Sunday, September 25, 2011
The Long Goodbye
Today I watched The Long Goodbye, directed by Robert Altman in 1973. It's an updated version of Raymond Chandler's novel, taking place in the '70s instead of the 1950s like most film noirs, I read that Altman wanted to give off the impression that Phillip Marlowe, the main character, had gone to sleep in 1950 and woke up in 1970. I was pretty skeptical at first, but I really loved this movie. The characters were great, and the story got a really unique and interesting update that worked really well for me.
So, the plot is a tiny bit weird and complicated, and I'm too hungry to focus to write a summary, so here's a meh one from IMDB: "Chain-smoking, wisecracking private eye Philip Marlowe drives a buddy from LA to the Tijuana border and returns home to an apartment full of cops who arrest him for abetting the murder of his friend's wife. After Marlowe's release, following the reported suicide in Mexico of his friend, a beautiful woman hires him to locate her alcoholic and mercurial husband. Then, a hoodlum and his muscle visit to tell Marlowe that he owes $350,000, mob money the dead friend took to Mexico. Marlowe tails the hood, who goes to the house of the woman with the temperamental husband. As Marlowe pulls these threads together, his values emerge from beneath the cavalier wisecracking."
This Marlowe is really different from the other versions of him I've seen or read. Usually he's a pretty hard kind of guy, guarded, a little rude, but witty, and experienced. Marlowe here is a smart-ass, a little whiny, full of mumbling monologues to himself. I laughed a lot during the opening scene where he shuffles around his apartment trying to convince his cat to eat some weird dish he made it, and then later, trying to trick it into eating a brand of cat food that it doesn't like. He even tries to switch the labels. Made me think a little bit of The Dude, I guess. Like if The Big Lebowski wasn't a comedy.
I sort of like that comparison a little bit. It's not great, but it makes sense to me. Film noir is usually about a guy who can actually figure out the plot, who can see through the confusion and corruptness around them. Instead, Marlowe sort of bumbles around the film, and he's not totally at the top of his game. He's often confused and can't really piece the plot together too well...hence why the plot is so unimportant. It doesn't matter so much because we're supposed to watch him struggle and not fit in. He doesn't seem as sharp as I recall Marlowe being in other films/books. He seems like he misses things, doesn't pick up on everything. It's certainly a different sort of noir, but it's awesome for it. Altman's Marlowe reminded me a little of House - surly, smart-assy, possibly drunk or high. He's not a savant of some kind like House, but something about his mannerisms and attitude reminded me.
I really love this movie. I love it for being the most un-film noir film noir that I've ever seen. It's the same sort of reason why I loved watching McCabe & Mrs. Miller - totally not "faithful" to the genre, and better for it. I thought that as a fan of film noir, I might be upset or irritated by something that really went against everything the genre is known for, but it was great. It was so cool to see a director do something new with it, and to see something that was so much more than just an "updated" or "modern" version of a hard boiled plot. I wasn't able to watch this movie with Anthony, but I am so happy about it that I think I'll be making him watch it with me soon.
Have any thoughts about The Long Goodbye? Share them in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on The Long Goodbye
Buy or rent it on Amazon