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Film / The Long Goodbye

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The Long Goodbye is a 1973 film directed by Robert Altman and starring Elliott Gould as detective Philip Marlowe. It was adapted from Raymond Chandler's 1953 novel of the same name by Leigh Brackett (who had earlier co-written the most famous film version of Chandler's The Big Sleep).

Marlowe's old friend Terry Lennox comes by in some sort of trouble, asking for a ride to Tijuana, which Marlowe provides. This winds up getting Marlowe in hot water with the LAPD, when it turns out that Lennox's wife Susan was murdered and Terry is the prime suspect. Meanwhile, Eileen Wade (Nina van Pallandt) hires Marlowe to find her missing husband, the noted author Roger Wade (Sterling Hayden)—and it turns out that the Wades' Malibu home is right down the beach from the Lennoxes'. Things get even more complicated when crime boss Marty Augustine (Mark Rydell) comes to Marlowe's apartment demanding $355,000 that Lennox was supposed to deliver but instead has absconded with.

A pre-stardom Arnold Schwarzenegger has a non-speaking part as a Mook. The role of Terry Lennox is played by Jim Bouton, a former Major League Baseball pitcher far better known for his famous baseball memoir, Ball Four.

This film has examples of:

  • Adaptational Heroism: Eileen Wade is not the Femme Fatale she is in the book.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Terry Lennox is the murderer, after all! While the novel didn't exactly have this character come across as particularly clean by the end, lying to your friend and letting him deal with the consequences still isn't as bad as murder...
  • Adapted Out: Most blatantly, Linda Loring—the classy yet just-as-snarky-as-Marlowe lady who Marlowe meets during his investigation in the novel. She's the sister of Terry's late wife, and shares Marlowe's doubts that Terry killed anyone—and thus, becomes Marlowe's ally and uneasy assistant in his investigation. Chandler's purpose for her was to be the "Princess in Sour Dress" to Marlowe's Knight in Sour Armor, and their parting near the novel's end forces the detective to begin questioning his once-firm love of isolation. In the movie, she's nowhere to be found, and instead Altman has Marlowe strike up a complicated relationship with Mrs. Wade—who, ironically, was the murderer in the book.
  • The Alcoholic: Roger Wade
  • Ambulance Cut: Marlowe runs into the street, gets hit by a car, and we cut to the ambulance.
  • Angry Guard Dog: The Wades' dog is never violent, but it is always barking angrily whenever Marlowe is around.
  • Appeal to Worse Problems: A variation of the "starving children in Africa" argument: when the cat doesn't want to eat, he says, "What about all the tigers in India they're killing because they don't got enough to eat?"
  • Author Avatar: Roger Wade is made into one for Raymond Chandler in the film. Indeed, Altman said that he was far more inspired by Chandler's letters and diaries in making this film than the original novel.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: Marlowe is a professional — he's always got that suit.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Phillip Marlowe may be a Deadpan Snarker but he's a mostly moral and decent guy... however he does shoot Terry dead at the end of the film after he manipulates him by making Marlowe take the fall for his actions.
  • Blackface: Marlowe does an impromptu Al Jolson impression using fingerprint ink.
  • Book Ends: The song "Hooray for Hollywood" plays at the beginning and the end of the film.
  • Born in the Wrong Decade: Marlowe is man holding onto 1940s or '50s values, trying to survive in a much more cynical '70s L.A.
  • Butt-Monkey: Marlowe, as part of the film's deconstruction of the private eye genre. He lacks a Friend on the Force, as the police have no idea who he is. He's no ladies' man, as the girls next door make fun of him. And the villains frequently get the better of him in fights. He also loses his cat.
  • Catchphrase: "It's OK with me."
  • Chandler's Law: Some people complained about the film changing the ending of the novel, even though the new ending invoked the law named after Raymond Chandler in the first place.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: A few.
  • Cool Car: Marlowe's 1948 Lincoln Continental convertible.
  • Covers Always Lie: The DVD cover shows Marlowe holding a Beretta 92SB, even though it didn't even exist when the film was made, and a poster has him holding a Colt Detective Special with the Tag Line "Nothing says goodbye like a bullet", a line from an early script that was never incorperated into the final movie, yet he uses a Smith and Wesson Model 10 at the end.
  • Creator Cameo: If you blink during the scene where Marlowe gets taken to the hospital, you'll miss Robert Altman as the guy sitting in the passenger seat of the ambulance.
  • Cut Himself Shaving: Marlowe notices a bruise on Eileen's cheek, and says it doesn't look like she walked into a door. She says that she didn't. She fell out of bed.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Practically everything Marlowe says is a snark.
  • Death by Adaptation: Terry Lennox. "Yeah, I even lost my cat."
  • Deconstructed Character Archetype: This version of Phillip Marlowe is a deconstruction of noir detectives and his typical film portrayal. The movie shows that an old school detective like Marlowe is simply a powerless man out of the past who doesn't always know what is going on despite his competent skills as a detective. Thus, the world seems to be moving on without him. As Terry says to Marlowe at the end of the film "You'll never learn, you're a born loser."
  • Deconstructive Parody: The film is a parody of the Film Noir genre, with many of the characters being archetypes of the kind of characters who show up in those films:
    • The gangsters, represented by Marty Augustine, are the colourful minor villains who show up in many Noir movies, being Laughably Evil and even representing a Quirky Miniboss Squad. However, the film emphasizes that these minor thugs and delinquents are incredibly powerful and dangerous to be around. The shrink Dr. Verringer is an unctous intimidating doctor who can humiliate and blackmail the burly and gregarious Roger Wade, and Marty Augustine is a brutal thug who could have killed and cut up Marlowe had he not been so lucky in getting out of spots quickly.
    • Moreover, Marlowe's general sentimentality about being a "tarnished knight" is called into question. He puts on a mask of aloof cool and enjoys taunting and being a wiseacre, but this is often shown to be unwise. Likewise, Terry Lennox uses Marlowe's sentiment towards friendship to manipulate him and at the end, he even points out that his brutal murder of the wife is of no real social consequence, that the cops have dropped the case, and that he's willing to share "retirement" with Marlowe. Marlowe, in response, decides to take the law into his own hands.
      Lennox: What the hell, nobody cares.
      Marlowe: Yeah. Nobody cares but me.
      Lennox: Well, that's you, Marlowe. You'll never learn, you're a born loser.
      Marlowe: Yeah. I even lost my cat. (shoots Lennox dead)
  • Destroy the Product Placement: The hero is interrupted by a gangster who is accompanied by his goons and his lovely mistress. Said mistress interrupts the gangster's rant, by informing him that she’s thirsty and would like a Coke. One of his goons fetches an open bottle from the refrigerator. The gangster swigs from it, complains that it’s flat, and then swings it into the mistress’ face, causing it to break and leaving her in pain.
  • The Determinator: Marlowe suffers all sorts of setbacks, but his gut sense that something is fishy about the whole affair keeps him going, and he ultimately solves the case and tracks down Lennox.
  • Diegetic Soundtrack Usage: Taken to its logical extreme, thanks to the skilled hands of John Williams. With the exception of "Hooray for Hollywoood" in the opening and closing of the movie, the only song heard in the movie is various arrangements of the theme song, "The Long Goodbye", used diegetically. So when a character turns on the radio, that's the song that plays, when a character is at a bar there's a piano player singing that song, in the supermarket, a muzak version is playing on the overhead, and when the nudist, hippie, neighbors, are chanting, they're chanting the theme also. The lyrics even Lampshade this:
    Can you recognize the theme?
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Various visitors to Marlowe's apartment getting distracted by all the semi-naked women in the next apartment.
  • Driven to Suicide: Roger.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Marty Augustine's thugs are genuinely shocked when he hits his girlfriend in the face with a Coke bottle.
  • Faking the Dead: Lennox is still alive. But not for long.
  • Fanservice Extra: The hot women in the apartment next to Marlowe's, who never wear tops.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Marty Augustine is fairly personable in-between his bursts of brutality.
  • The Film of the Book: Although it changes the time period and the identity of the killer in the end. And Marlowe's One True Love in the book, Linda Loring, is noticeably absent—apparently to make room for a more "fleshed-out" Mrs. Wade.
  • First-Name Basis: Mrs. Wade asks Marlowe to start calling her Eileen.
  • Genre-Busting: It's a neo-noir with a heavy dose of surrealism and black comedy.
  • Genre Savvy: Marlowe, on the typical if-this-were-a-movie dialogue for interrogation scenes:
    "So, this is where I'm supposed to say, 'What is all this about?'—and he says, uh, 'Shut up, I ask the questions'?"
    "Yeah, yeah, that's right!"
    • Perhaps surprisingly, this doesn't originate with the film but is actually taken from the original novel.
  • Gratuitous Spanish: The cat door has "El Porto del Gato" written on it. Also, Augustine talks to his Mexican mook in Spanish, even though the guy always answers in English.
  • Happy Dance: Marlowe does this at the end after killing Lennox and walking past Ellen.
  • Kick the Dog: Marty Augustine breaks a Coke bottle on his mistress's face immediately after telling her she's the most important person in his life just to prove to Marlowe that he means business. Even his hired goons think that went too far.
  • Kosher Nostra: Marty Augustine, who complains that Marlowe stopped him from going to the temple for Sabbath.
  • Minion with an F in Evil: Harry. Augustine's incompetent goon who he assigns to follow Marlow.
  • Never Suicide: Although Wade really does kill himself, Terry Lennox faked his death.
  • The Nicknamer: Roger Wade has nicknames for almost everybody.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Roger Wade's heavy beard, heavier drinking, braggadoccio, and suicidal tendencies all paint him as a late-period Ernest Hemingway.
  • Only Sane Man: Marlowe sees himself as this, and the film mostly does agree. Elliot Gould gets comedy gold by playing the straight man to every bizarre figure he comes across.
  • Police Are Useless: The police harass Marlowe, but otherwise seem to just accept what anyone tells them about the Lennox case without question. Ultimately Marlowe agrees and he decides to perform a Vigilante Execution on Terry Lennox after he's gotten away scott-free.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Marlowe: Yeah, I even lost my cat.
  • Private Detective: Perhaps the most famous one of all time...
  • Recurring Riff: Every piece of music, even a doorbell ring, is the tune of the title song.
  • Rhetorical Question Blunder: In the interrogation room.
    Cop: Are you crazy?
    Marlowe: Yes.
  • Running Gag: The music, which is all diegetic, is all repetitions of the title song. Including when it's a doorbell ring and when it's being performed by a mariachi band in a funeral procession.
  • Setting Update: One of the reasons the film was considered daring for its time. It brought Marlowe to The '70s and it cast a very young actor, who was known for comic parts, as Marlowe rather than an actor like Robert Mitchum (who played Marlowe in two films in The '70s). Altman wanted to make Marlowe a man out of his time even coining the nickname "Rip van Marlowe" and alluding it by starting the film with Marlowe waking up from sleep, implying that he was stuck in a forties time-warp.
  • Shout-Out: To all kinds of private-eye movies and stories.
    • While being fingerprinted by the police, Marlowe smears ink on his face and starts imitating Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer. This also references a scene in Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le Fou where Jean-Paul Belmondo paints his face blue.
    • Several allusions to The Third Man. Marlowe, Terry and Eileen have similarities to that film's main characters, some of the plot points are the same, a cat figures into both stories, both films have scores based on variations of one song, and ultimately the ending where Marlowe walks past Eileen parodies and inverts the famous final scene of The Third Man. Here, The Hero walks past and ignores the Femme Fatale and rather than being melancholy and serious, Marlowe is in a good mood.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Marlowe smokes cigarettes incessantly and in nearly every scene.
  • Spiritual Successor: Being noted fans of Robert Altman, The Coen Brothers (The Big Lebowski) and Paul Thomas Anderson (Inherent Vice) made their own loose remakes of this film.
  • This Is the Part Where...: When Philip Marlowe is first questioned by Sergeant Green and Detective Dayton, he says "This is where I say, 'What's this all about?' and you say, 'We ask the questions.'"
  • Title Drop: The theme song is sung in-universe by a character.
  • Title Theme Tune: Played throughout.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Marlowe gets it bad for Ellen. Unfortunately she is using him and in the end he pretty much gets over her and is happy with being a Celibate Hero.
  • Vanity License Plate: Mrs. Wade's says "Lov You."
  • Vigilante Execution: Marlowe blows Terry Lennox away after discovering he murdered his wife and betrayed his best friend. This is a change from the novel, where Lennox didn't kill his wife, but still faked his death and left his friend with the mess...and gets away with it scot-free.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: While they're questioning Marlowe, one detective pushes him into the other so they can run him in for assaulting an officer.
  • Writer's Block: Roger Wade suffers from this.