The Long Goodbye (1973)
The Long Goodbye (1973)

Genre: Crime Drama and Mystery Running Time: 1 hr. 52 min.

Release Date: March 7th, 1973 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Robert Altman Actors: Elliott Gould, Nina van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden, Mark Rydell, Henry Gibson, David Arkin, Jim Bouton, Warren Berlinger, Jo Ann Brody

 


 

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aking up to his antsy cat at 3:00 in the morning, broken-down, monotonic, sarcastic, chain-smoking private eye Philip Marlowe (Elliott Gould) comes to the realization that he has nothing much in the way of sustenance in his California home. He does, however, have some young female neighbors, who prefer to galavant around in little or no clothing. In the curious, comical sequence that follows, Marlowe attempts to pull one over on his meowing pet by buying an off-brand cat food and placing it inside an empty can of the fancier Coury label.

When Marlowe’s pal Terry Lennox (Jim Bouton) stops by, with scratches across his face, purportedly from his wife Sylvia, the fidgeting man asks to be taken to Tijuana – a request to which Marlowe obliges. The following morning, the flatfoot is questioned by police and then arrested, charged with being an accessory after the fact, since Sylvia has turned up murdered. After three days of sitting in a cell, Marlowe is released and the case is closed; Lennox has also been found dead (in an apparent suicide, complete with a confession letter). But that doesn’t satisfy Marlowe. He knows better.

Based on the Raymond Chandler novel, “The Long Goodbye” features dark, smoky, grimy, and seedy locales, with gritty personas and a melancholy theme tune (by John Williams and Johnny Mercer, which plays not only over the top of the film, but also within the story itself by a bar pianist, on the radio, and even during a funeral procession) to match. In this world, there are no clean-cut characters – only pitiful victims, uncaring observers, and brutish thugs. Even in the nicer parts of town, there is aggression and gloom, as if light and clarity just can’t manage to pierce the general decay and depravity of the characters and situations.

As is also familiar with Chandler’s stories, the plot is extremely complex, with a couple of scenes relaying details in both the foreground and background simultaneously, neither of which should be missed (plus, Arnold Schwarzenegger with a mustache as an unnamed bodyguard in a stripping scene isn’t exactly unnoticeable). While Marlowe starts an unrelated investigation to search for Roger Wade (Sterling Hayden), who has gone missing from his home – and from his wife (Nina van Pallandt) – a few days earlier, it can’t be ignored that her residence is located a little way up the beach from the Lennox estate. And, of course, everyone speaks with double meanings or total lies, while behaviors are never anything but wholly suspicious. The dialogue is incredibly natural, as if largely improvised, and the acting is efficient in its depictions of uncompromising duplicity. Gould is especially adept at playing Marlowe, looking the part and adopting the smart mouth, ruggedness, and mental sharpness expected of the legendary sleuth.

Some of the humor doesn’t quite fit (David Arkin as Harry is a prime example, playing an inexperienced hood who serves solely as comic relief), since Marlowe’s wisecracks are plenty to mitigate the pervasive ugliness, while some of the discussions carry on too long, spreading out the valuable clues and the few scenes of bloody violence or suspenseful confrontations. But the film does craft a fitting atmosphere, which at its best resembles the likes of “Chinatown” (diminutive quack Dr. Verringer, played by Henry Gibson, is quite reminiscent of Roman Polanski’s unforgettable turn). Plus, the ending is undeniably rewarding.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10