Director Robert Altman is most fondly remembered for his ensemble pieces but to ignore The Long Goodbye is to miss out on a piece of pulpish brilliance. While the likes of M*A*S*H, Nashville and Short Cuts have that quintessential Altman all-star cast, The Long Goodbye is a smart, often sassy character study of a man finding exactly which direction his moral compass is pointed.
When Private Detective Philip Marlowe (Elliot Gould) does his friend Terry Lennox (Jim Bouton) a favour by driving him to the Mexican border he opens himself up to all kinds of mischief. Returning home he finds the cops accusing him of aiding Lennox in the murder of his wife. Released from jail Marlowe discovers Lennox has killed himself, a group of gangsters claim Marlowe owes them a stack of cash which Lennox ran off with and on top of it all he’s been hired to track down a rich woman’s alcoholic husband.
Based on the story by Raymond Chandler and boasting a script by Leigh Brackett – the man behind another Chandler adaptation The Big Sleep as well as The Empire Strikes Back – The Long Goodbye has dialogue that leaps off the screen and character to burn. Long before the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Williamson and William Goldman started homaging genres through light satire, Altman and Brackett conjure a wonderfully ironic, yet deeply affectionate love-letter, to the noirish detective thriller. It’s reminiscent of Billy Wilder at his zenith; snappy, darkly comedic and sharp as a razor blade.
Rather than worry about cumbersome voice over we witness Marlowe happily talking to either himself or his cat. Any film that dares have an opening ten-minute sequence of a man trying to fool his cat into thinking it’s getting the posh food deserves merit. It should also be noted that it contains one of the finest feline performances to ever grace the screen.
Gould’s delivery is hypnotic, his dry, sardonic approach to Marlowe is enough to engage you for the running time let alone a twisting, turning plot that never lets you second guess it. A cigarette permanently perched in his mouth, clouds of smoke always following him like perfect metaphors for his total disregard for the world around him. More than anything it’s the subtle realisation that he is the fall-guy of the story which Gould plays with aplomb and at the final moment the dawning that he may have been in control all along.
If you like Steven Soderbergh’s slick Ocean’s Eleven or Out Of Sight then The Long Goodbye is your meal ticket. So hardboiled you could crack an Oscar on it, The Long Goodbye is a gumshoe twister worth seeking out.