Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

The Long Goodbye, 40 years later ....

Now on Blu-ray, with neat new cover art (left), and a host of extras including documentaries, interviews, and a fascinating booklet, Robert Altman's 1973 THE LONG GOODBYE, misunderstood at the time, now makes its claim as one of the great American movies of the Seventies, on a par with CHINATOWN (with whom it shares a surprise climax), there are also shades of THE THIRD MAN with that perfect ending. As scripted by the great Leigh Brackett (who had also done THE BIG SLEEP in 1946), and shot by Vilmos Zsigmond with his trademark camerawork and that great score by John Williams and Johnny Mercer - that theme song, played and sung in different styles will not be easy to forget. Altman regular Alan Rudolph, who later helmed some films we like, was second assistant director. It makes Los Angeles look good here too.

The Projector has not done too much on Altman here, but, like Woody Allen, we love his early stuff: M.A.S.H, McCABE & MRS MILLER, NASHVILLE are all classics we return to, and now THE LONG GOODBYE. Other items like THIEVES LIKE US were seen and liked too at the time - the later oddball Altman like 3 WOMEN or QUINTET left us cold. So, lets head back to L.A. and the Malibu Colony:

When private eye Philip Marlowe is visited by an old friend in trouble, it sets in motion a series of events in which he is hired to search for a missing writer and finds himself on the wrong side of vicious gangsters. So far so faithful to Raymond Chandler, but Robert Altman's inspired adaptatation of the writer's most personal novel takes the legendary detective and relocates him to the hedonistic, selfish culture of the 1970s in laid-back L.A. where he finds that his old fashioned notions of honour and loyalty carry little weight. 
Widely misunderstood at the time, THE LONG GOODBYE is now regarded as one of Altman's best films and one of the outstanding American films of its era, with Elliot Gould's shambling, cat-obsessed Marlowe ranking alongside those portrayals by Bogart and Mitchum. 
The start is marvellous as the cat demands to be fed and is not fooled by the wrong catfoot in the right tin, as Marlowe goes to the supermarket and also gets some cookie mix for the girls next door  .... this demanding cat joins the BREAKFAST AT TIFFANYS and BELL BOOK & CANDLE cats, or that cat in Truffaut's LE PEAU DEUCE and DAY FOR NIGHT
SPOILERS, maybe. .. Marlowe's old pal Terry Malloy, whose wife has been murdered, turns up and needs a favour - a drive to Tijuana, before the cops come looking for him; they take in Marlowe to answer questions and he is quietly hilarious with them. Then there is the search for missing novelist, Sterling Hayden (JOHNNY GUITAR) in Hemingway mode, and his mysterious wife Ellen Wade (Nina Van Pallandt - who played a similar role in that other great L.A. movie Paul Schrader's AMERICAN GIGOLO, see label). 
Plots interweave with the introduction of gangster Marty Augustine (director Mark Rydell) and his goons, including a silent young Arnold Schwarzenegger. There is a moment of shocking violence with Marty's young girlfriend and a coke bottle .... and Marlowe trying to catch up with Ellen Wade in her car, which lands him in hospital. Finally, the pieces fit and we head back to Mexico to find out who has been fooling who as Terry Malloy re-appears, it seems he regarded Marlowe as a loser, as he double-crossed everybody and killed his wife .... then his lover Mrs Wade re-appears driving her jeep as Marlowe walks away. Perfect ending ..... did I mention that theme song? 
Gould had just done an Ingmar Bergman film THE TOUCH - unseen for decades now - and was certainly the hot actor of that time, an Altman regular. He comes across marvellously in the later interviews as his and Altman's work is re-assessed. 
Leigh Brackett sounds a mascline name, but was a woman - and was born the same date as me, 7th December - but in 1915 and died aged 62 in 1978, another victim of smoking! A Howard Hawks regular, she also scripted HATARI, RIO LOBO, EL DORADO, the great RIO BRAVO in 1959. and that rather gay 1961 Clint Walker western I like GOLD OF THE SEVEN SAINTS (Westerns label), 
Altman, the great maverick, died in 2006, aged 81. I still have his last one to watch: A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION. His last hit was probably GOSFORD PARK in 2001, others like PRET-A-PORTER were spectacular misfires, but with great casts. His 1996 KANSAS CITY seems highly regarded too, and of course SHORT CUTS and THE PLAYER. Before THE LONG GOODBYE he did IMAGES with Susannah York in Ireland, one worth seeking out. I didn't want to see POPEYE, it may be fun now, and we certainly like COME BACK TO THE FIVE AND DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN.

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