The Long Goodbye (1973)


Eileen Wade : “Listen, would you like something to eat?”
Philip Marlowe : “Yeah, I guess if you’ve got some cold bologna, mayonnaise and bread I’ll hang around for a while.”
Eileen Wade: “I’ll do you one better.”

Noirvember Film Series #6:

“The Long Goodbye” (1973), directed by Robert Altman, is a jazzy, effervescent crime drama based off the Raymond Chandler novel of the same name, about a private investigator who is needlessly dragged into a series of events which put his life in danger. Elliott Gould plays Richard Marlowe, a smooth talking and comically cavalier P.I. who is visited late one night by his friend Terry Lennox, who promptly asks him for a ride from Los Angeles to the California-Mexico border at Tijuana.

We meet Marlowe one evening as he is preoccupied by his picky eating cat and buying brownies for his naked, yoga loving neighbors. He mumbles and talks to himself. He shrugs and smokes. With an element of understated humor and a meandering pace, we watch as Marlowe’s loyalty is slowly soiled by the abusive selfishness of his friends.

After helping Lennox, Marlowe is suddenly picked up and questioned by the police, when he is informed that his friend has committed suicide promptly after arriving at his new home in Mexico. Suspicious and confused, he is eventually released, but is then faced with a mob looking for a large sum of money. Laid back, but sharp, Altman’s lead character is depicted through a series of lingering looks, as he begins to unravel the mysterious death of his friend.

In typical noir fashion, “The Long Goodbye” is engulfed in nihilism, crime and artistic filmmaking choices which almost act as a varnish on the grim realities at play. In this, though the cinematography is excellent and intriguing at times (by Vilmos Zsigmond), making use of match cuts in unexpected ways, the real elevating element to this one was the continual use of the song which shares a title with the film. The films entire soundtrack only features two songs: “Hooray for Hollywood” and “The Long Goodbye”, composed by John Williams and Johnny Mercer. Altman cleverly decided that every time the latter song is heard, it is arranged differently – in the form of hippie chants to supermarket muzak to radio tunes, and is used to set the tone of the eccentric California atmosphere that our lead bumbles upon while pursuing his case.

It is a slow film, that does not necessarily drag, but it does not move quickly. It takes its time, just like the drawn out ramblings of its lead. It is not officially cited as an inspiration for Quentin Tarantino’s popular 2019 film, “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood,” but the two pair hand-and-hand. Much of this film revolves around the merriment of Los Angeles in the 1970’s which was so defined by the Hollywood scene. Harlowe’s gate keeper proudly does cheeky impressions of big stars to whoever will be his reluctant audience, the neighbors have de-clothed and spend their days dancing freely on the porch, the characters drive schmoozey convertibles. Most of all, though, there is a striking likeness between Tarantino’s character, played by Brad Pitt, Cliff Booth, and his relationship with Brandy, his giant lovable hearty eating pitbull and Marlowe’s kinship with his cat, who only likes one hard to find brand of cat food.

Altman’s “The Long Goodbye” is a film noir with a cheery, spontaneous nature. Like the novel from which its based, Marlowe is witty, eccentric and holds contempt for insincerity, but Gould’s version is characterized by a mumbling, grumbling demeanor. Pushing slightly against the typical Hardy boy-esque private eye, Altman also pushes against genre. There is a grotesque violence and cynicism, but in this film, it is not from our hero. As Roger Ebert put it, “he is a man of honor from 1953 is lost in the hazy narcissism of 1973, and it’s not all right with him.”

A worthwhile watch for those who have a long Saturday and have already solidified their appreciation for the film noir genre.

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