Wednesday, June 24, 2015

2015 Blind Spot Series: The Long Goodbye

Based on the novel by Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye is the story of a detective who tries to find the people who are involved in the murder of his best friend in Los Angeles. Directed by Robert Altman and screenplay by Leigh Brackett, the film is an update of Chandler’s novel as it’s set in 1970s Los Angeles where a man trying to do what is right finds himself in a world that is very complicated. Starring Elliott Gould, Sterling Hayden, Nina Van Pallandt, Jim Bouton, and Mark Rydell. The Long Goodbye is an entrancing and gripping film from Robert Altman.

A murder has just happened as a man who is accused of his wife’s death goes to his gumshoe friend for help only to be presumed dead in Mexico starting a gumshoe’s journey to find the truth. It’s a film that doesn’t just subvert the ideas of traditional film noir and suspense films but it is also set into a world where it’s about greed and selfishness that clashes with old school ideals. In the middle of this is the gumshoe Philip Marlowe (Elliott Gould) who is a private detective who learns that his best friend’s wife was murdered as he would also deal with his friend’s eventual suicide in Mexico prompting him to believe that something isn’t right. What would happen is that Marlowe would drive all over Los Angeles to find some truth only to encounter a series of strange characters and things that stray from the norm.

Leigh Brackett’s screenplay definitely strays from a lot of the conventions of film noir as well as doing a complete deconstruction of Chandler’s novel such as setting the story in 1970s Los Angeles as opposed to something like the 1940s. While Brackett retains much of the language that is expected in noir in terms of its stylistic and rhythmic approach to dialogue, it’s in the characterization that is subversive. Notably the character of Marlowe as if he was presented in a traditional noir film. He would be someone that is quite aggressive in his findings or be very smart and cooperative while often having some kind of voiceover narration. What Brackett does is turn that persona upside down by presenting Marlowe as an everyman of sorts as someone who bumbles his way into a situation while being difficult towards the police and be concerned about finding the right kind of food for his cat.

It’s not just Marlowe that strays from the ideals of noir but it’s also in the characters he meet such as the novelist Roger Wade (Sterling Hayden) as he is essentially a washed-up alcoholic with money problems who rambles about his life and is abusive towards his wife Eileen (Nina Van Pallandt). Eileen is another character that doesn’t play to the tradition of noir as she could’ve been a love interest but the script allows her to be so much more as it is clear that she might know what happened but there’s complications. Then there’s mob boss Marty Augustine (Mark Rydell) who is a man that just wants his money as he is quite intimidating but sensible unless he doesn’t get what he wants where he turns out to be very dangerous. It all plays into this world that Marlowe is in as it is one where he is being the cuckold while trying to make sense of things as he just wants to know what really happened to his friend and his friend’s wife.

Robert Altman’s direction is quite stylish in terms of staying true to the elements of film noir but it is infused with an offbeat sensibility that makes it a very unconventional film. Notably as he would present it in a world that is very modern but has this sense of conflict of old-school ideas with a new age of individuals who care more about themselves. While it is shot largely in Los Angeles with a few shots in Mexico, the film does play something that is very modern though much of its tone is a mixture of old school noir with an offbeat sense of humor that is more akin to the world of the 1970s. Notably as there are elements that are very quirky such as the fact that Marlowe is always seen lighting a match to smoke a cigarette or a character playing variations of the title song that appears frequently in the film.

Altman’s usage of medium and wide shots not only help play into the vast look of the locations but also play into a world that is very lively and chaotic as Altman knows where to place his actors into a frame. Notably as he doesn’t use a lot of close-ups while keeping things very natural and on location such as an opening sequence where Marlowe is looking for cat food at a 24-hour supermarket at 3 in the morning. Altman’s approach to capturing some of the chaotic moments that involves multiple characters talking with lots of overlapping dialogue do help play into a world that is confusing but also offbeat. Even as he uses some long takes and tracking shots while knowing when to play the elements of suspense and infuse it with something humorous or something much darker. Overall, Altman creates a very engaging and riveting film about a gumshoe private detective trying to uncover a mystery in Los Angeles.

Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond does brilliant work with the film‘s cinematography from the usage of available light for some of the nighttime interior scenes along with naturalistic lights for the scenes in the day as Zsigmond‘s photography manages to play something that strays from convention in order to capture a moment in time. Editor Lou Lombardo does amazing work with the editing with its usage of jump-cuts and various rhythmic cuts to play into the suspense as well as the film‘s offbeat humor. Costume designers Kent James and Majorie Wahl do excellent work with the design of the different clothes from the clothes of the men to some of stylish dresses of the women.

The sound work of John Speak and Dick Vorisek is terrific for not just the naturalistic approach to sound but also in the sound editing to capture some of the pieces of music and match it up along with the vast sounds of the party scenes. The film’s music by John Williams is fantastic as it is largely a jazz-based score that only appears in few instances for some of the film’s suspenseful moments while the title song that is written by Williams and Johnny Mercer is played in various styles on location or as part of the score.

The film’s cast is marvelous as it features some notable small appearances from Jack Knight, Pepe Callahan, and Vincent Palmieri as a few of Marty’s hoods, Rodney Moss as supermarket clerk Marlowe meets early in the film and in jail, Jerry Jones and John S. Davies as a couple of LAPD detectives that Marlowe despises, Jo Ann Brody as Marty’s girlfriend, Stephen Coit as the lead detective Farmer, Ken Samson as the Malibu Colony security guard who does great old Hollywood star impressions, David Arkin as young hood named Harry who takes a liking towards Marlowe’s often-topless neighbors, and Arnold Schwarzenegger in one of his early film appearances as a hulking yet silent hood who works for Marty. Henry Gibson is superb as Dr. Verringer as a private hospital doctor who was treating Wade while asking for money. Jim Bounton is excellent as Marlowe’s friend Terry Lennox who asks Marlowe for help as he would later be accused of killing his wife and later be dead prompting Marlowe to find some truth.

Mark Rydell is fantastic as Marty Augustine as this crime boss who just wants what is owed to him as he’s a character that has something that is quite calm but is also very dangerous in one notable moment that is scary. Nina Van Pallandt is amazing as Eileen Wade as Roger’s wife who has been trying to deal with his debt as well as helping Marlowe with the case as she knows a lot more than she seems. Sterling Hayden is brilliant as Roger Wade as a washed-up and troubled novelist who is dealing with money troubles as he deals with the ways of the world while concealing knowledge about the night Terry’s wife was killed. Finally, there’s Elliott Gould in a phenomenal performance as Philip Marlowe as this gumshoe private detective that deals with a case that becomes complicated throughout the course of his journey as Gould brings a humility and wit to his performance that strays from all of the ideas of what is expected in a film noir protagonist.

The Long Goodbye is a magnificent film from Robert Altman. Featuring an incredible performance from Elliott Gould along with a strong supporting cast, enchanting music, and Vilmos Zsigmond’s beautiful photography. The film isn’t just a fascinating take on the world of film noir but it’s also one of Robert Altman’s finest films in terms of taking a genre and put a different spin on it. In the end, The Long Goodbye is an outstanding film from Robert Altman.

Robert Altman Films: (The Delinquents) - (The James Dean Story) - Countdown (1968 film) - (That Cold Day in the Park) - M.A.S.H. - Brewster McCloud - McCabe & Mrs. Miller - (Images) - Thieves Like Us - California Split - Nashville - Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson - 3 Women - (A Wedding) - (Quintet) - (A Perfect Couple (HealtH) - Popeye - (Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean) - (Streamers) - (Secret Honor) - (O.C. and Stiggs) - Fool for Love - (Beyond Therapy) - (Aria-Les Boreades) - (Tanner ‘88) - (Vincent & Theo) - The Player - Short Cuts - Pret-a-Porter - (Kansas City) - (The Gingerbread Man) - Cookie's Fortune - Dr. T and the Women - Gosford Park - The Company - (Tanner on Tanner) - A Prairie Home Companion

© thevoid99 2015


Alex Withrow said...

So happy you liked this one. And love that you appreciated Zsigmond's use of available and natural light.

thevoid99 said...

@Alex-Right now, it's my 2nd favorite Robert Altman film behind McCabe & Mrs. Miller. That's how great it is.

Ruth said...

I want to see more Raymond Chandler films, this sounds like a good noir.

thevoid99 said...

@Ruth-Well, it's actually a twist on Chandler as it plays against the rules of what is expected in film noir. Yet, I think it's a must see for anyone that is interested in the works of Robert Altman.

Ruth said...

Ah ok, make sense. Actually that makes it all the more interesting then, will definitely check this out, thanks Steven!

thevoid99 said...

@Ruth-If you're new to Robert Altman. I recommend M.A.S.H., Nashville, The Player, Short Cuts, Gosford Park, and my favorite in McCabe & Mrs. Miller as great starting points of his work.

Chris said...

Glad you loved this one! Was interesting to see Altman's attempt at noir. For me, the one-liners from Elliott Gould kept it interesting. I wasn't a fan of the camera moving all the time, which was jarring, although I realize it was for the viewer to feel like a voyeur. Nice to have those sexy neighbors, I’m sure the writer enjoyed inventing those female characters :)

thevoid99 said...

@Chris-I'm usually not a fan of the method to keep the camera moving constantly but with this film. It not only worked but it also managed to do a lot to help tell the story without the need to be intrusive and such.

Kevin Powers said...

This is a great film. Glad you got to it! I watched it years ago and could stand a re-watch. I'm fuzzy on a lot of the details. But I love Altman's take on the noir genre here, weaving his own stylistic touches (the wide shots, the overlapping dialogue) with something we know well (the noir detective story).

thevoid99 said...

@Kevin Powers-It was on again last night on TCM as it's just a fucking great film that plays into the idea of film noir and putting some twists into it. It's really something more audiences should see.