The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman, 1973)

What's it about? Based on Raymond Chandler's novel, it re-locates private-eye Philip Marlowe (Elliot Gould) from 40s LA to 70s LA, where he takes a missing person case which is apparently connected to the deaths of his friend Terry and Terry's wife. Naturally, things are murkier than they first appear, although Marlowe doesn't seem particularly interested in getting to the bottom of things anyway, seemingly more worried about his missing cat.

Is it any good? Worth seeing for curiosity value. Fair play to Altman and writer Leigh Brackett for reinventing Chandler's Marlowe as a slobby, mumbling, shambling loser, and to Gould for bringing him to life with a slobby, mumbling, shambling performance. It doesn't feel entirely right, but they just about pull it off, helped by a certain amount of that free-wheeling style of movie-making that pervaded Hollywood (and Altman's output in particular) in the 70s. The central murder plot is almost incidental in this semi-satirical view of the private-eye story and Chandler fans may be irked it varies so widely from the book, particularly in its ending. The Marlowe of this version doesn't even seem to be very good at detective work and he stumbles onto the truth almost by accident. Nonetheless, there are some interesting additions, primarily Mark Rydell's funny/scary turn as a vicious gangster and the bits where Sterling Hayden (who was allegedly perpetually stoned/drunk for the shoot) dismisses the opinions of various people by aggressively shouting "Balls!" at them. That is a debating device that is just not used enough these days.

Anything else I should know? Although the Marlowe of this film might rankle with those who prefer the smooth, quick-talking sleuths played by Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep and Dick Powell in Farewell, My Lovely, it is actually quite fitting that he is portrayed this way. In the novel, Marlowe is a rather different character from the posturing tough-guy of previous books, instead conveying a world-weary sense of apathy and melancholy. Chandler himself felt the private eye character was becoming outdated and also wrote the book during a time when his wife was slowly dying of a long illness, which helps explain the mournful mood that infuses the story. So, Altman, Brackett and Gould weren't so far off the mark in turning Marlowe into a downbeat loner, out-of-step with the time and surroundings he finds himself in. Also, for those who know Gould only as Ross and Monica's dad in Friends, or from Ocean's Eleven, it's surprising to see how thin he once was before age and a load of pies caught up with him.

What does the Fonz think? "It's alright by me"

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