on 9 February 2014
A great Robert Altman movie, currently unavailable on Blu-ray in the U.S. Arrow has done a spectacular job with the packaging - the booklet is stuffed with essays, interviews, etc. But the movie visuals are seriously flawed. In the scene where Marlowe arrives at the party and a group of people are singing and playing the piano, a white splotch of missing picture information is frozen for several seconds at the top of the frame. Also there are scratches and other flaws throughout. So when I see the often muddy color inthe film, even though I know the negative was intentionally flashed during production, I can't tell I'm seeing the film the way it was meant to look because clearly it hasn't been fully restored. I don't buy Blu-rays because I bought the movies on laserdisc and DVD and now I want to buy them AGAIN; I buy Blu-rays because I expect the movie to sound and look as good as it possibly can. "Usual Suspects" dumped on Blu with no extras and no commentary, and now this...is anyone even awake at MGM?
The Long Goodbye is directed by Robert Altman and loosely adapted to screenplay by Leigh Brackett from the Raymond Chandler story. It stars Elliott Gould, Nina van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden, David Arkin, Jim Bouton and Mark Rydell. Music is by John Williams and cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond.
Private Detective Phillip Marlowe (Gould) tries to help a friend who is accused of murdering his wife, but he is quickly thrust into a world of bluffs, deceits, alcoholics, violence and a suspicious suicide.
Much has been made about how Altman and Brackett tampered with the Chandler source material, so much so I have seen and read some venomous arguments/diatribes as regards the film's worth. Venturing into it for the first time I was forewarned that it plonks legendary Private Dic Phillip Marlowe into a 70s setting, that it satirises the gumshoe aspects of decades previously to put Marlowe as a sort of man out of his time. Then there's the controversial ending thought up by Brackett, and the casting of Gould as Marlowe that caused some consternation to Chandler purists. So as much as I adore Bogart and Powell's takes on Marlowe, I ventured into The Long Goodbye with an open mind. And I'm so glad I did.
I love it, I really do, I found it so easy to dissociate this neo-noir version of Marlowe with the hard boiled film noir versions from the classic cycle. This Marlowe is a riot, abused and used by those around him, he is world weary to the extreme, he can't even bluff his own cat, who it appears is probably his only real friend. He sleepwalks through life quipping away to himself because nobody else cares to listen anyway, and he chain-smokes, how unfashionable! But he is always cool, even when faced with hostile cops or murderous thugs, his coolness is not for shaking. Attaboy Phillip.
Cynical but very at ease with itself, the picture pulses with classic noir themes of betrayal, loyalties and moral corruption. It also looks and sounds ace, with a desaturated 70s sheen blending in with the emphasised sounds of everyday West America life. Oh and Gould is just triffic to boot. Great stuff, annual viewing requirement assured here. 9/10
In 1973, Robert Altman caught the special wry, shy, impudent, gangly, jazzy, tousled quality of Elliott Gould to a tee. In The Long Goodbye - a delirious riff on Chandler`s penultimate novel - he also showed LA as a boho Eden-after-the-fall filled with unbalanced well-dressed gangsters, scantily-dressed neighbourhood dolly birds, and tense, amoral middle-aged wives. Down these mean-enough streets ambles a version of Philip Marlowe that isn`t as far from Bogart`s (or Mitchum`s from the same decade) as one might imagine. Those who complain that this isn`t much like Chandler`s long, elegiac novel either haven`t read it lately or are missing the point, or most probably both.
I love the way Altman lets the plot hang fire for stretches at a time while we are entertained by Gould`s/Marlowe`s attempts to feed his cat, pass the time of day with the amiable girls across the way - "Oh, Mr Marlowe, you`re the nicest neighbour we`ve ever had" - or engage in backchat with whoever happens to cross his path. This is a man who`s only incidentally a private eye (Altman doesn`t seem too interested in his detective work or the reason he`s on a particular case) and who moves to a secret rhythm of his own, a hippy-jazz-stoner-shamus with an ongoing monologue in his head which, to our delight, we are made privy to.
There are some terrific performances, not least from sometime director Mark Rydell as an unpredictable, violent petty gangster, Nina van Pallandt as the rich-bitch wife, and a mightily indulged though still effective Sterling Hayden as a Hemingwayesque writer, pretty much playing himself, all piratical swagger - Hayden was himself a sea adventurer who would write the occasional book when back on dry land.
There`s also a very funny peach of a cameo by Ken Sansom, gate-guard of the Malibu Colony (where the wealthy live) who likes to do impressions of the stars for Marlowe before letting him through. His Stanwyck, Stewart and Grant are fine enough, but his Walter Brennan should have got him an Oscar nomination!
Beautifully shot by Vilmos Zsigmond and directed with careless flair by Altman, this is one of the most entertaining, if empty, films of the seventies.
Empty? Well, yes. The ending is, I supppose, cathartic, but it isn`t really earned by what`s gone before. Suddenly, we are shown a Marlowe who actually cares, after 100 minutes of duck-and-dive cute talk and chain-smoking, rough-diamond charm. It`s a sobering denouement and, as Marlowe is wont to say to almost anything during the course of the film, "It`s OK by me." But one is left curiously unsatisfied after the promise of what has gone before.
No matter, this is a wonderful film in its determinedly offbeat way, and I doubt Elliott Gould ever had a better role to suit his lopsided grin and shy, shambolic presence.
on 19 August 2014
Lets make it clear, the colours may be faithful to the original release and there are no scratches, flecks etc, but this is not a full digital restoration, At various times watching this i took off my glasses to check there were no smears on the lenses and there are clearly a few other issues as well. If you are buying the blu to replace your PAL DVD, you won't be overly impressed. The improvements are marginal at best.
I'm both a fan of Raymond Chandler and Robert Altman, so unlike many who revere the former, don't have an issue with the treatment accorded Marlowe by Altman. I don't think a character or novel is sacred ground, it doesn't mean that films like The Sheltering Sky or The Magus are any good, but the source novel still exists. A film adaptation of a novel is just that- an adaptation- or rather, an interpretation. It's hardly definitive, just a take on a novel.
Altman messes with Marlowe, but in an interesting way- Marlowe now comes across as a 30s/40s anachronism set in a present day 1970s. He smokes constantly, sounding lost in period talk and out of place with his dopesmoking, yoga-practicing hippy neighbours. The opening sequence is very amusing- he runs out of catfood and has to go to the local supermarket, he offers to but cookie dough mix for his hippy neighbours (suggesting hash cakes or munchies) & attempts to buy his cat's favourite brand. It turns out it's discontinued- Marlowe is dumbfounded, seemingly left behind by the modern world - and ends up trying to trick his cat to little success (this is actually being used in a current Whiskas-advert!). Watching Altman's take on The Long Goodbye, it's no surprise that critics pointed to this film when reviewing the Coen Brothers' The Big Lebowski (1998)- where Marlowe seems to be 40s trapped in the 70s, Lebowski (The Dude) is very 60s trapped in the 90s. Plus he seems rather inept as a detective...
Elliot Gould is wonderful as Marlowe, one of his great performances equal to the one he gave Altman in their previous collaboration M*A*S*H (1970). It's a very stoned film and feels a bit surreal, especially when Arnie pops up in one scene & when it turns violent towards the end. Like Altman's later Thieves Like Us, it may strike many as pointless, but if you like Altman, it should be enjoyable. It's no M*A*S*H, Nashville, The Player or Short Cuts...but not much is. A different take on a classic character & story, which I'd prefer to a faithful TV-movie rendering. Nice to see it turn up at a good price on DVD; the only other thing I could say is, if you haven't, read the original novel by Chandler: it's available in a wonderful Penguin omnibus with The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely. An interesting take on the crime movie and in some ways, it feels like a companion to Don Siegel's Charley Varrick (also 1973).
on 28 November 2003
Here's an all-American hero with a twist; Elliot Gould is Philip Marlowe as you've never seen before and I suppose it took the dry wit of Robert Altman's directorial skills to pull this one off. Gould's Marlowe lives alone with his very particular cat, is rather unsuccesful as a private eye or anything else. Yet, he's a thoroughly moral character if never ostentatious, naieve in that he doesn't want to believe his best friend is taking him for a ride. The scenes with the Jewish mobster are priceless; look out for an early appearance by Arnie Schwarzenegger as one of the thugs who seems a bit to keen to want to undress Gould. My all time favourite film by far; Gould as the ironic ultimate anti-hero, no flash gumshoe glamour but lots of understated humour and a laid-back approach that is second to none. In a word: wonderful. Bless Robert Altman, Elliot Gould and seventies California..Oh, see if you can count all the different musical versions of 'The Long Goodbye' that appear on the slick soundtrack. Enjoy!
on 7 July 2015
This is not a review of the movie The Long Goodbye -- you all have your own opinions about that already-- but rather a note to reassure people who may have concerns about the image quality on the Arrow Academy Blu-ray version of The Long Goodbye.
The first thing to say is that the theatrical print was developed using a post-flashing technique to give it a washed-out look. For techies, there is an excellent article in the notes which accompany the Blu-ray on what exactly post-flashing is. On the transfer of print to Blu-ray, the notes also claim that Arrow's transfer is "correct and true to the film's original theatrical release." I have no reason to doubt Arrow's assertion here, as I myself think that the picture quality throughout is excellent.
I should also say, as the Product Description on Amazon's main page does not (but is otherwise very good), that the notes also contain a very interesting interview with Leigh Brackett, the writer of the screenplay.
on 23 January 2014
This Arrow Academy bluray looks terrific, with a picture that's a vast improvement over the decent-but-not-great DVD. Supplements are bountiful and informative, with interviews, slews of documentaries about Vismos Zsigmong'd cinematography technique, a bizarre Q&A with Elliot Gould where we see he's more than a little spacy, a correction of an error Altman made on an earlier documentary included with the original DVD, and even a music track you can isolate. There's also an excellent booklet that meets Criterion standards with many interesting essays. This is as good as or better than anything Criterion's ever done, for less money. Bravo.
As for the movie itself, here's my original review of the MGM DVD:
This is both imagination and irreverence having their finest hours. Robert Altman, who is never afraid to experiment, reinvented the character of Philip Marlowe to make him relevant to modern times--"modern times" here being the early 1970s. If Marlowe or film noir or detective yarns are sacred cows to you, you'll be put off by the changes introduced in this update--you may even find them sacriligious. I'm not beholden to the traditions, or even all that familiar with "traditional" Philip Marlowe I have to admit, so that must be why I was blown away by this film. Everything about it feels so fresh and audacious for its time.
Riffing on and refining the "fish out of water" motiff, Altman transplants Marlowe of the 50s into the early 70s, and we watch with amusement as he struggles with pop psychology, the sexual revolution, yoga, a "smoke-free" environment, and other trappings of modern times. But Marlowe still has his old code of ethics, and, like Jakes Gittes in Chinatown, another updated noir classic, he despises liars. Unfortunately, in his business he's surrounded by them, which makes life difficult.
But in the sly Leigh Brackett script, it's not just humans who are cynical and self-centered. Marlowe has a cat who can tell if he's not getting his preferred brand of cat food, and who doesn't stick around if he's not. That Marlowe is loyal to the cat, but the cat doesn't give a whit about Marlowe is just the first strand of interesting character development, and it's a clever technique. In most other movies this "prelude" to the real story would just seem like padding, but here it's essential. (The script, by the way, is one great line after another, with very natural, effortless dialogue. Bracklett penned the first draft of The Empire Strikes Back for George Lucas, which may explain why Empire is the wittiest and smartest of all the Star Wars movies.)
Despite his being a man far out of step with the times, our sympathies are carefully set up to reside with Marlowe. Altman emphasises the "unrealness" of the modern world by housing Marlowe in a strange apartment complex that seems, like Marlowe, cut off from the rest of the world, but in a modern way, a way he is not. Throughout the film I got the impression the modern day people are as isolated in their own way as he is. The difference is they don't seem to sense it.
And Elliott Gould is perfectly cast for this sort of thing. He always plays characters who seem a little bit "out of it," and this is one of his best. He also has an improvisational quality to his delivery that meshes perfectly with what Altman is trying to achieve. The other characters are not as memorable, and frankly I was not as impressed by Sterling Hayden's Hemingwayesque character as some other people were. Nina van Whatshername was a standard issue b(l)each blonde, but perhaps that's just what was needed here.
The main interest outside of Gould and the setting is the handling of music, and sound in general. Rather than ask for a full score, Altman had John Williams and Johnny Mercer write a simple, slightly wistful song which is then worked into the picture every way imaginable. It's in the soundtrack, but also in source music, everywhere from supermarket Muzak to Mexican funeral music to the chimes on a doorbell. The concept sounds gimmicky, but somehow Altman makes it work, and it adds to the "unrealness" of the surroundings that our hero lives in, an unrealness no one else seems to notice. Here Altman has found a bizarre quality in the contemporary everyday that in MASH he had to go all the way to Korea/Vietnam to discover.
The transfer to DVD appears to be a good one. I say "appears" to be because much has been made over the "flashing" technique that Altman and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond use to soften the film's contrasts and give it a more naturalistic effect. It's hard to say if the result on DVD is exactly what was intended, but I think it looks good, though the difference between the gritty and realistic approach to cinematography then and today are apparent. For one thing, aside from the flashing, I don't think any movie lights were used, and if they were, they certainly weren't used heavily. Many scenes, such as those at the beach house (Altman's real-life beach house, by the way), look like they were shot just by popping the camera into the surroundings. Characters are in shadow, and there's little of the key/spot/fill lighting we're so used to in modern films. I love this harsh realism--it's what real life looks like, and it complements the rest of the film beautifully--but they'd never do it this way today, as Zsigmond alludes to on a supplementary featurette.
And that brings me to the supplements. They aren't huge in number but they are rather generous given this is a cult film. There's a discussion by Altman himself. He often can be boring or redundant, but here he says a lot of interesting things. There's also the featurette featuring Zsigmond, which is even more fascinating as he discusses his methods. Then there's a reproduction of an article that appeared in American Cinematographer about how the film's "flash" techniques were achieved. This reproduction is very well done and is easy to read on the TV screen. Finally there's the film's trailer, which is very entertaining itself.
As I said, I'm not beholden to classic Marlowe, and I love directors who experiment, so this worked for me. This is Altman during a wonderful streak of triumphs, before the late 70s and early 80s pushed him almost to irrelevance. As I frequently find myself saying with my favorite films, they just don't make 'em like this anymore.
on 25 September 2010
Cards on the table, I love this film, and I've seen it loads of times. I've got an original big film poster of it on my wall. I don't care whether it is the same or faithful to the book, because that's irrelevant - it's a film! It has to stand and fall as a film, and there is no point in slavishly sticking to what is on the pages of a book when you are trying to make a great, well paced, and involving film. Gould's Marlowe works wonderfully: he has a real sense of what is right, is cool, and is very human (in short he has depth, and is so much better than James Garner's - boring and smug; and, like, why did he never answer his phone in that TV series?). Gould and Altman are a great combination, as the director lets Gould just do his thing; I only wish that Gould had done more films of this quality (I'm sure he does too!) like when he was paired-up with George Segal in the sublime (Altman) film California Split. The cinematographer, Zsigmond, used some very interesting techniques in shooting this film, including pre-exposing to varying degrees, which imbues it with a beautiful soft/muted colour quality. In fact, why on earth has this film not yet been released in blu-ray? If there was ever a film that deserved the enhanced definition of a blu-ray transfer this is it! But there is so much about this film to recommend it. The 'femme fatale', played by Nina Van Pallandt (her of Nina and Frederick singing fame) is scorchingly beautiful, and a great advert for the 'older' woman (40 years old when she shot this!! Old by Hollywood standards then - and now; she is a bit of posh - read the shorthand for this: "would you like a dried apricot?" which Marlowe politely accepts, but never eats). In fact in a strange way, Marlowe is curiously sexless, and the ravishing naked pot-headed yoga cookie toting neighbours are little more than a mild curiosity to him; this ambivalence making his character even more enigmatic; observing the casual violence of the piece's nasty piece of work getting evil with a coke bottle, he manages to keep calm, and even threatened with having his johnson excised he still refuses to play balls. His familiar line being: "It's OK with me". Whatever your experience of Chandler's work, put that aside and just enjoy the filmscape; it is set in contemporary 70s but remains resolutely timeless. Marlowe is an observer, for the most part, which makes the final scene genuinely shocking. One of the great jokes, and musical pleasures of the film, is how many times 'The Long Goodbye' theme is used in the supermarket, car, bar, etc (#"Can you recognize the theme?"#). Looking forward to the blu-ray's release, when I'll watch it another dozen or so times, no doubt! Maybe even buy extra copies to give as presents - and no, that's not a sign of mania.... Oh! If only I could be as enigmatic as Gould's Marlowe, or even his cat!!