|Movie poster illustration by Jack Davis of EC comics and Mad Magazine fame|
Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye from 1973 is one of my favorite films, one I can revisit regularly and always find something new that both surprises and deepens my appreciation for the film. Elliott Gould's take on Philip Marlowe (which some profess to hate-these people clearly don't get the smart ass nature of the character as written by Chandler) is my second favorite portrayal of the iconic private investigator, second only to Dick Powell's surprisingly definitive turn in Murder My Sweet. Sterling Hayden's performance in The Long Goodbye as a Hemingway-esque writer no longer able to write is also for the ages, and the scenes between Hayden and Gould are some of the most intense and electrifying in the movie. Two great actors from different eras, with completely different styles squaring off.
We could go a lot deeper into all the interesting individuals who make this film the masterpiece it is- a short list would include scriptwriter Leigh Brackett (noted female Sci-Fi author and scriptwriter for such films as The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo, Hatari! and The Empire Strikes Back), cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond and the unusual but effective casting choices of Nina Van Pallandt as Eileen Wade and director/actor Mark Rydell as Marty Augustine. Hell there's even a small henchman role for your boy Arnold Schwarzenegger and an uncredited cameo by David Carradine. And the guiding and unifying hand behind the whole film is of course director Robert Altman working at the absolute top of his game.
Although the film is a deconstruction of the private detective/film noir genre, I don't agree with the opinion of some critics at the time of its release that Altman's intent is hostile towards Chandler's Marlowe or mocking of his moral code. By transporting the P.I. to the 1970's he simply illustrates that the moral code and sense of honor that the main character attempts to live by puts him sorely out of place in the modern world and completely out of step with its inhabitants. Or maybe it's just that Gould's Marlowe with his cool rumpled suit and smart aleck muttering seems too fucking hip to me to believe that he is the real subject of ridicule here, especially compared to his cohorts in the film. Then again I'm partial to rumpled suits and hip mutterers.
The theme song, which is repeated cleverly throughout the film in different arrangements and genres, was written by John Williams and Johnny Mercer. The limited edition release of the soundtrack appears to be out of print so I feel okay posting it here for your consideration. It's okay with me! If you are not a fan of the film the soundtrack might simply bore you due to the myriad variations of the main theme but I find myself enjoying it almost as much as the movie, it certainly puts one in the mood of the film, though the rehearsal tracks at the very end aren't worth hearing more than once. If you haven't seen the film, start there, then if you like it proceed to the soundtrack and for that matter the book! And then there's the cat.
Below you'll find the original trailer, a lengthy discussion with Elliot Gould about the film and the full opening scene with Marlowe and his cat.
|Elliott Gould as Philip Marlowe|