)
Enrique Lucero – Jefe
Rutanya Alda – Rutanya Sweet
Tammy Shaw – Dancer
Jack Riley – Riley
Ken Sansom – Colony guard
Jerry Jones – Det. Green
John Davies – Det. Dayton
Rodney Moss – Supermarket clerk
Sybil Scotford – Real estate lady
Herb Kerns – Herbie

Review by Bill Slocum

The Last To Know

With all the detective films where the lead investigator is so far ahead of the audience he needs to explain things to the villain/girlfriend/dopey companion just so the audience can catch up, it’s kind of a relief to see one where the P.I. is the last to know. Such is Elliott Gould’s Philip Marlowe in “The Long Goodbye.”

Marlowe is the last to know when his friend Terry Lennox is accused of killing his wife and then kills himself. He is the last to know that Lennox was holding money for a dangerous hood named Marty Augustine. He does figure out pretty quickly where the drunken writer Roger Wade is holed up, but again is the last to know how Wade’s story ties in with that of Lennox. Finally, at the very end, he does manage to get ahead of the audience with one sudden act few viewers could have expected, but does he succeed only in making himself a bigger loser than ever?

Robert Altman’s idiosyncrasies as a director were well-established by 1973, and ill-suited for adapting one of Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe mysteries. That was probably why Altman did it. Mysteries are hard enough to follow without overlapping dialogue, artfully haphazard camera framing, weird segues, and eccentric characters who have nothing to do with the main story.

Just to make things more interesting for the maverick auteur, he cast Gould, the ironic antihero of his day, in the role of the classical film-noir detective and surrounded him with non-actors like the mistress of the man who forged Howard Hughes’ journals and the pitcher who scandalized baseball when he wrote “Ball Four.” Casting better-known actors would have distracted people from thinking about the director.
The problem with “The Long Goodbye” is that Altman is making this film strictly for himself. Chandler fans expecting a good mystery story will be disappointed. But the movie pulls you in all the same, right from the beginning where Marlowe is woken from a deep sleep by his cat, who wants Courry brand cat food and accepts no substitutes. Marlowe has his standards, too. When he goes to the store at 3AM to buy what his cat wants, he makes sure to put on his tie first, and doesn’t stop to talk to the nubile ladies who smoke pot and dance half-naked in the next apartment. When Wade tells Marlowe one morning to come have a drink with him, and “take that goddam J.C. Penney tie off,” Marlowe, no morning drinker, only half-agrees: “Well, that’s okay but I’m not taking off the tie.”

Punchy but proud, Gould keeps his head up and makes for an engaging center in this very off-center film. His presence helps make this more of a comedy more than a mystery, though with a sinister undertow. Most memorable is a scene of sudden violence involving a Coke bottle. What’s startling is not just the act itself, but the fact that the scene has been played for laughs right up to that point. More bizarre, the scene goes back to being played for laughs after the moment of violence is over.

“The Long Goodbye” may have problems as a straight screen story, but it is a stylistic triumph that influenced a lot of movies that followed, kind of a bridge between the film noir style of the 1940s and early 1950s and today’s more ironic fare. For example, film noir classics like “Murder, My Sweet” (also a Marlowe mystery) took place almost always at night, so “The Long Goodbye” is drenched in sunlight and color.

Those who want a linear storyline and clear-cut characters may be better off elsewhere, but if you don’t mind a bit of kookiness mixed with black humor that has significance beyond its box-office receipts, you will enjoy this.

The Long Goodbye (1973)

Review by Wayne Malin

Strange and quirky doesn’t even begin to cover this one,
Phillip Marlowe (Elliott Gould) is a washed out private investigator in California. One night old friend Terry Lennox (Jim Bouton) asks for a quick ride to Tijuana. Marlowe agrees then gets caught up in a VERY complex plot involving sexy Nina van Pallandt, alcoholic Sterling Hayden and violent hood Mary Rydell. The plot is WAY too complicated to get into.

Odd take by Robert Altman on Phillip Marlowe. He changes the story drastically. He moves it from the 1940s to the 1970s–yet Marlowe dresses like the 40s and even drives a 40s car. He is rumpled, mumbling and run-down here. There’s a security guard who does celebrity impersonations (for no reason). Everybody talks strangely and the complex plot moves VERY quickly. It’s never dull and it’s beautifully directed…but I’m not quite sure what Altman’s point is here. On one hand he seems to be doing a straight-forward (albeit a little strange) detective story–on the other he seems to be making fun of Marlowe and his attempts. The tone of the film wavers uncomfortably between humor, violence and satire. I’m still not quite sure how to take this.

The acting is great–Gould is just wonderful–probably his best performance ever; Van Pallandt is also very good (interesting costumes–VERY 70s); Hayden yells and screams a lot; Rydell is downright terrifying as a crime lord. Since it an Altman film there’s pointless female nudity (Marlowe’s neighbors) and a sick scene where a Coke bottle is smashed across a woman’s face. It’s also highly unbelievable–no Coke bottle would break that easy.

Also David Carradine and Arnold Schwarzenegger pop up in cameos! A VERY odd movie and (understandably) a commercial failure but it’s acquired a cult following.

I’m not quite sure WHAT it’s saying–but I liked it–sort of. I give it a 7.

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