The Noirvember Files: The Long Goodbye
In concert with his maverick spirit, Robert Altman was ever the revisionist; M*A*S*H was his war film, McCabe & Mrs. Miller his iteration of the west, and Thieves Like Us his answer to Bonnie and Clyde. So when it came to the film noir genre and the legendary Philip Marlowe character, how would Altman’s freewheeling interpretation serve Chandler’s source material?
While I’d like to cast a stone at the critics who panned his work (the post-M*A*S*H, pre-Nashville period which gave us some Altman’s best work), I think the collective disdain toward McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Brewster McCloud, Images, and of course The Long Goodbye, is that people probably were more confused than anything, leading to a slew of head-scratching disapproval of, what I consider to be some of his best work. Even now it’s hard to place The Long Goodbye, but it’s impossible to dismiss.
In the conversation of film noir, or in this case neo-noir, Elliott Gould can be seen as the prototypical shaggy dog anti-hero; the amalgam of counter-cultural atmosphere and film noir artistic pull, the reverse polarity of these two seemingly opposite worlds - the button down fast talking, hardboiled film noir aesthetic superimposed over the early 1970’s counterculture. This Marlowe looks like a dope smoking slacker but even in the “peace love and rock and roll” world of Los Angeles he’s something of a stranger in a strange land.
His perpetually topless neighbors would be a veritable Eden to the average bachelor, but they seem to only speak in cipher when Marlowe’s around. Tips and clues don’t come from security guards and criminals, just impersonations and rants (from one of David Carradine's many glorified cameos of the period). Squirrelly new age doctors, alcoholic authors, inept police, quirky sociopathic gangsters, and his quick to disrobe cronies are his obstacles, and in the tradition of genre Marlowe is as cool as cucumber. He might need a shave but can you blame the guy, he’s been looking for his cat.
For some reason critics seemed to have missed all that, in realizing that Gould embodies everything that makes a good private eye; a quick wit, levelled demeanor, and manages cracks the case after a ration of abuse. Altman’s Marlowe might not be Dick Powell or Humphrey Bogart, but is light years ahead of the James Garner vehicle three years prior, cleverly titled Marlowe. Featuring a stiff neck Private Eye Marlowe which plays out with the imagination of a glorified Dragnet episode as Marlowe goes toe to toe with Hollywood hippies. His trip to their beachside hideaway ‘The Infinite Pad’ a so-bad-it’s-good interpretation of LA culture, and curiosity in a time capsule sense as well as evidence of the superiority of Altman’s The Long Goodbye. Chances are you’ll be humming the titular tune by none other than John Williams after seeing this.