The Long Goodbye – Robert Altman – Elliot Gould lopes with effortless charm throughout the entirety of his ‘dishevelled, private eye’ performance, as Phillip Marlowe. At times recalling a very early Tom Waits, not so much visually but instead through invoking a particular strain of American mythology: that nicotine nimbus of noir authenticity; that dazed barroom enigma – seen through a fog of perpetual smoke; unprofessional and roguish heart; that man, falling apart at the seams but with a nonchalant competence - the kinda fella they refer to in the trade as a maverick…outwardly haphazard, bordering on bumbling, but by god, you know he gets results! A creased jacket and loose shirt (which, in a somewhat unlikely situation, is referred to following a tumble of laundry, with the concession that: ‘I don’t need too much starch in my collars’), eyes glazed with self assured bemusement, continually mumbling…’it’s ok with me’…a persona so dam cool and self contained that despite living next to a troop of yoga practising, normally nude, attractive women, he never bats an eyelid – or even shows the most remote sign of interest. He is instead neatly prioritising life between a double murder, his lost cat and the next cigarette.
Arnie's inconspicuous cameo
Altman’s film, a substantially altered adaptation of a Raymond Chandler story, takes leisurely enjoyment in parodying strains of noir, while still managing to maintain the suspense and thrill of that genre. The score, by John Williams, invents several incarnations of the titular song and overlays the differing versions in witty correspondence to scene changes: one moment the song is playing on the car radio, next as a tinny reproduction in a supermarket and later in sweeping strings. The climactic ending is both shocking and perfectly realised, leading on to what seems to be a cheeky inversion of the end shot of The Third Man.
It is a playful, ridiculous and charismatic celebration of Hollywood and, more specifically, Hollywood Noir. A rare example of a film that manages to have its cake and eat it – both gently mocking the genre, while simultaneously carving out an exciting position within that genre. ‘Having your cake and eating it’ is a phrase I have always found offensively illogical. I’m probably missing a very basic ‘slap you in the face’ blatancy, but…what else are you meant to do with a cake? Except maybe for temporary ornamentation, before eventual consumption, a cake exists to be eaten! So ‘having your cake and eating it’ is not an audacious demand but a rational expectation! If you were to do something a tad more unorthodox with said ‘cake’ then yes, maybe the phrase would be tenable: ‘Having your cake and conversing with it’/ ‘having your cake and dressing it up as your recently deceased partner’/ ‘having your cake and burying money in its spongy innards, using it as a make-shift elaborate bank’/ ‘having your cake and naming it Arnold, whereupon you immediately buy two tickets (one for the cake) to travel on a transatlantic flight. On arrival you and the cake check into a hotel room. Later you are found mysteriously dead and handcuffed to the bed, with your cake ‘Arnold’ smeared all over the walls’/ ‘Having your cake and sitting on it’ / ‘Having your cake and drinking it’ / ‘Having your cake and sacrificing it, to a tyrannical god of all things baked’…etc. Still, great film. 8/10
'Nothing says suitable tagline like a spoiler'