The Long Goodbye
We’re going on a bit of an Altman binge, picking up the ones we missed over the years. Because Altman was so experimental, he made a few stinkers, but this isn’t one of them. In fact, its reputation has grown over the years. I think that in 1973 a lot of critics just didn’t get it. We’ve seen a lot weirder stuff than this in 33 years, and now it’s got a following.
I loved it from the first. It is based—very loosely—on a novel by Raymond Chandler, with screenplay by the great SF and fantasy writer and scenarist, Leigh Brackett, who collaborated with William Faulkner (no kidding!) on the Bogart version of The Big Sleep in 1946. But if you want to see Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, see that one, or even better, see Farewell, My Lovely, as I think Mitchum was even better than Bogart.
Roger Ebert thought it was only so-so the first time, but is now one of the critics who has re-assessed. The trope Ebert sees is a 1930s private eye transported into swinging but vacuous ’70s Los Angeles, more or less intact, and very out of place. I think that idea has a lot going for it, in that Altman is doing a riff on P.I.s and on film noir, though this film is in intentionally-faded color. One of the things that worked so well for Robert Mitchum was narration, taken from the Chandler book. Here, Elliot Gould spends a lot of time muttering to himself, and there is the trademark Altman overlapping and improvised dialogue. Sterling Hayden is very, very good in a part that was going to go to Dan Blocker (Whew! Dodged a bullet! I think Blocker was great as Hoss, but he’d have been all wrong for this). And the briefly famous Nina Van Pallandt (for being forger Clifford Irving’s mistress) is also good. But the picture belongs to that shambling shaggy dog, Elliot Gould. The opening ten minutes where he tries to feed his finicky cat (who I understand was the original Morris!), totally irrelevant to the plot, are not to be missed. Pure Altman, and pure Gould.
Trivia: The house on the beach at the Malibu Colony … that was Robert Altman’s residence at the time! What a neat way to work. Wake up, go downstairs, shout “Action!”