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Why I Love Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye

Sterling Hayden and Elliott Gould discuss men's faces on the beach
I sometimes wonder just why it is that I love Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye so much.

I know that it's because it encompasses my love for California (especially at a time when I was still living in Britain and dreamed of living here - though living close to Malibu did nothing to diminish the film's allure).

It's also because it encompasses my love of Chandler (rather obviously) and my belief that adaptations of anything should do whatever they wish, so long as they capture something of the spirit and intent of the author (and maybe even if they don't).

A major factor is that it encompasses my love of the ocean - and Roger Wade/Sterling Hayden is a kind of life model for me, with the craziness and the stick and the dog, though perhaps not the drinking or gambling or murder or suicide! But I would love a face like that and the sudden intensity and power he has, mixed with his lost but somehow haunting romantic quality: memories of making love with his wife - by or on the ocean.

Elliott Gould and Nina Van Pallandt
And it captures for me not just what Altman could do with cinema (though few could do, did or do do it like him), but the possibilities of film itself.

Here is a film that is visually stunning (thanks to Vilmos Zsigmond's inspired and constantly moving cinematography), that contains powerful, sometimes very funny, quirky and unique performances (aside from Gould, Hayden, Pallandt and the remarkable Mark Rydell, I have always loved Henry Gibson's perfectly played quack), that takes huge narrative and connective chances, that is self-referential and an ode to old-time Hollywood while being as loose and hip as it was possible to be in the 1970s, and that at the same time ends with a punch (or a shot) that at once departs from Chandler and yet somehow puts the final period on his writing - and makes perfect sense.

Plus, held together by one of the most effective and brilliantly-used music scores in cinema, we have a film that can embrace Elliott Gould's seemingly bumbling - but actually razor-sharp and socially-critical (despite his "It's okay with me") - private eye; a lost writer who is probably the most Hemingway-like figure ever captured on film; a complex and intriguing - and, in her own way, corrupt or at least complicit - wife in Nina Pallandt; and a gangster in Mark Rydell who is wholly original, genuinely funny at times...and then, in an instant, more shockingly brutal (with nothing more than a half-empty Coke bottle) than anything Tarantino has managed.

"That's someone I love. You, I don't even like, cheapie. Find my money!"

I love this movie.  It's okay with me.

One of the many posters for The Long Goodbye.

Please visit my new, revised (not entirely by choice) Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye Facebook page, if you'd like to know more about the background to this groundbreaking film.  The DVD is available from Amazon.


  1. Great post. I, too, love The Long Goodbye - in fact, Altman is my favourite director, though if I have to choose (which I don't), McCabe just pips TLG to the post for my fave Altman. But I love especially what you pinpointed in Roger Wade - "his lost but somehow haunting romantic quality." I caught some of the film as a child on TV and was captivated by the scene of Marlowe shopping at night for cat food: just imagine, in America they have supermarkets that stay open ALL NIGHT! LOvely post, and a brilliant, atmospheric film with a haunting late-night vibe.

  2. What a great post, Ryan, thank you. I still remember seeing the movie for the first time and LOVING the whole cat and catfood sequence - especially the supermarket assistant who says, "What do I need a cat for? I got a girl."

    I thought this film was just remarkably original when I first saw it, and many, many viewings later (not to mention years!), nothing has changed. And, yes, I think it's Roger Wade who really makes me "feel" the film - his "I'm...I'm...I'm all turned around" speech when Henry Gibson slaps him at his own party (if I remember correctly) is just incredibly moving and sad.

    And Elliott Gould is perfect as Philip Marlowe - he has just the right mix of amiability and, under the laid-back persona, rock-hard toughness and clear moral code to match the chivalric knight that Chandler always imagined Marlowe to be - adrift in a sea of LA corruption, whether 1940s or 1970s.

    I'm not usually a fan boy but my love for this film prompted me to create the Facebook fan page a couple of years ago. It's fun - and it's also great that we can count Mark Rydell's daughter as a friend (her daughter went to the same school as Hudson at one point) and she gave me some very personal insight into her father's performance as gangster supreme, Marty Augustine.

  3. There is nothing else quite like the shimmering beauty of "The Long Goodbye," it's a mystery that's not really a mystery, a spoof that's not really a spoof. In the end it says to me "life is neither kind nor cruel, happy or sad, funny or tragic, life is what it is."
    And Gould's Marlowe seems a character who in the end breaks the puppet strings of his creator and director, and does a little dance. Hooray for Hollywood.

  4. Hi Greg

    Sorry to take such an extraordinarily long time to respond to your wonderful comment - "shimmering beauty" is a fabulous description of The Long Goodbye. I totally agree that the movie's philosophy (and very much Altman's in general, I think - and Chandler's) is that life is what it is. That has been my experience, also, and as a Buddhist, I try to accept each day, each moment, with open, unguarded eyes and heart. I absolutely love your interpretation of the end of the movie - the freed puppet doing a little dance. As you say, Hooray for Hollywood!

    Best wishes,


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