Robert Altman

The Long Goodbye

1973

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.

LONG GOODBYE1

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…

ns-longgoodbye-100054729-large

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 Arnold Schwarzenegger himself as one of Marty Augustine’s goons in one of his first (might even be his first) movie roles.

arnold_2-1345064006

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.

Rated R

112 minutes

Popeye

1980
Paramount Pictures/Walt Disney Productions

Directed by Robert Altman
Produced by Robert Evans
Written by Jules Feiffer
Based on the “Thimble Theater” comic strip created by E.C. Segar

POPEYE is kinda like the bastard child that nobody talks about or even acknowledges at family reunions. Whenever discussions about movies based on comic books or comic strips are mentioned nobody ever remembers POPEYE. Hell, people will remember really obscure films based on comic strips such as “Friday Foster” starring Pam Grier or “Brenda Starr” with Brooke Shields and Timothy Dalton. But I mention POPEYE and people give me a look of honest surprise, saying : “They made a movie out of POPEYE?” Which is a shame because POPEYE is really outstanding in a lot of ways.

It’s an origin story we’re given as Popeye (Robin Williams) comes to the remote seaport town of Sweethaven. searching for his long lost poppa, Poopdeck Pappy (Ray Walston) who abandoned his orphink (that’s how Popeye pronounces ‘orphan’) son years ago. Popeye is regarded with hostile suspicion by the townspeople but finds lodging in the home of the Oyl family: family patriarch Cole Oyl (MacIntyre Dixon) his capable wife Nana Oyl (Roberta Maxwell) their well-meaning but slightly shifty son Castor Oyl (Donovan Scott) and their beloved daughter, the vain, prissy and impossibly skinny Olive Oyl (Shelly Duvall).

During the course of his search for his poppa, Popeye meets the other residents of Sweethaven: Olive’s ex-boyfriend Ham Gravy (Bill Irwin). The greengrocer George W. Geezil who is constantly at odds with and continually threatens to murder his best friend, professional moocher J. Wellington Wimpy (Paul Dooley). The Taxman (Donald Moffat), town drunk Bill Barnacle (Robert Fortier), the gambler Harry Hotcash (David McCharen), professional dirty fighter Oxblood Oxheart (Peter Bray) and His Mudder (Linda Hunt). And then there’s Bluto (Paul L. Smith) the hulking mass of muscle who runs the town and collects the taxes for the mysterious Commodore who no one can ever remember seeing.

Popeye and Olive don’t take to each other right away. He thinks she’s a dizzy dame and she thinks he’s too short. But their feelings for each other soon change when they find an abandoned baby Popeye names Swee’pea (Wesley Ivan Hurt) which Olive thinks is a stupid name but Popeye comes back with one of the movie’s best lines: “Well, what were you going to name him? Baby Oyl?” This doesn’t sit very well with Bluto who was supposed to be engaged to Olive. He beats the hell outta Popeye and taxes the Oyls into bankruptcy. But salvation comes from an unexpected source: Swee’pea, who can apparently predict the future by whistling to signify ‘yes’ when he’s asked a question. Bluto learns of the baby’s talent and hatches a plan to get Olive for himself and use Swee’pea to find The Commodore’s treasure, located somewhere on the treacherous Scab Island.

That’s not much of a plot but then again how much of a plot do you actually need? The real fun of watching the movie comes from the extraordinary sets and performances. An entire town was actually built on the island of Malta and it still exists today as a tourist attraction/theme park http://www.popeyemalta.com/ so the town of Sweethaven has a solidity that you don’t normally see in other movies of this type. Sweethaven doesn’t look like a movie set on screen. It looks like a real town.

Robin Williams and Shelly Duvall do such a great job of bringing Popeye and Olive Oyl to life it’s scary. Shelly Duvall in particular does an amazing job of giving Olive an incredibly unique gangly body language. Robin Williams has Popeye’s well known mutterspeak and hilariously mangled mispronunciations down so well that if you decide to watch this I’d advise you to turn up your TV’s volume a couple of notches higher than usual or turn on the closed captioning or you’ll miss half of Popeye’s best lines. But it’s the little things in this movie I find amusing. Such as Cole Oyl’s constantly insisting that everybody owes him an apology. Or the way Olive holds her head and the look on her face when she answers other characters. Or the character of Roughhouse who would seem to be a pretty tough guy in his own right as there’s a couple of scenes where Bluto intimidates the citizens of Sweethaven but actually goes around Roughhouse or ignores him totally. And Ray Walston is always a joy in anything he does. Look closely at the gang of toughs Popeye has a brawl with in Roughhouse’s Café and you’ll see one of ‘em is Dennis Franz.

And for somebody like me who really only knows Popeye from the cartoons I was amazed at how many supporting characters there actually are in his universe. I’m only familiar with Popeye, Olive, Bluto, Swee’pea and the Jeep and until I saw this movie and did a little research I had no idea all of those other characters existed. And they are some characters indeed. POPEYE benefits from some of Robert Altman’s signature directorial traits such as overlapping dialog and there’s always something going on in the background. The characters aren’t just standing around to give the scene window dressing. A lot of times they’re not even reacting to what the main characters are doing. They’re going about their own business, doing something totally unrelated to what the main characters are doing. In other words, living their own lives.

The musical numbers are written by Harry Nilsson and they’re not done like your traditional musical numbers where everybody stops to sing. They’re interwoven with the dialog and don’t so much start and stop as just fade in and fade out. They’re not memorable songs by any means but they’re cute and charming enough. I’m particularly fond of the “Sweethaven Anthem” and “Everything Is Food”. Ray Walston has a catchy number called: “It’s Not Easy Being Me” But “I Am What I Am” and “I’m Mean” end abruptly just when they’re starting to get cooking. And the ending is something of a letdown because the whole movie has been building up to a massive knockdown slugfest between Popeye and Bluto but it never happens. There’s a really silly swordfight before we get to the moment we’ve been waiting for: Popeye eating that can of spinach and walloping the piss outta Bluto. The resolution of the fight is over much too fast to be satisfying. But we do get to learn what Popeye really thinks about spinach and it’s the biggest laugh in the movie.

So should you see POPEYE? Sure. It’s so good spirited in its desire to entertain that only a rock hearted person could dislike it. The best word I can come up with for this movie is ‘charming’. It’s a nice little movie for the whole family to watch together.  POPEYE is a great Saturday or Sunday afternoon fun movie. Enjoy.

Rated: PG
114 minutes