David Thomson on Robert Altman's "The Long Goodbye"
Ed here: The following is an excerpt from a piece critic David Thomson wrote about Robert Altman in 2000. You'll have to scroll down to get to the piece on The Long Goodbye. Even if you disagree with Thomson this is bracing piece on Chandler and Altman alike.
"The Long Goodbye" was mauled to bits by Raymond Chandler connoisseurs and critics alike. The film opened once, took a beating, and tried again. But no large body of people could stomach its drastic, tender transcendence of Raymond Chandler and Philip Marlowe. After all, it was in the late 60's and 70's that the world really caught up with Bogart doing Marlowe in Howard Hawks's "The Big Sleep." Film buffs rejoiced in and repeated the nearly screwball dialogue from that classic, and they cherished Bogart's insouciant, insolent mastery of the impossible plot, verbal rallies at the net with Bacall, teaching her how to kiss (that lifelong study in the Hawks world) and being so damn cool no one noticed the clouds of fantasy. You could read elegies to Hawks and his empiricism, as well as tributes to Chandler's noir gaze on Los Angeles. In that romantic moment of Bogeyism, many people felt that Altman's satiric treatment was nearly indecent.
Is it possible, Mr. Altman asks demurely, that that black-and-white Marlowe was a touch far-fetched? Instead, he gives us a 70's man, a hipster in a black suit, Elliott Gould, cooler than Bogart ever dreamed of, muttering to himself, bemused by the naked girls across the way, unable to outwit a cat who wants curry-flavored cat food -- a sleepy, languid ramrod of inconsequence who sidles or side-steps through a life he has no hopes of being superior to.
LA DIES and gentlemen, here is something new in the world -- a sweet, decent chump for a movie hero. With nothing but Mr. Altman's fondness to keep him standing up. You almost hear Mr. Altman rhapsodizing over Gould -- look at him move, look at those bowed legs, the face scrunched up in the sun, logic turned crooked by L. A., and all that "It's all right with me" stuff. Is he beautiful, or what?
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