Thursday, July 28, 2011

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.

David Thomson:

"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?

for the rest go here:


Fred Blosser said...

Shortly after LG came out, Leigh Brackett ran an article in one of the film magazines, TAKE ONE, I think, in which she argued that a Marlowe for the '70s had to be Gould's Marlowe and not Bogart's Marlowe. I still find it hard to believe that Brackett wrote the script. Remember how they changed the ad campaign after the first lousy week of box office, abandoning the idea of selling it as a private eye movie and using a Jack Davis poster illo to reposition it as a spoof?

Ed Gorman said...

Interesting that you don't think Brackett wrote the script. I've wondered about that too. I'm a big admirer of her work but the shooting script was unlike anything she'd written in a long career. I wonder if she wrote a script to give Altman a structure and then he and the actors played with it. He'd certainly worked that way many times.

Deb said...

I thought the movie was so-so. I guess because I read all of the Marlowe books before I ever saw Bogart in "The Big Sleep," I never thought Bogart's interpretation was sacrosanct, so was not bothered by Gould's interpretation so much as by what I thought was rather lazy storytelling.

The best part about TLG was Altman's use of various versions of the title song throughout the film--especially Jack Sheldon's.