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Sunday, 27 February 2011

Altman's The Long Goodbye

Neo noir, as Chandler's world is updated to a contemporary setting, but retains something of the feel of the golden age, the soundtrack especially harkens back to another time with its minimalist jazz influenced score composed by John Williams.

Elliot Gould's Marlowe is very much a man out of time and he finds himself in some bizarre situations in a LA populated by bizzare people. Marlowe for all his seediness seemed the less tarnished of all the characters as he walks the mean streets, chain smoking and despairing of the entire human race.

There's a great cameo early in the movie from David Carradine as a jailbird named Dave - he's only on screen for a few minutes, but his performance perfectly sets up the tone for the picture that is to follow.

The Long Goodbye was one of Chandler's most complicated novels with a large supporting cast. Altman slims the entire thing down for his movie and jettisons the less essential characters in order to streamline the film, and it's told in the director's rambling style. Hell not only are many characters chucked but on times Chandler is also thrown out of the window.

Gould is excellent as a world weary Marlowe and it is perhaps because of his performance that the film is so watchable - Gould really creates a unique persona with the way he walks, talks, wise-cracks and operates. He becomes a believable person - which is why the uncharacteristic ending is so impacting.

I've never liked Altman's almost art-house style of film but I do enjoy  this film and its clever updating of Chandler's world. The shock ending though seems totally anti-Chandler and I'm not sure exactly what the movie is trying to say here but it sure does take the viewer, especially if you know Chandler and Marlowe, by complete surprise. I guess this is a movie that will disappoint if the viewer is looking for a hard-boiled crime thriller but if you just sit back and let it wash over you as a piece of cinema then there is much to enjoy. The impression I got is that director, Altman was no big fan of Chandler's tarnished knight and set out to destroy the myth with this revision - maybe that's what that ending was all about!

An interesting bit of trivia - the role of the Hemingwayeque writer, played wonderfully by Sterling Hayden, was originally intended for Bonanza's Dan Blocker but the actor died before filming began.


Davieboy said...

Glad you liked it. This is a rare movie which is less than the sum of its parts. So many very good things, but not quite a masterpiece. Worth anybody's time though.

Brian Drake said...

Altman originally wanted Steve McQueen to play Marlowe. Can you imagine how different the film would be had that happened?