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Rapid Reviews – The Long Goodbye

July 25, 2009

Elliott Gould may not seem like it anymore, but if this movie is any indication, he was one hell of a suave guy back in the 70s. The Long Goodbye is his film through and through. Director Robert Altman has transplanted noir P.I. Philip Marlowe into the decadent 1970s, and in doing so gives Gould a chance to play the character out of his time. He’s a gentleman smart ass who treats women with respect and can’t stomach stupidity or intimidation or duplicitousness.  And he never gets rattled, not when he’s being bullied by the cops or bum-rushed by the criminals (actually he does get rattled once, briefly, when the crime-lord breaks a coke bottle across his own – the crime boss’ – mistress’s face. It’s a brutal scene, and watching Gould go from calm and collected under fire to horrified is just one of the many moments to savor in his performance.)  He even drives a car from the 40s.  When you watch The Long Goodbye, you watch it to see Gould float above the melee with a cigarette and an “It’s okay with me.”

If you know who Sterling Hayden is, it’s probably because of his role as General Jack Ripper from Dr. Strangelove, and although there are no conspiracies about bodily fluids (or are there?) in this movie, Hayden’s Roger Wade fills the screen with both an impressive physical presence and an emotional bombast that threatens to engulf anyone sharing (or watching) the scene.

A review of this movie wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the new-age girls (often topless) that live next door to Marlowe.  On the surface, it’s hard to pinpoint why they are even in the movie.  They are not involved in the main story, none of them is a love interest, and they never even have necessary information for Marlowe.   On the surface, they are the definition of gratuitous.  But go a little deeper, and you’ll see that they are the exclamation mark on just how far out of his time Philip Marlowe is.  Free-love, yogic hippies are exactly the right juxtaposition for our intrepid, 1940s hero.

This definitely isn’t your typical detective movie, and Gould’s detective work seems like an afterthought to the character work, which makes this less a whodunit and more about how we deal with the aftermath of our mistakes.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Casey permalink
    July 25, 2009 10:05 pm

    Elliott Gould, a suave guy??? Listen, AJ, I don’t know if you are old enough to remember Elliott Gould back in the seventies but the guy was never considered ‘suave’, when I think of suave, I think James Bond or Robert Redford…

    Anyway, it’s a good article and your assessment of the film is spot-on.
    Keep up the good writing.


    • ajhagg permalink*
      July 26, 2009 1:28 am

      You’re absolutely right about Elliott Gould and suave, but Philip Marlowe has got suave down cold.

      Thanks for the comment. It helped me with some revisions to the post, so that I could clarify my points.

      All best.

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