Uncovering Curiosities: Robert Altman’s THE LONG GOODBYE

Elliott Gould plays Raymond Chandler’s iconic and laconic private detective, Philip Marlow in this screen adaptation of The Long Goodbye. Robert Altman directs this film, which oozes 70s cinematic style.

Altman’s film sees Marlowe investigate the death of his old friend Terry Lennox (Jim Bouton), and along the way he gets caught-up with an assortment of odd-ball characters, including gangster Marty Augustine (Mark Rydell), writer Roger Wade (Sterling Hayden) and his wife Eileen (Nina Van Pallandt).

The Long Goodbye is one of the most perfect examples of the Easy Rider, Raging Bull mentality that permeated 70s Hollywood moviemaking. Altman had already directed the counterculture classics MASH and McCabe and Mrs Miller by this point, while star Elliott Gould had seen his star rise and fall in the four years since he hit the big-time with Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. Together, they thrust Chandler’s Marlowe from his original 1940s setting into Vietnam era Los Angeles. It’s a bold move, but one that stays close to the source material thanks to Leigh Brackett’s script. Gould’s Marlow is a man out of time, an old-fashioned detective with old-fashioned morals thrown into a time when anything goes. It’s a revisionist look at the hard-boiled genre.

Altman shoots the film with his usual laidback style, using Vilmos Zsigmond to help Los Angeles become one of the film’s main characters. The dreamlike state of the film mirrors the pot-induced haze of the time, while at times it’s hard to tell if Gould’s Marlowe is laconic or if he’s simply stoned. It’s not about the mystery. The Long Goodbye is about the feeling of isolation which engulfed 1970s America.

There are other hidden treasures within The Long Goodbye, from John Williams’ varied score, to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s dialogue free-role as a nameless heavy. Meanwhile, fans of Shane Black’s writing will find much to enjoy here – without Chandler’s Marlowe we wouldn’t have Kiss Kiss Bang Bang or The Last Boy Scout.

The Long Goodbye is the epitome of Robert Altman’s ‘70s oeuvre. It’s loose and laidback, giving a total disregard for style, structure or convention. But wasn’t that what ‘70s Hollywood was all about?