In our continuing series of 47 films to watch before being murdered in your dreams, we look at Robert Altman’s Raymond Chandler adaptation The Long Goodbye.
Raymond Chandler came to Hollywood and ended up writing movies none too happily. His novels became movies too. Philip Marlowe his hard boiled private investigator gave Humphrey Bogart one of the choicest roles of his career, as well as being assayed by actors such as James Garner, George Sanders, Dick Powell and later Robert Mitchum.
Elliott Gould’s Marlowe is a world of and unto himself. He’s a time-traveler, driving around Hollywood in a 1948 Lincoln convertible. Never forsaking his suit and tie, smoking like a chimney, wisecracking to himself rather than anyone else. And with a chaste sense of moral direction which reveals itself only at the end.
This innocent abroad stick his nose into a mystery involving the usual cast of gangsters, femme fatales and crooked cops. After giving his friend Terry Lennox, a lift, Marlowe finds himself in hot water when Lennox’s wife turns up dead. A mad writer played by Sterling Hayden, his society hostess wife played by Nina van Pallandt and a Jewish gangster (Mark Rydell) with a particularly vicious manner of serving coke.
But this is Hollywood’s film, in the sense that it is about the place, the ambiance. Sure, Altman’s lazy penchant for female flesh and misogyny is in evidence. And yet the city looks gorgeous, photographed by the ever reliable Vilmos Zsigmond. Elliott Gould has never been so good with a genuinely original re-imagining of Marlowe who refuses to take anything seriously. Primarily, because life is too important. The film came up a few times in comparison to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, but a trip back to the original makes Anderson’s film look pretty thin.