The Long Goodbye is a neo noir from Robert Altman made in 1973. This is based on Raymond Chandler’s masterpiece book of the same name. I have read 3 of Chandler’s books but have not read this one yet. When this was released in Los Angeles it was a big failure and Chandler fans were horrified by this adaptation. The marketing was changed to show it as more of a satire of Chandler’s work in New York and the film had a little more success. Though it had more success on the east coast it was still a big flop at the box office. Robert Altman took a lot of chances with this film. He took a beloved book and moved its setting from 1950 Hollywood to 1972 Hollywood. He also took a new ending from the script by Leigh Brackett(who also wrote the script for The Big Sleep in 1946) and fought to keep it, instead of staying true to the original novel. He also hired Elliott Gould, who was black listed for being hard to work with and had not worked for 2 years at this point.
So this film had a lot going against it and it was not a big hit, so how come it is considered such a classic today among noir and neo-noir fans? Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe appeared in 4 film in 10 years with Marlowe in 1969, then this film and then two more films a few years later starring noir legend Robert Mitchum in a more true to the books adaptations. I have seen all three of those and they are all good, but this adaptation is the one that gets all the attention. I have to agree that it is well deserved. It is different and a much more enjoyable watching experience then the other three films.
Elliott Gould’s Marlowe is a quick tongued private detective, but does not use the wit as Chandler wrote it. He ad-libbed a lot of his dialog making it seem more fresh and less rehearsed then other adaptations. We also have Sterling Hayden playing a crazed writer. Hayden said this is one of his favorite films. Nina van Pallandt plays Hayden’s wife who hires Marlowe to find her husband. We also see Arnold Schwarzenegger in an early appearance in his career as a body-guard who says nothing, he also went uncredited for this film.
This film starts with Marlowe being called in the middle of the night by a good friend. He asks Marlowe to take him to Mexico right away. Marlowe does, and doesn’t ask many questions. Marlowe ends up getting taken into custody for questioning. His friend is accused of killing his wife. They hold him for 3 days and then he is suddenly released. He soon finds his friend has committed suicide in Mexico and the case is closed. Soon Marlowe is assaulted by some baddies and they want their money back. Marlowe of course doesn’t know anything about any missing money. He thinks his friend was murdered and did not commit suicide and starts looking into it. He is soon hired by a woman to find her husband. This couple is neighbors to his now dead friend. Are both cases related? Will he find who killed his friend and his friend’s wife? Will he find the missing money?
This is a twisted and hard to follow story that does not serve up easy clues and often doesn’t make sense, but what would you expect from a Chandler story? It is a fun watch and something you can re-watch over and over again. Is it the best Chandler adaptation? My favorite is still The Big Sleep with Bogart, but for a lot of people this is their favorite. If you are a noir fan, and if you are, you are probably a Chandler fan too, you need to check out this film.
Favorite Tidbit: Thought this is moved from the 1950’s to the 1970’s, Marlowe still drives a car built-in the late 40’s and his pay is $50 a day plus expenses, an amount more in line with pay from the 50’s then the 70’s.