For, Nov. 21, 2014

When Raymond Chandler's novel "The Long Goodbye," his sixth featuring the wise-guy detective Philip Marlowe, was adapted for the movies, it switched settings from 1940s Los Angeles to 1970s Hollywood — which, when it was made, became a modern-day setting.

But that's the least of it.

"The Long Goodbye" (1973, R) is a Robert Altman film when the director was riding high after "MASH" and could get a major studio (United Artists in this case) to finance films that were his own personal brand of quirky, visually and aurally.

But in this case, he also allows his screenwriter (Leigh Brackett, who also wrote the Bogart version of "The Big Sleep"!) to deviate wildly from Chandler's plot and undermines Marlowe's ethics in a climactic move that is very Seventies Dark and anti-Raymond Chandler.

In some ways, Altman's "The Long Goodbye" is a satire of the genre, with Elliott Gould's Marlowe chainsmoking in a health-conscious environment and with other anachronisms that seem to make him a sort of Rip Van Winkle — he's in his mid-30s in the 1970s but seems to be right out of the 1940s.


The convoluted plot has Marlowe giving a friend a ride to Tijuana, unaware that the friend is accused of killing his wife. The police close the case after learning that Marlowe's friend has committed suicide in Mexico and Marlowe moves on to another case. But that case and nagging doubts bring him back to his old friend as he tries to solve a puzzle with pieces that don't seem to fit.

As an Altman film, "The Long Goodbye" is certainly worth a look for fans of his work, or of Gould's, who is very good here. Intermittently fascinating on several levels, it's that ending that really undoes much of what has gone before. But as a riff on the genre it has some merit. (Co-stars include Nina van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden, Henry Gibson, and in uncredited bit parts early in their careers, David Carradine and Arnold Schwarzenegger.)

"The Long Goodbye" has been out of print for a dozen years but now has been given a new life with a Blu-ray upgrade by Kino Lorber.