#31 - The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman)


“It's okay with me...”

Noir and detective stories became something like a foundation of modern cinema. The films of that kind might not crop up as often as they did in prior decades, but their presence is felt in many great modern films. And one the defining icons of noir is the classic Raymond Chandler “hero” Phillip Marlowe, who was most famously played by the legendary Humphrey Bogart in the Howard Hawks classic “The Big Sleep”. However Marlowe was played by several other actors in other films and personally my favorite interpretation of the character can be found in “The Long Goodbye”, where he is played by Elliott Gould.

The great thing about Gould’s Marlowe is that he is not just a wisecracking detective, but he is pretty much a flat out clown in this film. And Gould sells it perfectly because, apart from the genuinely funny nature of his character, he project real intelligence which is crucial. But of course this is in many ways just a protective mask that only gets taken off at the very end of the film. For me this is the perfect rendition of the classic character, designed for the cynicism of the 70’s. I can’t think of a better way to bringing this character to a more modern era than to hide his inherent cynicism under a clownish mask, which juxtaposes perfectly the tone of the film’s story and setting which is set to the backdrop of 70’s L.A.

The director of “The Long Goodbye” is Robert Altman, undoubtedly one of the best American directors at the time (and of all time, for that matter). One of the great things that Altman always did was to put you right in to the scene with his actors. He lets them ramble and mumble their dialogue, hiding crucial story information among dialogue that sometime seems arbitrary. He is just as concerned with the surrounding of his characters as he is with the whole crux of the scene, in fact he oftentimes finds the background more interesting than what’s really happening in the story. His camera has an incredible sense of curiosity and tends to wander around, before he violently rips you back in to the heat of the scene.

What his technique does is to put you in to the location and the general mood of it, and when something shocking happens it’s as startling as it would be in reality and does not feel manufactured or designed. The sense of place and being there is profound, which makes his films mood pieces just as much as they’re narrative films. This is of course a big factor in “The Long Goodbye” as well, although the complex narrative constrains him much more than, say, “Nashville” did.

But it’s this intriguing narrative and how Altman presents it that’s the best part of this film and, with the wonderful performances and direction, it is the factor that will keep me coming back to “The Long Goodbye”. And although it is not as elusive as the narrative of “The Big Sleep” it’s just as much a conceptual puzzle and a joy to mull over, which in turn makes this film maybe one of Altman’s most accessible works. 

“The Long Goodbye” is easy to recommend especially for fans of detective stories and noir cinema. Together with "Chinatown" it presents probably the very best the genre had to offer in the 70's.


Elliott Gould - Phillip Marlowe
Nina van Pallandt - Eileen Wade
Sterling Hayden - Roger Wade
Mark Rydell - Marty Augustine
Henry Gibson - Dr. Verringer

The Long Goodbye on IMDb

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