Friday, 7 May 2021

The Long Goodbye (1973)


Det lange farvel

Some of the best movies in the forties were based on books by Raymond Chandler, so I was pleasantly surprised to see Robert Altman taking on Raymond Chandler in 1973. A Philip Marlowe noir set in the hippie heyday had to be interesting and I was not disappointed.

In 1973, Philip Marlowe (Elliott Gould) lives on the top floor in a sunny Los Angeles compound, alone with his cat and next to a group of stoned hippie girls. He is as cynical and sloppy with himself as you would expect but spends the first 10 minutes of the movie trying to feed his hungry, but picky, cat. I love cats and that is a beautiful cat, so he gets points for that.

As in all Raymond Chandler stories there is a lot going on of which we are only catching glimpses. Marlowe has to navigate in this murkiness and does that with a certain amount of bravado, which is a lot of the attraction of the movie. When Marlowe is brought in by the police he has no idea why and when he learns he has no intention of selling out his friend Terry Lennox (Jim Bouton), yet manages to hold his own through the interrogations, not unlike Bogart’s Marlowe in “The Big Sleep”.

Marlowe’s own investigation of Terry Lennox, whom he learns was charged with the murder of his wife and was later found dead in Mexico, is haphazard and opportunistic, such as a seemingly unrelated job to find the author husband of Eileen Wade (Nina van Pallandt). Mr. Wade (Sterling Hayden) is in a detox clinic, which Marlowe helps him bust out of. Another strange agent is the gangster Marty Augustine (Mark Rydell), who is convinced Marlow knows something about a lot of money Lennox owes him. Surprisingly, Augustine is friendly with Mrs. Wade…

Thus the pieces are set up in a game that defies normal comprehension, and likely beyond Marlowe too, but which he nevertheless throws himself into to find out what happened to his best friend.

Elliot Gould’s Philip Marlowe have this bemused expression on his face as if he has been away for 20 years and wonders at what the world has come to, but where other characters would get cynical and conservative, Marlowe is not judgmental at all, he accepts it and just does not quite get it.  This is the basis of many of the comical situations in the movie. Usually underplayed, but highly entertaining.

Ultimately it is a movie about betrayal and disappointment and that gives “The Long Goodbye” a melancholic undertone. This is reflected in the constantly repeated theme by John Williams and in the various characters. Under the surface there are dark stories and disappointment. Even Marlowe’s cat is unfaithful. Yet, this never gets depressive or morose.

The end result here is a highly entertaining crime noir that I swallowed hungrily. Surprisingly, it was not a hit at the box office. This has been explained as a case of poor marketing and upon re-release it did better. To my mind it is one of the best movies in a, so far, excellent year and deserve to be watched.