Robert Altman spent much of the 1970s blowing up and taking down Hollywood’s favorite genres. He added the horrors of war to the military comedy with M*A*S*H. He then took down the western with McCabe and Mrs. Miller (my favorite Altman movie). He dissected the musical with Nashville.
So, you shouldn’t be surprised that Altman would start his film noir with Philip Marlowe, in the middle of the night, with his cat insisting on a particular type of canned food. The feline sequence has nothing to do with the story; Altman and screenwriter Leigh Brackett seem to be having fun – and taking us along for the ride. It also suggests, although the movie is basically a serious crime drama, is going to have some laughs.
Indeed, the cover art on Kino Lorber’s new Blu-ray edition of The Long Goodbye suggests that it’s a comedy as well. When the film opened in 1973, United Artists hired Mad Magazine‘s Jack Davis to make the movie look like a comedy.
For the most part, The Long Goodbye is as funny as a funeral. Some horrible things go down. Marlowe’s friend must get to Mexico soon for some strange reason. Another man is locked up in a sanatorium, and maybe he doesn’t belong there. Women are treated horribly. And the seemingly crazy head of a criminal organization believes that Marlowe has his money (he doesn’t).
Brackett and Altman updated Raymond Chandler’s 1953 novel and put Philip Marlowe into the 1970s. Marlowe, played by Elliott Gould, still lives in a crummy apartment. But now he has a bunch of topless hippie chicks next door, constantly offering him brownies. A not-yet-famous Arnold Schwarzenegger, credited as Arnold Strong, shows up briefly.
This was Bracket’s second adaption from a Chandler novel. The first was The Big Sleep – the 1946, Howard Hawks version with Bogart and Bacall. She also wrote Rio Bravo and The Empire Strikes Back.
How It Looks
I can’t call this new 4K restoration beautiful because The Long Goodbye is rarely a beautiful movie. but it looks almost exactly the way it should look. Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond handled an anamorphic lens like Jimi Hendrix handled a Stratocaster. The film is murky when it needs to be murky, sharp when it needs to be sharp.
The film looks like Los Angeles in the early ’70s – or at least like what movies looked like back then. The transfer is letterboxed to the correct aspect ratio of 2.35×1.
How It Sounds
The movie was released in mono, and that’s the way it should be heard. I heard no problem with the film’s lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 48kHz.
And the Extras
Only the commentary was new to this Blu-ray. The other extras, and there were a lot of them, are from other releases, probably back to Laserdiscs.
- Audio Commentary by Film Historian Tim Lucas: Lucas’ voice is kind of flat, but he has a lot to say about the novel, the screenplay, and the movie. It also helps if you get lost in the complicated plot.
- Rip Van Marlowe: 25 minutes. This documentary is narrated, often on screen by Altman and Gould (not together). Altman tells us that he imagines Marlowe slept for 20 years and woke up in 1973. He also makes a big mistake, claiming that Bracket died before the film opened. She died five years later.
- Vilmos Zsigmond Flashes: 14 minutes: Cinematographer Zsigmond talks about The Long Goodbye and film making. He especially concentrates on the technique of flashing film and the use of zoom lenses.
- David Thompson on Robert Altman: 21 minutes. I don’t know when this was shot, but Thompson looks much younger than the man Bay Area cinephiles know today. Some interesting bits.
- Tom Williams on Raymond Chandler: 14 minutes. Interesting.
- Maxim Jakubowski on Hard Boiled Fiction: 15 minutes. Some interesting bits, but often bland.
- American Cinematographer 1973 Article with Animation: Slide show on flashing negatives. Mostly it’s just text about Chandler and Marlowe. Sometimes you get photos rather than text. Television isn’t my favorite way to read.
- Trailers From Hell with Josh Olson: 3 minutes. Olson is a screenwriter and podcaster. Fun.
- Radio Spots: 3 minutes. Two radio ads that get repetitious.
- TV Spot: 31 seconds. Looks awful. Not interesting.
- Trailers: Two trailers for The Long Goodbye – the second of which is very fun. Also trailers for Busting, The Silent Partner, and Winter Kills.
The Blu-ray is available.