From the first scene in The Long Goodbye, it’s obvious Robert Altman was on to something with casting Elliott Gould as a character (Philip Marlowe) most famously personified by Humphrey Bogart. It isn’t just Gould not being Bogart and Gould not being a traditional noir detective in any way (Gould’s Marlowe is more concerned with his cat), it’s also very simple–it’s Elliott Gould. Gould’s performance in Long Goodbye is certainly the most different from his traditional performances (the ones he still does today); the most actorly, even though “actorly” isn’t a word. But part of Gould’s initial effectiveness–before the mystery aspect takes off (and it’s Chandler, so it’s never about who done it but about the detective trying to find out who done it)–is seeing Gould play this role and not give that traditional performance. For the first few minutes, it creates some disturbance, but Gould’s almost immediately successful in his part. Altman waits a little while–giving Gould the initial adventures–to ease the audience into it, but then he runs with it.
The Long Goodbye is most stunning through its sound. Though Altman’s got an almost constantly moving (even if it’s just slightly panning) camera, the sound design sets it apart from everything else. The mystery aspect is, like I said before, not so mysterious, but the rest of the film is convoluted in that Chandler way and Altman will bring up the sounds of the waves to further confound understanding. Much of the Philip Marlowe commentary on the human situation is kept, but it’s lowered in volume–Gould mutters it when he walks along, the people he encounters either asking him to repeat it or to explain it.
Of all Altman’s films, certainly those he made after Nashville, The Long Goodbye seems to be the one he’s most visibly excited about. Even when it’s a film he loves, he’s always slightly bored with the filmmaking processes–even when he’s doing his famous (self-loathing) crane shots or when he’s doing interesting sound work. The Long Goodbye is the least Altman-esque film I’ve seen and probably his best.
Directed by Robert Altman; written by Leigh Brackett, based on the novel by Raymond Chandler; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Lou Lombardo; music by John Williams; produced by Jerry Bick; released by United Artists.
Starring Elliott Gould (Philip Marlowe), Nina Van Pallandt (Eileen Wade), Sterling Hayden (Roger Wade), Mark Rydell (Marty Augustine), Henry Gibson (Dr. Verringer), David Arkin (Harry), Jim Bouton (Terry Lennox) and Stephen Coit (Farmer).