The Long Goodbye
December 1, 2003
When The Long Goodbye was released in 1973, MGM promptly bungled its ad campaign. Robert Altman’s film radically reworked Raymond Chandler’s novel of the same name and the studio had no idea how to market the offbeat movie. It polarized critics and promptly disappeared from theatres. However, the film has survived on video and television, but only in a compromised pan and scan version that butchered Vilmos Zsigmond’s superb 2.35:1 widescreen camerawork. Recently, many of Altman’s classic films from the ’70s have begun to surface on DVD with the director’s involvement – most notably M.A.S.H. (1970) and Nashville (1975). Finally, The Long Goodbye receives a proper DVD treatment that it so richly deserves.
While trying in vain to feed his cat late one night, private investigator Philip Marlowe (Gould) receives a visit from his friend, Terry Lennox (Bouton). Lennox asks Marlowe to drive him to Tijuana, Mexico. When he returns home, the police are waiting for him and claim that Lennox brutally murdered his wife. Marlowe does not believe that his good friend is a murderer and refuses to tell the police anything. After three days in jail, he’s released when the police inform him that Lennox committed suicide in Mexico. It’s an open and shut case but something doesn’t quite sit right with Marlowe.
He is subsequently hired by the wealthy Eileen Wade (Pallandt) to find her alcoholic husband, Roger Wade (Hayden), a famous author with a Hemingway complex. Marlowe learns that the Wades knew the Lennoxes and that there is more to Terry’s suicide and his wife’s murder than initially reported.
The Long Goodbye is much more than a murder mystery. Taking Chandler’s novel set in the 1940s and updating it to the 1970s, Altman is also interested in satirizing the superficiality of Los Angeles culture. Marlowe is surrounded by an odd cast of denizens that populate the city: his neighbours are a group of women who spend their time getting high and doing yoga, the security guard for the Wade’s estate does impersonations of famous actors like Barbara Stanwyk and Jimmy Stewart, and Marty Augustine (Rydell) is a nasty gangster who is proud of his Jewish heritage.
The heart of the film is Elliot Gould. His Marlowe is a laid-back guy in a rumpled suit that wanders through the movie muttering jokes to himself and chain smoking constantly. Gould’s character is man out of time, a throwback to another era, which provides a sharp contrast to the trendy, health-obsessed ’70s culture that surrounds him. The actor delivers a wonderful assortment of smart-ass comments to anyone who gives him trouble but also knows when to play it straight during key dramatic moments. It’s a multi-layered performance that ranks right up there with Gould’s other classic Altman movies, M.A.S.H. and California Split (1974). There was clearly a creative synergy between the two men that resulted in both of their best work to date.
The Long Goodbye is one of the best examples of American cinema in the ’70s and now it is finally available on DVD in its original aspect ratio. MGM has produced a top-notch transfer and a solid collection of supplemental material that should appeal to fans of the movie and newcomers who are looking for something a little different.
“Rip Van Marlowe” is an excellent 24-minute retrospective featurette on The Long Goodbye. Altman and Gould are interviewed and talk about how they got involved with the project. Both men provide all sorts of fascinating information and are refreshingly candid. Gould talks about how he was at a career low when he did The Long Goodbye and Altman talks about how MGM had no idea how to market his movie, he then stepped in himself and redesigned the movie poster but it was too late – the damage had been done. This is essential viewing for fans of the movie but for those who haven’t seen it before should watch this afterwards, as there are numerous spoilers.
“Vilmos Zsigmond Flashes The Long Goodbye” is a 14-minute interview with the film’s famous cinematographer. The man talks at length about his craft and credits Altman with giving him his big break in Hollywood with McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971). A nice companion piece to this featurette is a reprint of a 1973 article in American Cinematographer that explores the photography of the movie in great depth. While the article does get a bit technical at times, it is still a valuable resource for fans of the film.
The DVD also includes a theatrical trailer and radio spots advertising the movie that are a point of interest for their historical relevance.