Sunday, February 20, 2011

Elliot Gould in The Long Goodbye (1973)

Obscurity factor: 2

Elliot Gould as Phillip Marlowe? Right off the bat you know this isn't an ordinary, hard boiled crime drama. But then, Robert Altman isn't an ordinary director.

Altman's Marlowe is a fish out of water - dubbed Rip Van Marlowe by the director. He's a man with a cut and dried, 1950's sense of right and wrong living in the increasingly amorphous moral climate of southern California in the early 1970's. Marlowe's friend Terry Lennox comes to him early one morning asking for a lift to Tijuana. He's had a fight with his wife, so he says. When his wife turns up dead the police head straight to Marlowe. He won't give them any information, so they rough him up a little and hold him for three days. When he's released he learns that Terry Lennox has committed suicide while in Mexico. In a seemingly unrelated case, Marlowe is hired by the ice cool blond wife (Nina Van Pallandt) of a Hemmingwayesque writer (Sterling Hayden) who has disappeared. Marlowe finds him in detox and returns him to his wife. When he gets home he finds gangster Marty Augustine and his henchmen waiting for him, convinced that he has money that Terry Lennox owed him. As the plot continues to unravel, Marlowe finds the common link in these three stories and his moral code is put to a real test. This film, as with most Altman pictures is highly distilled and creates very polarized reactions among viewers. It's not faithful to the Raymond Chandler novel, which many consider a sacrilege. Some hold it up as a masterpiece of neo-noir cinema, while others consider the forays into character development and scene setting annoying distractions from the story. At the time of its release the film was not well received. It was pulled from theaters and rebranded with a more comedic slant and still didn't fare well. In retrospect, however, it has a lot going for it, with a moody, dark storyline, great performances and beautiful cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond. The washed out pastel effect was created with light struck film. Look for a young Arnold Schwarzenegger as one of Augustine's henchmen and listen for the title song as sung by Jack Sheldon - voice of many of the Schoolhouse Rock cartoons.

Fans of Robert Altman know this film well. To the rest of the film going public, it's not well known. It's available on DVD, and can be seen in its entirety on YouTube thanks to uploads by PrizeFighterEnFuego. The first installment is above.

Obscurity factor: 2 (well known in film circles, relatively unknown generally, available on DVD and YouTube)


  1. This also has a great scene with Elliot Gould walking around in a grocery store filled with groovy 1970s products! And his apartment scenes were filmed here:

  2. That's where Altman lived when he was working as a TV director. He remembered the location when in pre-production for this film. It's such a great spot.

  3. I didn't know that. What a pad!

  4. I blow hot and cold with Altman, but following your endorsement, I borrowed this one from the library today, and I am very happy I did. I am not surprised it was not success, but with age, it has gained a patina. This movie is as far removed from us - in time - as The Big Sleep was when it was released. This allows us to see it more clearly. What may have seemed like affectation in 1973 can be seen as style today. This is not any more realistic than The Big Sleep, but we're dealing with 70s stylized, not 40s stylized.

    Now the bad: Nina Van Pallandt stinks. A Julie Christie (who worked with Altman) would have added needed je ne sais quoi. NVP was living a neo-noir plot herself at the time, as you can gather from the movie Hoax, where she is played by Julie Delpy, but she was no actress. She kills her scenes stone dead.

    This is now one of my favorite 70s neo-noirs, along with Chinatown and the lesser known but excellent Night Moves. And let's not forget The Late Show, which is possibly the most enjoyable of all.

    My favorite Altman is Three Women (maybe because I work in a Nursing / Rehab center), and it is somewhat obscure. My least favorite Altman, hmmmm, where shall I start?

  5. Well, I must say I'm very pleased that I've posted something you didn't know and it influenced you to see it AND you enjoyed it!

    Funny, your reaction to Nina Van Pallandt. She's the only one who received good notices when the film was originally screened for critics.

  6. Special under-5 Oscar should have gone to Marlowe's cat.

  7. Yes, the cat was a big part of the action...