wed 24/07/2024

DVD: The Long Goodbye | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: The Long Goodbye

DVD: The Long Goodbye

Robert Altman's irreverent Seventies Chandler update remains unpredictable and dark

The big chill: Marlowe (Elliott Gould) and Eileen Wade (Nina van Pallandt) fall into LA's underbelly

Robert Altman’s 1973 deconstruction of the private eye movie freely adapts and updates Raymond Chandler’s final completed novel from 1952. With Leigh Brackett (the remarkable female screenwriter who worked on Howard Hawks’s Chandler classic The Big Sleep in 1946 and The Empire Strikes Back in 1981) and his M*A*S*H star Elliott Gould, he offended purists, but caught some of Seventies LA's confusion.

Gould’s Marlowe is a shambling anachronism, dawdling past his mostly half-naked, zonked hippie girl neighbours, callous police and psychotic criminals with the same laconic response: “It’s okay by me.” His late-night pursuit of food for his cat is his most committed piece of detective work, till the plot’s fog lifts to reveal pervasive betrayal.

Interludes in LA’s rich enclave Malibu in the company of roaring Hemingwayesque drunk Roger Wade (Sterling Hayden, pictured above left) and his wife Eileen (Nina van Pallandt) are ripe with enigma and insinuation, the waves ghosting in as Gould and Hayden improvise on the beach over a bottle. According to Altman, Hayden was too genuinely drunk and stoned to do anything else. He fitted right into a troubled and intriguing cast: Gould’s sanity was in doubt after destructive behaviour on his last movie three years before; van Pallandt was a Danish aristocrat; Jim Bouton, in the key part of Marlowe’s missing friend Terry Lennox, a Major League baseball player. Arnold Schwarzenegger even appears as a heavy.

Non sequiturs abound in a film Altman typically intended as genre satire, Gould sometimes smirking as he goes along with the gag. Like the Coens later, Altman’s ironic eye for the material sometimes weakens it. The lightly worn, aching melancholy of his similarly skittish 1971 Western McCabe and Mrs. Miller leaves this the inferior, more uncertain film. The repeated spectre of suicide and sadistic violence, though, climaxes in almost nihilistic vengeance by Marlowe. As on those older mean streets, some things in Seventies America aren’t okay with him at all.

Watch the trailer for The Long Goodbye

Gould’s Marlowe dawdles past zonked hippie girls and psychotic criminals with the same laconic response: 'It’s okay by me'


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters