Blu-ray Review: The Long Goodbye (1973)

The Long Goodbye BR CoverDistributor: Arrow Academy

BBFC Classification: 12

Director: Robert Altman

Starring: Elliott Gould, Nina van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden, Henry Gibson, Mark Rydell, David Arkin, Jim Bouton

Private detective Philip Marlowe (Elliott Gould – American History X/MASH) finds himself caught up in a complex murder mystery after he innocently drives his friend Terry Lennox (Jim Bouton) to Tijuana on the US-Mexico border. Upon his return Marlowe is arrested and learns that Lennox’s wife was murdered shortly before he drove his friend to the border, but he is soon released after Lennox is reported as dead. However, Marlowe’s troubles are far from over as he is targeted by a ruthless gangster who is looking to reclaim some money that Lennox owed him, and just how is all of this connected to Mrs. Wade (Nina van Pallandt), who has hired Marlowe to find her alcoholic novelist husband?

Originally released in 1973, The Long Goodbye was based on the Raymond Chandler novel of the same name and caused a little controversy at the time because the film set its story in the modern day rather than the 1940s/50s setting that the original Philip Marlowe stories were set in. But whilst Elliott Gould’s dishevelled and lethargic take on the character may at first seem incongruous, Marlowe’s moral code and mannerisms are intact from his literary incarnation and this plays into the way the character interacts with everybody he comes across, and it soon becomes clear that director Robert Altman (Gosford Park) is playing with the film noir conventions that many people were expecting. This kind of genre overhaul is more commonplace now but back in 1973 a Philip Marlowe story on the big screen was expected to follow in the steps of previous incarnations of the character, as portrayed by the likes of Humphrey Bogart in the 1946 film The Big Sleep (remade in 1978 with Robert Mitchum in the role) or Robert Montgomery in Lady in the Lake (1947), but the sight of an unkempt Elliott Gould bantering with naked women practising yoga and wisecracking with brutal gangsters was a little too out of place for many Marlowe purists to accept.

However, over the years the film has come to be accepted for what it is and that is a darkly comic man-out-of-time detective story with a central performance from Gould that anchors the film in the same way as his predecessors did in their performances but with the actor’s own sarcastic twist. As such, the performances from the supporting cast don’t measure up to Gould’s lead and, with the exception of Henry Gibson (The Blues Brothers) as a suspect doctor and the rather striking Nina van Pallandt as Mrs. Wade, the rest of the cast are fairly unremarkable and the characters quite despicable. Do, however, keep an eye out for a very early – and uncredited – appearance from a young Arnold Schwarzenegger as a gangster’s enforcer. He doesn’t speak but manages to draw your attention by being twice as big as the rest of his crew.

Stuffed full of extras such as archive and new(ish) interviews with Elliott Gould, Robert Altman and several Raymond Chandler experts plus a documentary about Robert Altman, trailers, reversible sleeve and collector’s booklet, the disc has plenty to offer fans of Philip Marlowe and offers some great insights into Altman’s thinking behind reinventing the film noir detective story for the 1970s. It’s a long film but one that doesn’t let up with the intrigue and Elliott Gould’s magnetic performance makes you want to get to the bottom of the mystery as much as Marlowe does, which means that the film succeeds in what it sets out to do and is worth spending a bit of time with.

The Long Goodbye

Special Features: Rip Van Marlowe interview with director Robert Altman and star Elliott Gould, Vilmos Zsigmond Flashes The Long Goodbye interview with cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, Giggle and Give In – Paul Joyce’s acclaimed documentary profile of Robert Altman, with contributions from Altman, Elliott Gould, Shelley Duvall, assistant director Alan Rudolph and screenwriter Joan Tewkesbury, Elliott Gould Discusses The Long Goodbye conversation with crime novelist Michael Connelly, David Thompson on Robert Altman featurette, On Raymond Chandler – Chandler’s biographer, Tom Williams, outlines the author’s life and work, On Hard Boiled Fiction featurette where crime writer and critic Maxim Jakubowski discusses the emergence of hard boiled detective characters from the pages of the pulp magazines from the 1920s through to the 1950s, original theatrical trailer, radio spots, reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jay Shaw, collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Brad Stevens, an archive interview with screenwriter Leigh Brackett, a new interview with assistant director Alan Rudolph and an American Cinematographer article discussing Zsigmond’s unique treatment of the film, illustrated with original archive stills and posters.

UK Release Date: 16th December 2013

Arrow Films – Website

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