The Long Goodbye is a 1973 noir based on a Raymond Chandler novel, as opposed to The Long Kiss Goodnight, which isn’t.
This beautiful blend of cats, smoking and topless yoga is directed by Robert Altman and written by Leigh Brackett, who previously adapted Chandler’s The Big Sleep in 1946, in which Humphrey Bogart played private investigator Philip Marlowe. This time Elliott Gould steps into Marlowe’s gumshoes, portraying him as a shambolically likeable wit, who goes out to buy cat food one night and comes back embroiled in a murder mystery.
The plot is surprisingly conventional by Altman’s standards, but full of his signature cynicism and improvisation, making for a free-flowing, funny and cool thriller that subverts Hollywood movies and diverts substantially from the source material (though I wouldn’t know because I can’t read).
Altman’s desire to capture the way things are collide with his noir camerawork to create a uniquely stoned effect, clearly the inspiration for such LA-based comic-noir films as Inherent Vice and The Big Lebowski. Marlowe walks past two dogs humping at one point, such an odd thing to include in a noir flick and somehow a brilliantly authentic touch, as though we’ve wandered in on real lives.
Other times the camerawork is masterfully deliberate, Altman’s gorgeous shots often partially obscured by shadows or translucently laid on top of each other, suggesting (as in Short Cuts) lives intertwined and our inability to see the full picture. He also employs a minimal, shocking approach to violence, and just one John Williams/Johnny Mercer song played in different styles throughout the movie to reflect the diverse Californians Marlowe encounters.
Expertly shot and acted, The Long Goodbye is another essential picture from one of America’s most interesting directors. Plus, in his second film role, an uncredited Arnold Schwarzenegger shows up in his underwear and says nothing. Cinematic purrfection.