I Saw A Film
The Long Goodbye (1973)
With Elliot Gould as Phil Marlowe
It’s played a bit with Gould mumbling and goofing, and there are moments where you will think there’s a comedy going on, and granted there’s a spirit of damn the torpedoes (Weirdoes and torpedoes and potatoes) in a Chandler book, but the situations are violent enough, and strange enough. But the stranger the better, I say. Oddities bring reality to a vision.
Marlowe, who has the enviable location just across from a bevy of gorgeous ladies who spend all their time taking care of his cat and doing topless LSD inspired yoga (yeah it’s the early seventies) is put upon to help out an old buddy. Little does he know that his old buddy, who he runs down to Tijuana in the middle of the night, is thought to have just murdered his wife. And by the looks of the claw marks on his cheek, overlooked by Marlowe in the dark (and of course, because they’re bros) quite possibly might have. When Marlowe gets home the cops are putting him to the test and in fact, lock him up for a few days assuming he’s just aided and abetted a felon.
What follows gets convoluted. And here I want to say something about older thrillers like these sorts of early seventies treats, the film does not spoon feed you like you’ve got the attention span of a meth addict the way modern films usually do. You aren’t being held by the hand and led through the maze without having to wonder what the hell is going on yourself. Marlowe encounters a dizzying array of wackiness and vaguely dangerous characters, along with a number of actual dangerous ones. And you’re left wondering along with him, just what all these lunatics scraping the fringe are doing and if, like Marlowe soon suspects, they’re all involved in this wackiness. And just as you’re wondering, Marlowe is accosted by a gangster who believes Marlowe must have money owed him by his buddy (now thought to have committed suicide!).
Gould takes some bumps as Marlowe. He doesn’t carry a gun, and he doesn’t believe in suicide. Though, he’ll change his mind on the pistol before the end and may surprise you with his certain hard-bit side. But he’ll likely still be buying the brownie mix for his cute neighbors and trying to convince his cat that he’s bought the preferred food when he’s just got the store brand. Finicky cat.
Things to look out for are a few outstanding performances from old movie regulars like Sterling Hayden (Godfather, Dr. Strangelove), and the petite but terrifying Henry Gibson (who was on Laugh In and Love American Style all the time when I was a baby) and Mark Rydell (who later did a lot of directing) as the aggressively weird mobster who employs a muscleman played by a young Arnold Schwarzenegger who accidentally mugs the camera in at least one scene.
The scenes are Altman and often have the feel of improv.
The film is enjoyable from the standpoint of a kind of toughness needed to endure a rather nasty pile of revealed truth. Marlowe’s life is loveless. His sarcasm is all that gets him through. I do wish I had the sort of resolve to know I was doing the right thing when things are so confused. Films often make making these decisions seem split second easy, but most of the time real analysis would reveal complexity that making snap decisions about would definitely create gaping unfortunate breaks that would need mending. Marlowe isn’t a leap and shoot kind of character. He’s a bit more thoughtful and reserved and for that I appreciate this take on being a petty detective. Now how does he pay for the apartment?
Has Marlowe’s buddy done the deed and offed himself in Mexico? Will Marlowe escape the mob? Will he keep his cat fed? All this for free on Prime!
The lobby card is again a bit misleading, you’d think you’re in for the old shoot up. But, I’m grateful that this isn’t really that sort of story.