movie: The Long Goodbye (1973)

longgoodbyeThis 1973 film is based on the 1953 book by Raymond Chandler, which I read so long ago (and apparently pre-blog) that I don’t entirely trust my recollections. I’m pretty sure there are significant divergences in movie form from the plot of the book – what else is new.

Raymond Chandler’s 1940’s-50’s private detective hero, Philip Marlowe, has been updated here to fit into 1970’s Hollywood. In the opening scene, Marlowe is awakened by his cat, who insists on being fed at 3 in the morning; upon awakening, the first thing Marlowe does is light up a cigarette, an action we will see repeated ad nauseam. (Husband and I guesstimate that at least 50 cigarettes are smoked in this movie by Marlowe alone. The only times he’s not smoking are when he’s lighting up or in police custody.) He then heads to the 24-hour store for cat food. Still smoking.

and brownie mix, for the hippie neighbor girls

and brownie mix, for the hippie neighbor girls

Marlowe’s friend Lennox asks for a ride into Tijuana following some trouble with his wife; after performing this favor, the cops show up to inform Marlowe that Lennox had just killed his wife, an accusation that Marlowe does not believe. Likewise Lennox’s apparent suicide in Mexico a few days later. Meanwhile, Marlowe takes a case from a ritzy blonde wife of a temporarily missing alcoholic writer who is so Hemingway:
This couple, the Wades, turn out to be tied up with the now-dead Lennoxes. Marlowe’s old-fashioned loyalty to his friend is poorly rewarded. He loses his cat. It’s a sad story.

Despite numerous plot changes from the novel (Wikipedia agrees), and the notable reset to 1970’s California, including violent gangsters and a young Arnold Schwarzenegger I had trouble recognizing, I thought this movie did faithfully reflect the iconic character of Philip Marlowe. I liked the humorous addition of the hippie neighbor girls (topless, with the candles and their yoga, a great distraction to Marlowe’s male visitors) and the (less humorous) gangsters, too. The ending in Mexico was the greatest divergence from the novel but I can appreciate it. Overall, a real win: this film keeps the spirit of the original and updates it somewhat, and great visuals and Marlowe’s pulpy, rough demeanor appropriately take center stage.

Rating: 8 portraits of James Madison.

2 Responses

  1. It definitely diverges from the book (Altman never let a script stand in the way of making a good movie), but I think you’re right, it gets the big stuff, though from a different direction: “Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.” What makes the movie unique is the tension between the 1940s and the 1970s, and between Hollywood detectives and real ones.

    Amazing performances throughout, too, especially since most of the main cast were people not even primarily known as actors.

    I could go on and on (it’s one of my favorite movies by my all-time favorite director, after all), but I’ll just link to my review instead:

    • Wow, Anthony, thanks for the link! A nice long and (as usual) well-informed movie review – your area of specialty, not mine. I couldn’t have named Altman or another Altman film. Thanks for teaching me something. I enjoyed the two scenes you named, also, for the allegorical use of space. I like what you have to say about the 70’s version of the 40’s hero, too. Well done.

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