Updated: Mar 3, 2022
BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
Elliott Gould stars as 1970s Los Angeles private eye Philip Marlowe.
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“THE LONG GOODBYE”
Blu-ray; 1973; R for profanity and brief nudity
Best extra: Commentary by film historian Tim Lucas
ROBERT ALTMAN’S directing career produced some terrific movies, from “M*A*S*H,” to “Three Women,” to “The Player,” to “Gosford Park.” “The Long Goodbye,” a sort of semi-comic riff on Raymond Chandler’s novel featuring private eye Philip Marlowe, is something of an aberration.
Elliott Gould (“M*A*S*H,” “Ocean’s Eleven”) stars as a rumpled, unshaven Marlowe, muttering his way through the role. He’s kind of likable, especially when he gets out of bed in the middle of the night to feed his cat, and then goes to the store when he realizes he’s run out of food. When the store doesn’t have his cat’s favorite brand, he tries to fool the him into thinking it is. No luck. The cat takes off into the night.
Marlowe’s luck doesn’t improve much for the rest of the film, beginning with him being hauled into a police station and thrown into jail because his friend Terry’s wife has been murdered and Marlowe won’t tell the cops that he’d helped Terry (Jim Bouton) get to Mexico. A few days later, the police tell Marlowe that Terry killed himself and left a letter confessing to the murder of his wife.
(1) Awakened in the middle of the night by his hungry cat, Marlowe searches for a can of food. (2) He asks his neighbors – a group of young “hippies” – for cat food. They have none, but ask him to buy them some brownie mix at the all-night grocery. (3) Marlowe has no luck finding his cat's favorite brand, so he has to settle for another. (4) Marlowe’s friend Terry (Jim Bouton) comes to see him during the night, to ask for help. (5) Next day, Marlowe is grilled about Terry’s whereabouts at the police station.
Marlowe refuses to believe his friend was capable of either the murder or the suicide. Enter Eileen Wade (Nina van Pallandt), a gorgeous wealthy blonde, who hires Marlowe to find her missing husband Roger (Sterling Hayden), an alcoholic romance novel author. Marlowe’s life gets more complicated when Marty Augustine (Mark Rydell), a gangster, and his henchmen start terrorizing Marlowe because they think he knows where a big sum of money Terry owes them is hidden. Get all that? As he follows one lead after another, Marlowe finds out he can’t trust anybody. Not even his cat.
This Kino Lorber Blu-ray transfer came from a new 4K master and looks, one assumes, the way Altman and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (“Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “The Deer Hunter”) intended. According to one of the extras, Altman was looking for an old color postcard look with muted colors, which Zsigmond achieved using a technique called ‘flashing.’ The video comes with plenty of fine detail and natural skin tones.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 is also fine, with dialogue as clear as possible in an Altman film (don’t worry, there are English subtitles) and sound effects well-balanced. The score, by John Williams (“Star Wars,” “Jaws”), which includes the bluesy theme song co-written by the great Johnny Mercer, is reprised throughout the film in various ways, including the sound of a doorbell.
(1) Thrown into jail, Marlowe’s cellmate is an uncredited David Carradine. (2) After a couple of days in the clink, Marlowe checks the paper for news of Terry and his wife. (3) Gould drove his own vintage Lincoln Continental in the film. (4) Marlowe is hired by Eileen Wade (Nina van Pallandt) to find her missing husband.
Plenty of bonus features are included on this Blu-ray, most of which come from an earlier DVD release of the film and other archival recordings. These include “Rip Van Marlowe,” a featurette with Altman and Gould; “Vilmos Zsigmond Flashes,” an interview with the cinematographer; “David Thompson on Robert Altman,” with the writer/filmmaker; “Tom Williams on Raymond Chandler,” in which his biographer discusses the writer; “Maxim Jakubowski on Hard Boiled Fiction,” with the crime writer, critic and editor; the text of a 1973 American Cinematographer magazine article, about the flashing technique; and an archival episode of “Trailers from Hell,” with screenwriter Josh Olson.
The commentary by author and critic Tim Lucas is the only new item offered and is quite good, despite Lucas’ frequent insistence on describing the action. Otherwise, he provides lots of interesting trivia and background information, such as that the screenwriter for “Long Goodbye” was Leigh Brackett, a successful pulp fiction author who also wrote the screenplay for Chandler’s “The Big Sleep.”
A fun bit of trivia is that Marlowe’s picky orange cat was played by two different felines, one of which was the original Morris of cat food fame. Jim Bouton, who played Marlowe’s friend Terry, was not a professional actor, but a professional baseball pitcher.
Lucas compares what happens in the film to Chandler’s novel on several occasions, and also points out two notable cameos in the film: One was uncredited – a grubby young David Carradine as Marlowe’s annoying cellmate. The other is a hilarious non-speaking performance by Arnold Schwarzenegger, as one of the gangster’s thugs. He’s credited as “Arnold Strong” (get it?) and must have loved the scene in which he gets to take off most of his clothes and show off those freakishly huge muscles.
(1) Marlowe goes to a residential psychiatric clinic, to look for Roger Wade and meets Dr. Verringer (Henry Gibson), who runs the place. (2) Wade (Sterling Haden) and his wife are reunited after Marlowe helps him get out of the clinic. (3) Wade and Marlowe get acquainted.
Lucas points out that Gould drove his own car in the film, a very cool vintage Lincoln Continental, and that Altman’s Malibu home was used as the set for Eileen and Roger Wade’s house. Lucas says that Altman had originally wanted Dan Blocker to play Wade, but he died suddenly. Altman then offered the role to Hayden, whose troubled history during and after the McCarthy hearings Lucas describes. Other bits of casting trivia include that Mark Rydell, who played gangster Marty Augustine, was also a director (“The Rose,” “On Golden Pond”); and the woman who plays Marty’s girlfriend was a waitress who was cast after she served a meal to Altman and Rydell. Lucas notes that Gould, a huge fan of Raymond Chandler’s books, has recorded audiobook versions of all of them.
Strangely, the New York Times selected “The Long Goodbye” as one of its top 10 movies of 1973 along with George Lucas’ “American Graffiti,” Francois Truffaut’s “Day for Night,” Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets,” Woody Allen’s “Sleeper,” and Jacques Tati’s U.S. release of “Playtime.” Plus, it recently made the cut with the latest edition of “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die” edited by Steven Jay Scheider.
Watch “The Long Goodbye” yourself and let us know what you think.
— Peggy Earle
(1&2) Dr. Verringer is a guest at the Wades’ Malibu beach party, which was filmed at director Robert Altman’s oceanfront home. (3) After Marlowe is nabbed by Marty Augustine’s gang, Augustine insists everybody take off their clothes. Yes, that’s Arnold Schwarzenegger (credited as “Arnold Strong”) enjoying the exposure. (4&5) The always smoking Marlowe is on the run, as someone tries to run him down.