The Long Goodbye Review
Somehow, cinema can bend the stylistic rules of plot narrative with the audiences' blessing, and The Long Goodbye is a classic example of a film text playing with its own origin's conventions to form a stand-alone by-product. The film is arguably Robert Altman's most underrated effort, and features a fine central performance by Elliott Gould, who breathes new life into the iconic Phillip Marlowe, main protagonist of Raymond Chandler's detective novels.
The Long Goodbye
isn't as thick a detective story as the usual Chandler mystery, nor is it filled with dynamite tension. It's a deliberately sleepy tale, as if the film exists in the no-man's-land that lies between Marlowe's conscious and unconscious state. For all we know, the film could just be a dream, as it starts innocently enough with Marlowe asleep in his bed. Anyhow, the plot involves Marlowe (Gould) being drawn into an investigation when his friend Terry Lennox (Jim Bouton) commits suicide over allegations of murdering his wife. Marlowe is convinced his friend had nothing to do with his wife's murder, and soon becomes linked to the case when a mysterious young woman named Eileen Wade (Nina Van Pallandt) wishes Marlowe to locate her missing author husband Roger (Sterling Hayden). The obvious twists-and-turns affect the smoothness of Marlowe's investigations, and he soon learns that not everything is what it seems...
Forget convoluted drama or even gripping suspense, The Long Goodbye is pure cinematic fun and a brilliant relic of early-seventies' counter-culture cinema. It destroys all iconic notions of Marlowe and a detective story and reinvents them as it sees fit. The character of Marlowe pushes on from a centre of moral virtue to a wise-cracking smart-scruff that seems adrift from the normal temporal flow. It's as if Marlowe is a melting pot of time period sensibilities, suggesting that he could casually exist in any decade and his demeanour would remain the same. He's a walking anachronism, and Elliott Gould is the perfect, leftfield choice to play him. Projecting a harmless and sarcastic persona, Gould shakes off the previous incarnations of Marlowe and effortlessly slips into his shoes. It's hard to believe that Gould originally tried to have director Altman fired during the making of M*A*S*H, as Altman managed to help Gould to one of his best performances two years later.
As for the rest of the cast, Sterling Hayden and Nina Van Pallandt are fine supporting players but tend to provide sleepy performances, as if their characters are somehow caught in the dreamy Los Angeles of Marlowe's sub-consciousness. Altman has terrific fun contrasting the group of female sex-kitten neighbours that Marlowe is fortunate to live opposite, further juxtaposing the convention of Marlowe's world and the easy-going hedonism of the late-sixties/early-seventies that the girls represent.
The film is a triumph of cinematography, as photographed by the gifted Vilmos Zsigmond. Each shot is brilliantly colourful whilst simultaneously washed out and murky, further emphasising the notion of a hazy blurring of two different worlds. Because of the stark contrast in many of the sequences, Marlowe is almost a counter-culture hero, or a conventional anti-hero, in his jet-black suit and scruffy tie, which seems to be a anachronistic uniform solely used as a device to stand him apart from the other characters in the film.
Robert Altman directs The Long Goodbye with a loose, free-hand style that seems to deviate from most detective-thriller genre conventions. It's more cinema-veritè as opposed to tight mise-en-scene control, and the film is as chaotic The mystery-plot essentially takes a back-seat, as Altman is much more content to experiment and analyse Marlowe caught up in deeply-fixed nineteen-seventies' social depictions. In essence, The Long Goodbye is a Chandler detective mystery with only a subtle hint of mystery. The final film version of veteran screenwriter Leigh Brackett's script was far removed from the original screenplay and indeed Chandler's novel, and Altman drew criticism in some quarters for completely changing the ending, which is another factor in his subversion of the deep-routed Hollywood detective story.
The Long Goodbye
clearly will not please everybody, purely because you have to instantly buy the concept of a revisionist Marlowe/Chandler thriller remixed by Robert Altman and starring Elliott Gould. If you indulge the film and concentrate on areas that aren't plot related, then The Long Goodbye rewards the viewer by being an original and very distinctive offering from a director whose confidence is assured.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1, the transfer for the film is unexceptional, due mainly to the post-flashing techniques employed successfully by cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond. Blacks lack definite shadings, and colour tones are muted and extremely washed out. Still, the transfer is mostly free of edge enhancement, even if some artefacts and grain can be detected in the darker sequences of the film along with some very obvious print scars.
Presented in the original mono, the sound mix for The Long Goodbye is mostly uninspired, with dialogue sounding muffled and lacking in dynamic range, and many sound events uneasily existing in the same channels.
: A static menu featuring some promotional shots from the film.
Packaging: A colourful artwork is housed in an amaray casing with the usual MGM template, complete with a one page chapter listing included inside.
Rip Van Marlowe
: This is an interesting twenty-five minute retrospective documentary that explores the cross-mixing of styles and genres that Altman employed when making The Long Goodbye, and features interviews mainly with Altman and Elliott Gould. A deleted scene is referred to that potentially sounds interesting, even if it is only shown using stills, but overall this is a fine and concise companion to the film.
Vilmos Zsigmond Flashes The Long Goodbye
: This is a good fourteen minute retrospective interview with cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond focusing on his innovative techniques for the film and what Altman as a director was like to work with. The Oscar winning Zsigmond clearly is an expert of his field, and this extended interview is a fascinating account for anyone interested in photography.
American Cinematographer: Reprint Of 1973 Article: As the title suggests, this is a reprint of the article on Zsigmond's techniques for The Long Goodbye, and is a good companion to the interview that is also included. Presented as text-on-screen, with easy user navigation.
Radio Spots: Five radio spots are included that advertise the film, and are backed by promotional artwork.
Trailer: An average trailer is included, and is presented in non-anamorphic cropped 1.85:1 widescreen.
Considering the low retail price and the usual MGM budget release, this DVD is a fine package, with some good, well selected extras despite a middling picture and sound quality of the main feature. For fans of the film, this package is a must, even if for once Altman hasn't provided a commentary. The Long Goodbye stands as a quirky mismash of the detective genre and also stands as a seminal text from the early seventies' counter-culture movement, reinforcing its appeal to film fans.