Indiana Daily Student

Pasternack on the Past: "The Long Goodbye"

There are some movies you like. There are some movies you don’t like. Then there are some movies you like so much you want to grab the person nearest you and tell him or her to watch those films immediately.

For me, “The Long Goodbye” belongs in the third category. I saw it for the first time last July, but it has already become a favorite of mine. It turns the conventions of film noir upside down.

“The Long Goodbye” is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Raymond Chandler. Several of Chandler’s novels have been adapted into more conventional detective films, but “The Long Goodbye” is far from conventional. It follows private eye Phillip Marlowe as he tries to unravel a mystery that involves his friend Terry Lennox.

Marlowe uncovers connections Lennox had to an aging Hemingway-esque writer, his young wife and a fast-talking Jewish gangster named Marty Augustine.

In older adaptations of Chandler’s novels, Marlowe had been presented as a tough man who could make sense out of any case. In “The Long Goodbye,” Marlowe is played by the sarcastic Elliott Gould. Gould, who played Monica and Ross Geller’s dad on “Friends,” constantly and unintentionally reminds the audience that he is as confused as they are.

One of the choices director Robert Altman made in the film was to constantly move the camera. This adds some distinctive kinetic energy to the film. It also differentiates “The Long Goodbye” from some of the older noir movies that have more static camerawork.

Altman begins the film in an offbeat way. Instead of meeting a client, Marlowe is woken up at 3 a.m. by his hungry cat. Marlowe then begins a comic odyssey to find his cat its favorite brand of food. This takes 11 minutes of screen time.

It’s funny, odd and features some dynamic camerawork. In a way, this sequence is a microcosm of the film and perfectly sets its tone.

There is no sultry femme fatale threatening the protagonist in “The Long Goodbye.” Instead there is Eileen Wade, a beautiful woman with a few secrets. Nina van Pallandt makes the most of this role.

There is a lot of humor in this film. Even small gags, such as a dog stopping Marlowe’s car as he drives to meet someone, are funny and make the narrative flow feel wilder than that of a classic film noir.

The supporting cast is great. Mark Rydell is hilarious as Augustine, a gangster who is as funny as he is dangerous. Sterling Hayden delivers a poignant performance as the alcoholic writer Roger Wade.

“The Long Goodbye” is a funny and fast-paced film that features colorful characters. It walks the tightrope of making you laugh at Marlowe and care about him as well. It upends traditional genre conventions to create its own unique and entertaining world.

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