Old 07-09-2009, 03:48 PM
Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye

The Long Goodbye (1973)

Robert Altman has always been a hit-or-miss director with me. For the longest time, I only knew of one of his great films "MASH," then followed that up by a few disappointments: "Short Cuts," "McCabe and Mrs. Miller," "Gosford Park," and "A Prairie Home Companion." Luckily, I did find another great film in my exploration of his work, "Secret Honor," a powerful one-man show starring Philip Baker Hall as President Nixon, as well as another decent film, "Nashville." Altman has a very peculiar style that sometimes works for his films, while other times, it doesn't. Unfortunately, it doesn't work so well for "The Long Goodbye."

This film tells the story of Philip Marlowe (Elliott Gould), a private eye whose friend, Terry Lennox (Jim Bouton), comes to him one night asking for a ride to Tijuana. Not long after Marlowe returns home, he finds out that Terry's wife has been murdered and that Terry has committed suicide. Marlowe doesn't believe either of these stories and sets out to investigate. In the meantime, he is hired by Eileen Wade (Nina Van Pallandt) to find her husband, Roger wade (Sterling Hayden). A gangster, Marty Augustine (Mark Rydell), comes calling at Marlowe's apartment wanting to know what happened to his money that Terry was supposed to deliver to Mexico. It becomes Marlowe's job to figure out how all of these things are connected.

Some of this film was actually enjoyable, but my biggest problem with it was its meandering plot. It sets up a plot after some irrelevant early sequences, but then only periodically gets back around to it. Most of the meandering occurs when Roger Wade is located and brought back home. This leads to scenes featuring pointless conversations between Marlowe and Roger (who is ironically a writer who looks a lot like Ernest Hemingway; even more ironic when you consider what happens to him).

The problem is that these conversations don't add anything to the plot, in fact, most of the conversations that Roger has with others characters don't add much either. Altman has this method where he likes to have lines of dialogue overlapping, which works well for movies like "Nashville," where several people are having a conversation, but it just doesn't have quite the same effect when he tries to have only two people do it.

I don't want to say that Hayden's character was a complete waste, because he wasn't, he actually has an important part in the plot, but he just never really gets around to showing it. I always love watching Hayden work, and this performance was no exception. I just wish they had given him more to do than drink and ramble.

Elliott Gould (in a role made famous by Humphrey Bogart, amongst others) does a decent job as the detective who never really seems to have a clue about what's going on. Whenever he does find part of what's been going on, it seems like he only stumbled on the information, without him having done much detective work at all, as compared to Bogart, who seemed to do nothing but investigate.

I mentioned Marlowe doesn't really have an idea of what's going on, but that could actually be said for a lot of the characters. The Wades give Marlowe conflicted information about who owes money to whom, and, speaking of money, large amounts of it show up (a $5000 bill and a satchel with a few $100,000 in it), yet it takes Marlowe awhile to figure out a key piece of the case.

This leads to my problem with the conclusion. When the film finally does get around to explaining what actually happened, it is given in one rambling speech, as if it was tacked on at the last second. This part of the film should have been allowed to unfold naturally instead of just having someone tell us what happened. It certainly would have made it a lot more effective. It also would have been more effective if the film had paid more attention to its own plot instead of filling it with some really pointless scenes such as when Augustine and his associates strip off their clothes while talking to Marlowe about where the money is (which also includes a very early non-speaking role for Arnold Schwarzenegger).

This is certainly not a bad movie. It has the beginning of a good plot, it just needed to stick with it more than it did instead of filling a lot of the time with scenes that added nothing to the story at all. It also gives the feeling of trying to be a film noir, but not being able to quite get to that level. It is definitely a dark film, but is lacking in a decent enough amount of plot, usually to the point of convolution, to make this a recommendable film. 2.5/4 stars.

Last edited by Hal2001; 07-09-2009 at 08:19 PM..
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