The Long Goodbye (1973) – Film review by Andrea Carnevali

The Long Goodbye (50th anniversary)  ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Private investigator Philip Marlowe helps a friend out of a jam, but in doing so becomes implicated in his wife’s murder. There will be a screening of The Long Goodbye to mark the film’s 50th anniversary at Andrea’s Film Club at Chiswick Cinema on Tuesday 14 November 2023 at 8pm, followed by a talk by Andrea and a discussion.

Crime stories are often the subject of modern re-imaginings and remakes. The allure of crime, the intricate plots, the twists and reveals, the complex characters and detective narratives, combined with the timeless appeal of iconic characters such as Hercule Poirot or Philip Marlowe, has always given filmmakers a rich source of storytelling material that is hard to resist.

Recently for example there has been a resurgence of Poirot stories, thanks to Kenneth Branagh’s star-studded film adaptations.

The world of Marlowe however, does not seem to have been graced by the same level of attention. The most recent cinematic offering (unoriginally called Marlowe), released last year, directed by Neil Jordan and starring Liam Neeson in the titular role, tried to recapture the magic, but ended up being a real snoozefest. Dull, even-paced, with an over-complicated plot, laden with red herrings, genre clichés and gratuitous explicit violence in which paid disservice to the otherwise very interesting main character.

Philip Marlowe represents the quintessential hard-boiled detective, navigating the gritty and morally murky world of crime in mid-20th century Los Angeles. With his sharp wit, determination and his sense of justice, Marlowe captivated audiences for decades.

Of course, the most iconic portrayal was by Humphrey Bogart in the 1946 film The Big Sleep, directed by Howard Hawks. Bogart managed to bring Marlowe to life with a unique mix of cynicism, wit and charm and in the process, he made him one of the most iconic and timeless detectives of the ‘40s and ‘50s.

Which probably explain why Robert Altman’s attempt to modernise Marlowe and transport him to the gritty Los Angeles of the 70s in The Long Goodbye didn’t quite connect with the people at the time and resulted in massive flop, both commercially and critically.

Today, 50 years later, the film is not just seen as a daring reinvention of the character and the film noir genre in general, but a thought-provoking and a subtle critique to the cultural values and shifts of 1970s. Altman utilises the detective genre as a vehicle to reflect on this changing society.

The film’s bleak and subversive tone invokes the sense of disillusionment for the era. (The film feels clearly like a response to the mood created by the Vietnam war, Watergate, Nixon, even though there is hardly a reference to any of them). It was probably all too much for contemporary audiences back then.

Altman’s signature style characterised by constant moving shots makes the audience feel like they are voyeurs in the action. It’s as if we are all spying through the lens of the cameraman.

His collaboration with master cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (who would later win an Oscar for Spielberg’s Close Encounters) brings an extraordinary visual quality to the narrative, creating an almost mesmerizing atmosphere.

The film’s lighting, the camera movements, and sound design, the overlapping dialogue all contribute to the overall immersive experience, drawing viewers into Marlowe’s world with captivating detail.

As for the main character himself, Altman’s bold reimagining of Marlowe defied the traditional detective archetypes up to that time in the most unexpected ways.

Here he is portrayed almost as a loser by an extraordinary Elliott Gould. He is both absurd and strangely compelling. Today, his classic “it’s fine by me” line, the way he lights his cigarettes and his whole demeaner in general, are just as iconic as Bogart’s take on the character.

The Long Goodbye is a cinematic gem as well as an enigma that continues to captivate, intrigue and even shock audiences even 50 years later. A subversive and thought-provoking film that demands rediscovery and reappraisal. The Chiswick Cinema will hold a special screening of the film on Tuesday 14 November at 8pm introduced by me and with a discussion afterwards.

Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick, and a co-creator of the Chiswick In Film festival.

See all Andrea’s film reviews here: Film reviews by Andrea Carnevali

Chiswick In Film festival: Chiswick In Film festival 2023

See all the latest stories: Chiswick Calendar News & Features

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