In 1973, just a couple years after his breakout hit M*A*S*H, director Robert Altman bombed in theatres with one of his best films. Growing in respect since its debut, THE LONG GOODBYE is a fascinating take on a classic character.
Screenwriter Leigh Brackett created Private Eye Philip Marlowe's most famous screen appearance, with Humphrey Bogart playing the role in 1946's "The Big Sleep".
She's back 27 years later with a complicated mystery for Marlowe, this time played by Elliott Gould. You feel like the detective fell asleep in the forties and woke up to take on this case, set at the time of its release in 1973.
Gould is asked by his friend Terry Lennox (ballplayer Jim Bouton in his biggest film role, laid back and terrific)to drive him to Mexico.
Upon his return to LA, Marlowe finds out Terry's wife has been killed and he's arrested as an accessory for helping Terry escape.
But soon, Terry is found dead in Mexico after an apparent suicide. Marlowe is released, but immediately falls into another case as wealthy Eileen Wade (the riveting Nina van Pallandt from OO7's "On Her Majesty's Secret Service") hires him to find her missing husband.
Roger Wade (the legendary Sterling Hayden in a big performance) tends to vanish when he decides to dry out.
Gangster Marty Augustine (played by Director Mark Rydell) and his goons are also after Marlowe in search of money that Terry appears to have taken south of the border with him.
It's all wrapped up in Altman's unique 70's style with floating camerawork, a diffused color palette until a very specific time in the story and overlapping dialogue that feels like real life.
Gould wanders through it all in the same dark suit, the only person in the film to smoke as seventies beach bums, rich women, stoned & topless yoga enthusiasts and a parade of thugs surround him.
The violence is explosive and the ending was hugely controversial upon release, but plays perfectly.
Watch closely for an un-billed Arnold Schwarzenegger in his first role as one of Augustine's thugs.
I loved Gould's performance. He is so laid back and cool in the face of every obstacle that he shares DNA with Bogart's Marlowe, but virtually no resemblance beyond his persistence.
Roger Ebert gave it an okay review at the time, but like most of the world, came to consider this one of Altman's best, naming it to his list of Great American Movies.
The first half is fascinating and methodical, the last half is terrific. Once Altman positions all the pieces of his mystery in place, he sits back and lets them all merge perfectly into place.
Loved it. THE LONG GOODBYE gets an A.
I had the good fortune to meet Jim Bouton and play with him in a celebrity golf tournament. He was a great guy, no ego and killer sense of humor. We became casual friends, exchanging Christmas cards and staying in touch. He never mentioned that he'd been a major player in an Altman movie, typical of his self-effacing sense of humor. We were sad to see him pass last year. Great job, Bouton, you live on forever in a terrific film!