Chain-smoking, wisecracking private eye Philip Marlowe drives a buddy from LA to the Tijuana border and returns home to an apartment full of cops who arrest him for abetting the murder of his friend's wife. After Marlowe's release, following the reported suicide in Mexico of his friend, a beautiful woman hires him to locate her alcoholic and mercurial husband. Then, a hoodlum and his muscle visit to tell Marlowe that he owes $350,000, mob money the dead friend took to Mexico. Marlowe tails the hood, who goes to the house of the woman with the temperamental husband. As Marlowe pulls these threads together, his values emerge from beneath the cavalier wisecracking.
Elliott Gould ... Philip Marlowe
Nina Van Pallandt ... Eileen Wade (as Nina van Pallandt)
Sterling Hayden ... Roger Wade aka Billy Joe Smith
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 ... Doctor (as Pancho Cordoba)
Enrique Lucero ... Jefe
The very embodiment of '70s Hollywood genre revisionism, Robert Altman's film of The Long Goodbye stands as one of his most accessible, wittily misanthropic films, and probably the finest performance of Elliot Gould's career to date.
A warning for Raymond Chandler purists: you probably won't like this film. Altman and screenwriter Leigh Brackett had quite a task in adapting Chandler's second-last novel to the screen, for in it the 'knight errant' Phillip Marlowe comes over more like a prudish sap. Altman and Brackett have streamlined the narrative, removed peripheral characters, and – crucially – transformed Marlowe into a murkier, more comically ambiguous protagonist.
In Altman's and Gould's hands, Marlowe is laconically relaxed, murmuring, alternately amused and annoyed at the world. Like Chandler's hero, he is an outsider, a spectator, everywhere he goes. Unlike the literary Marlowe, Gould's character seems washed up on the shores of an unfamiliar land, his nobility as crumpled and stale as his suit.
Along for the ride are the archetypal Chandler villains and victims: self-hating celebrities, young wives trapped in loveless marriages, crooked doctors, low-rent psychopathic gangsters, bored cops, flunkies lost out of time. Typically, the milieux Marlowe moves in range from the affluence of the Malibu Colony to the cells of the County Jail. Altman, however, wishes to make a film in and about 1973; the film is shot through with the psychic reverberations of the end of hippiedom and the remoteness of the 'Me Generation'.
Another Altman touch is his openly expressed contempt for Hollywood and its conventions. As if to acknowledge the artificiality of a private detective story in the midst of 1970s Los Angeles, the film is suffused with jokey references to cinema. Bookended with 'Hooray for Hollywood', the film shows gatekeepers impersonating movie stars, characters changing their names for added class, hoods enacting movie clichés simply because that's where they learnt to behave. Even Marlowe himself refers to the artifice when talking to the cops: 'Is this where I'm supposed to say 'What's all this about?' and he says 'Shut up, I ask the questions' ?'
As for the supporting cast, Sterling Hayden shines out as the beleaguered novelist Roger Wade. There is more than a touch of Hemingway in Hayden's bluff, blustering, vulnerable old hack. Baseball champ and sportscaster Jim Bouton is casually mysterious as Marlowe's friend Terry Lennox, Laugh-In alumnus Henry Gibson is suitably greasy as Dr Verringer, actor/director Mark Rydell (best known for 'On Golden Pond') is convincingly chilling as gangster Marty Augustine, and Nina van Pallandt lends a dignified, defiant pathos to her role as Eileen Wade.
Special note must be made of Vilmos Zsigmond's tremendous photography, employing his early 'flashing' style of exposure to lend Los Angeles a suitably sultry, bleached-out aura. Also deserving attention is John Williams' ingeniously minimalist score. Comprised solely of pseudo-source music, the score is a myriad of variations on a single song, appearing here as supermarket muzak, there as a party singalong, elsewhere as a late night radio tune.
The film's controversial ending is utterly antithetical to Chandler's vision. The message from Altman, however, is loud and clear: Chandler's world no longer exists – if indeed it ever did.
Easily one of Altman's best films and an early precursor to other films later in the decade by the director. The Long Goodbye is a fine transition in style to Altmans later films like "Nashville" and "A Wedding" Elliot Gould does an outstanding job portraying the outre detective Phillip Marlowe, using his mumbling, bumbling, smart ass speaking style, as a technique to keep the film under the illusion that everything is in motion, like the ocean waves in the film, Marlowe speaks in a sort of beatnik type "Daddy-O" style combined with a smooth talking private eye, and the result works perfectly. The film works like it is timed by a metronome, it rolls along, seamlessly in a way that only Altman can achieve, and like the rhythm of the waves and Marlowe's speech, the camera is constantly in motion as well. The roving camera does an excellent job of allowing the viewer to feel as though they are witnessing more action than actually exists on screen.
Wade (Sterling Hayden) is a fantastic Hemingway-esque writer in the film. Hayden's size and booming voice, in conjunction with his alcoholism and potential brutality, lend an aroma of unpredictableness to his character. Wade's beautiful wife, who has a mysterious bruise on her face, is like a timid, loyal animal, subjected to the whims of her over bearing master. Henry Gibson, who plays Wade's doctor, is excellent as a sort of despotic mouse, who frightens an elephant into conforming to his will, this irony is one of the films intriguing, bizarre twists.
This film works well as a character study, and is one of the best films of the seventies. A must see for every student of film. 9/10
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 cell mate, 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!
* The film is dedicated to Dan Blocker. Robert Altman, who had directed many early episodes of "Bonanza" (1959), had originally cast his friend Blocker in the role of Roger Wade, but he died before filming commenced. The role subsequently was filled by Sterling Hayden.
* Screenwriter Leigh Brackett co-wrote the script for the classic The Big Sleep (1946), also based on a Raymond Chandler novel and featuring Philip Marlowe, 27 years earlier.
* The movie's ending, different from the source novel, is usually attributed to director Robert Altman. It actually appeared in Leigh Brackett's original script, written before Altman signed on. Altman liked the new ending so much that he insisted on a clause in his contract that guaranteed the ending wouldn't be changed during production or editing.
* When the police are responding to the suicide of Roger Wade, Phillip Marlowe (Elliott Gould) becomes irate that they don't believe that Roger Wade could have murdered Terry Lennox' wife. He yells that he's going to call Ronald Reagan (then the governor) to protest their inaction. In the very next scene, Marlowe is brought to Marty Augustine's office for a shakedown. One of Augustine's bodyguards is an uncredited Arnold Schwarzenegger, later elected Governor of California. Thus Marlowe, in a way, gets to meet the governor.
* Morris the Cat first did his "finicky" routine in this film.
* Except for "Hooray for Hollywood" at the beginning and at the end, all the music in this film is different arrangements of the theme tune.
* Elliott Gould improvised the scene in police custody in which he smears fingerprint ink all over his face.
* The location for Sterling Hayden's home was actually Robert Altman's home at the time.
* Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond tried to approximate human vision through the post-production technique of exposing the undeveloped negative to additional pure light, which literally dampens blacks and softens intense colors until they become pastel hues.
* John Williams and Johnny Mercer's title song crops up in various guises throughout the film, including on the radio, as a dirge played at a funeral by a Mexican marching band, and even as the first couple of notes of the Wades' doorbell.
* Although Sterling Hayden was Robert Altman's reluctant second choice to play Wade, the director was thrilled with his performance.
* To help establish with the cast and crew the kind of tone he was trying to create, Robert Altman circulated on the set a little-known letter that Raymond Chandler had written, as well as his essay collection "Raymond Chandler Speaking". Both pieces are notable for revealing Chandler's underlying suicidal tendencies.
* Originally released in Los Angeles with a poster campaign more appropriate to James Bond movies, or the Flint spoof series, the film made little impact in the City of Angels. A different advertising campaign was designed for its New York release, where it was a considerable success.
* This was Nina Van Pallandt's first English-language film.