Monday, May 18, 2009

Cinematic gems #9: The Long Goodbye

The Long Goodbye, Robert Altman's 1973 take on Raymond Chandler's most popular creation, Philip Marlowe, is a brilliant, darkly funny detective tale. Elliot Gould gives a sly, hangdog performance as the title sleuth, who is thrust into a murder-mystery involving his best friend Terry (former Yankees hurler Jim Bouton), an alcoholic writer (Sterling Hayden, delightful in a Hemingway-esque role), his blond trophy wife (Nina Van Pallandt), a Jewish kingpin (Mark Rydell, sometimes actor and director of the films On Golden Pond and Cinderella Liberty, very good here) and his thugs (among them, a very young Arnold Schwarzenegger). Marlow finds himself traversing the underbelly of '70s Hollywood, surrounded by sex, money and buckets full of deceit. Not to spoil anything, but the film's explosive ending was met with lots of controversy, with Marlowe purists up in arms about the hero's actions.

All of the trademark Altman moves are there--the overlapping dialogue, with shifting focus, the dark humor, and even some gratuitous nudity (which is used to hilarious effect, as Marlowe's free-spirited neighbors constantly distract the thugs sent to rough him up). The film opens with an outstanding sequence in which Marlowe goes to great lengths to try to get the favorite food for his finicky cat--a hilarious pre-cursor for what is to come. The film works brilliantly on two levels--as both a film noir-ish detective story, and as a complete send up of the genre and the trappings of all private eye conventions. Written by Leigh Brackett (who wrote the original script for The Big Sleep) and shot by master cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (he lensed Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Deer Hunter, and Altman's McCabe & Mrs. Miller), the film is a truly unique and satisfying experience. It's a great example of a film that was disastrous at the box office and critically mixed at the time of its release, only to end up on several critics best-of lists in the near future.

**Broke my own rule. It's been 4 here's your Scott Baio photo. Rockin' in a pink world, he is.

1 comment:

  1. When I first saw the movie they made of Chandler's THE LONG GOODBYE, I didn't think much of it, but your thoughts on it have me wanting to see the picture again and give it another shot.