MGM Home Entertainment
Directed by Robert Altman
Produced by Jerry Bick
Screenplay by Leigh Brackett
Based on the novel by Raymond Chandler
When Robert Altman is cooking on all burners as in say, ‘MASH’, ‘The Player’ or ‘Cookie’s Fortune’ he’s a director to be reckoned with and you sit back and just revel in how many characters he effortlessly weaves in and out of whatever story he’s telling. I’m a big fan of his ‘Popeye’ which is a comic book movie that even fans of comic book movies fail to remember but I think is a jaw-droppingly amazing piece of work. ‘Nashville’ I could never quite get into but it’s widely regarded as his masterpiece while ‘Quintet’ and ‘3 Women’ are quite baffling and addictively dreamlike. I don’t get what they’re about but for some reason I’m compelled to watch them anytime they’re being aired. And then there’s the movie we’re talking about now: THE LONG GOODBYE.
I guess the best way to start off discussing THE LONG GOODBYE is to say that while it’s based on the classic 1954 Raymond Chandler novel of the same name featuring the iconic private detective Philip Marlowe, it’s set in 70’s Los Angeles. So I think I’m pretty sure in saying that a whole lot of the movie is a departure from the source material. In fact, I’ll put myself out a limb and say I’m damn sure it is because probably the most memorable thing about this private eye/mystery movie is that nobody really seems to care about the mystery, if it gets solved at all or who done it, why they done it and how they done it. It that respect, it shares something with a previous Philip Marlowe movie adaptation: the classic Howard Hawkes directed ‘The Big Sleep’ filmed with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall back in 1946. That movie’s story was so convoluted that at the end there were two murders still unsolved and even Chandler himself had to admit that he didn’t know who killed the victims. You watch THE LONG GOODBYE and by the end you realize that there’s a whole lot you don’t understand about who did what to whom and why. But if you like Robert Altman or Elliott Gould or just like to watch a movie with a bunch of smart ass characters trying to out-smart ass each other, then you’ll probably get a kick out of this one.
Philip Marlowe (Elliott Gould) is your typical private eye: he lives like a slob, takes the cases nobody else wants and lives by a personal code of honor that is unexplainable. You either get it or you don’t. One hot summer night he’s woken up by his cat and has to go out to buy the only kind of cat food the finicky bastard will eat. When he comes back home with the cat food Marlowe finds his old buddy Terry Lennox (former pro baseball player and author of ‘Ball Four’ Jim Bouton) waiting for him. Terry’s had a fight with his wife, which isn’t unusual, but Terry’s request that Marlowe drive him to Tijuana is. Still, Terry’s his boy so Marlowe does him the solid.
Turns out that Marlowe might have been better off giving Terry his couch for the night. The cops are waiting for Marlowe when he returns home and haul him into jail as an accessory after the fact in the murder of Terry Lennox’s wife. Even though Marlowe maintains that Terry wouldn’t kill his wife, he still can’t forget that Terry had some serious looking scratches on his face and hands and he did seem to be in an awful hurry to get to Mexico. The cops turn Marlowe loose after Terry himself turns up dead, supposedly a suicide. Even as Marlowe is trying to deal with this and find out exactly what happened the night Terry showed up at his apartment, he’s hired by Eileen Wade (Nina Van Pallandt) to find her brilliant but alcoholic writer husband Roger Wade (Sterling Hayden) who’s gone missing. And if that wasn’t enough, Terry’s ‘business partner’ Marty Augustine (Mark Rydell) leans on Marlowe a whole lot since it seems that Terry took off with $350, 000 of mob money and since Marlowe was the last to see him…
Now when I lay it out like that you think that THE LONG GOODBYE is more or less your typical private eye movie but it isn’t. At times you’re not sure if Altman, Gould and the rest of the cast are taking this thing seriously since the whole movie is really carried by the definitely bizarre, eccentric and downright nutty characters that populate the story. Elliot Gould’s Philip Marlowe leads the pack as he wisecracks at every opportunity and chain-smokes with a relentlessness I admire. There’s even a scene where he’s hit by a car and is lying in the street with his still burning cigarette firmly in his lips. In true private eye fashion he doggedly follows the trails of what seems to be three unrelated cases and finds that they all lead back to his friendship with Terry Lennox and that night he drove him to Tijuana. And when he does put the case together and finds out who is behind it all and why, the ending is a true surprise.
But to get there…boy, is it a long strange trip. Marlowe’s cat is a unusual character in its own cat like way but there’s also the five beautiful blonde girls who live next door to Marlowe who insist on exercising in the nude and whose only activity seem to be making and eating huge amounts of brownies (if you were around in the 70’s, you’ll know why) and a security guard who does impressions of 30’s/40’s movie stars and the slimy Dr. Verringer (Henry Gibson) who has some kind of strange hold over the normally bombastic and dominant Roger Wade…well, I trust you get the point by now. THE LONG GOODBYE is not your typical gumshoe movie and if you expect a straightforward mystery, you’re not going to get it here.
You’ll probably enjoy things like Elliott Gould’s decidedly eccentric and quirky performance as Philip Marlowe that is unlike that of any other incarnation of Marlowe. The story is definitely convoluted and I had to watch the movie three times until I felt I finally understood the connections between Terry Lennox, his wife’s murder, Roger Wade and his wife and Marty Augustine’s missing mob money. I think you’ll also get a kick out of the music score which consists of the theme song ‘The Long Goodbye’ being played in a variety of styles from R&B, Muzak, disco, jazz, blues and even a version sung over a car radio by Jack Sheldon who sang many of the classic ‘Schoolhouse Rock’ and ‘Multiplication Rock’ songs. And don’t tell me you don’t know who Jack Sheldon is. Does ‘Conjunction Junction’ ring a bell? And keep your eyes open for none other than the ex-Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger himself as one of Marty Augustine’s goons in one of his first (might even be his first) movie roles.
So should you see THE LONG GOODBYE? Depends. If you’re a fan of the quirky and offbeat, I’d say yes. If you like Elliott Gould or the films of Robert Altman, I’d say yes. If you’re a fan of private eye/suspense/mystery/detective movies, I’d say no. After all, this isn’t a movie that all that concerned about who done it, why they done it and how they done it as it is with evoking a mood and a style. It’s a movie that is solely concerned with us taking a look at these characters and what they do during a crucial few days in their lives. I do admit, though, it’s a movie where you can easily imagine the characters having lives that continue long after the movie is over.