The Long Goodbye by Vincent Canby

The Long Goodbye by Vincent Canby

18 novembre 1973. Philip Marlowe fait son retour sur le devant de la scène. Le passant cinéphile ne peut manquer ça, lui qui a vu toutes les incarnations du célèbre détective. Mais The Long Goodbye version Robert Altman risque fort de le surprendre.

Critique d’époque :

« If The Long Goodbye, Robert Altman’s updated film version of Raymond Chandler’s 1953 novel, turns out to be a national box‐office success following its hit engagement at the Trans‐Lux East Theater here, those of us who are the film’s partisans should be glad for Altman, its director, Leigh Brackett, who wrote the screenplay, and for Elliott Gould, its star who hasn’t had hit in time.

Yet that success may well give New York City’s film critics more clout than we necessarily deserve with producers an I distributers. Like everyone else, we deal, much of the time any ? in organized prejudices. It may also give movie ad men a distorted impression of their place in the creative process that occasionally results in a popular motion picture. I’m not saying this is true. I’m speculating.

The Long Goodbye takes a lot of liberties with the Chandler novel and especially with Philip Marlowe, Chandler’s seedy private eye played earlier on the screen in various shades of thin‐lipped tough‐guy by Humphrey Bogart (The Big Sleep), Dick Powell (Murder, My Sweet) and Robert Montgomery (Lady in The Lake).

It’s a thoroughly entertaining movie, very funny in spots but it’s not as satire that the movie works, even though it opens and closes with a nicely tinny arrancement of “Hooray for Hollywood », the sort of opening and closing credit music with which Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey like to frame their improvisations.

More disturbing about the film is that at a story point when conventional private eye movies should he setting everything straight, in exposition that may not be comprehensible to anyone who isn’t following the film with a score, The Long Goodbye erupts with violence and ends in a mood of moral confusion that sends you out of the theater wondering not what happened but why it did.

Actually, this is one of the most fascinating aspects of the film. Bogart and Powell would never have been allowed to do the sort of thing this Philip Marlowe does. And then you remember: Altman has had the nerve not only to update the Chandler novel, which, though published in the 1950’s, has its true roots in the thirties and forties, but also to cast Elliott Gould as Philip Marlowe. It sounds as crazy as Barbra Streisand’s playing Scarlett O’Hara.

I’ve no doubt that The Long Goodbye would still be a good film even if Gould were not in it, but Gould’s idiosyncracies, his public personality as well as his talent, help give shape to this film as much as they made Bergman’s “The Touch” seem even more ambiguous than need be.

Gould’s Philip Marlowe is a child of the sixties and seventies. His toughness, which is questionable, is not born of attempts to survive the Depression, but of an attempt to control feelings, which well could have been rayaged by growing up alternately committed and disappointed by the events of the last 10 years. He’s bright, hip, sardonic and, as someone says of him in the film, a born, loser.

Women don’t fall all over him. They tend to take advantage, not because they’re rapacious but because he still wants to believe there’s a bit of virtue left somewhere. Gould’s Philip Marlowe is perpetually affable.

He lives in an eccentric, run‐down eyrie, a curious multi‐dwelling‐unit habitat, a complex of outside walks and staircases on the side of a hill overlooking Los Angeles, in an apartment across a sort of footbridge from the apartment of a group of pretty, often nude sun‐worshippers and pill‐poppers. The girls do not hesitate to use him to buy their brownie mix at the supermarket at 3 A.M. His only companion is a large yellow cat, spoiled and perfidious, who abandons him halfway through the film without so much as a backward glance.

At this point you might suggest, correctly, that this hardly sounds like Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, at least the Philip Marlowe we have known on the screen, including the one played for laughs by James Garner in Marlowe, an adaptation of Chandler’s “The Little Sister ».

The Long Goodbye takes so many liberties that when it opened last spring in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Chicago, the critics were generally appalled and the public, for reasons no one is certain of, stayed away by the theaterful.

United Artists, the distributors, withdrew the film from release and searched their souls as well as the advertising campaign (designed to sell the film as a straight Philip Marlowe private eye melodrama), Gould’s reputation (has he been seen in too many flops ?), and the running time (was it too long ?).

When the panic subsided, it was decided not to cut the film but to release it in New York with a new ad campaign, designed by Mad Magazine artist Jack Davis, made up of cartoon figures that are supposed to stress the film’s high hilarity. The film opened here several weeks ago to excellent notices and excellent business, but why ?

Was it the new ad campaign ? I hope not, for it is misleading in that it makes the movie seem almost a parody. The good reviews have obviously helped, but are New York critics any wiser than those elsewhere in the country ? I’m not sure we are. Perhaps being aware of the sad reception given the film outside New York we wanted to like it, to be surprised at how good it really is. Did we over‐react ?

A second viewing of the film last week convinced me that we did not, and that, in lad, The Long Goodbye may be an even better movie than I first thought it was.

The story that Miss Brackett and Altman have freely rearranged from the novel has a few plot points that don’t make a great deal of sense when you think about them later, but they are not fatal implausibilities. Much more interesting are the moral questions the film touches on without ever talking about. The entire movie rests upon Marlowe’s feeling of responsibility toward a friend, a charming petty hood (Jim Bouton) who is accused of wife‐murder and whom Gould persists in thinking the best of even though he’s a courier for a local crime boss.

Gould’s Marlowe is a born loser but he is the only decent, functioning individual in a world otherwise inhabited exclusively by sadists, doublecrossers and failures, including a phony Hemingway sort of novelist (Sterling Hayden), the novelist’s slightly beatup but beautiful wife (Nina van Pallandt), a quack doctor (Henry Gibson), and a manic gangster (Mark Rydell) who, in the film’s roughest scene, smashes a Coke bottle in the face of his mistress. “If I can do that to someone I love », he says to make his point to Marlowe, “think what I can do to someone I hate ».

Altman’s achievement has been to make a tough, funny, hugely entertaining movie that acknowledges its Chandler origins without ever turning into an anachronism, a forties movie made in the seventies. It’s an original work, complex without being obscure, visually breathtaking without seeming to be inappropriately fancy. Vilmos Zsigmond, who was also Altman’s cameraman on McCabe and Mrs. Miller, does a lot of complicated things with reflections in glass, shots into the sun, or shots made with very little light at all, but they are very much part of the Southern California atmosphere of the film. They are the movie equivalents of the architecture of so many Los Angeles shopping centers, apartment houses, supper clubs and pubs. Often gaudy and vulgar and, sometimes, spectacularly beautiful. Sometimes the results are tactile. When Marlowe goes into his favorite neighborhood bar to pick up his telephone messages, you know immediately, without any special bit of business or line of dialogue, that the place is probably overly air‐conditioned by as much as 10 degrees« . Par Vincent Canby pour le New York Times.

Vincent Canby a vu par deux fois The Long Goodbye. Et considère qu’il se bonifie avec l’âge. Sarcastique et courageux, notamment pour avoir donné le rôle de Marlowe à l’iconoclaste Elliott Gould. Le journaliste loue la mise au goût du jour d’une histoire écrite dans les années 50 et se déroulant dans les années 40.


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2 réflexions sur « The Long Goodbye by Vincent Canby »

  1. Marc Lamouroux from the group Film Noir And More 2 : « It was a solid interpretation of Chandler’s work. Jim Bouton had a supporting role and was actually pretty good. I don’t know why he didn’t continue with acting, besides the short lived series Ball Four, which was loosely based on his iconic book of the same name ».

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