In an effort to rejuvenate my thirst for film I have partaken on an ambitious endeavor. I have decided to compile my list of 100 favorite films, “rewatch” them, and write a brief review. I encourage you to follow along.
The Long Goodbye (Altman, 1973)
The Long Goodbye is Robert Altman’s farewell to Hollywood romance. It is the careful deconstruction of our heroes and villains, and a spotlight on the moral compass of cinema. How Altman does this is through an array of characters who are familiar, but never seem to have the answers. The main character, Philip Marlowe, played brilliantly by Elliot Gould, is, as every other adaptation of the character, a down on his luck private eye who finds himself in a strange situation. But, that is where the similarities end. You see, this Marlowe is not particularly clever, he isn’t classically handsome, he isn’t good with women, and he is constantly befuddled by what is happening around him. He is an average man, lacking the broad shoulders and strong chin of a hero, just trying to wriggle his way out of trouble, and in the end, his actions (I won’t spoil them) aren’t heroic, but rather, sad.
Marlowe is not the only romantic hero stripped of his Hollywood sheen. We also meet a character by the name of Roger Wade. To put it bluntly, Roger Wade is Ernest Hemingway if he had lived too long. His lies of conquest and strength are now abundantly transparent, and he is now reduced to a drunken coward. No scene is more evident of this than his confrontation with Dr. Verringer, played by the slight of stature, Henry Gibson. Verringer never backs down from Wade, knowing exactly who he is, and just as we believe Wade is going to force his will on Verringer, the small doctor slaps him. We suddenly see the lies, the manhood, and strength of Wade rush out of him. He is just an angry old man. He is not the romantic artist we so cherish.
This is not and indictment of old Hollywood, rather, it is a further romanticizing of it. It is an example of how far we had drifted from the Bogarts, Stanwycks, and Fondas. The gate operator, that several characters pass throughout the film, does impressions of all the old Hollywood stars, and the other characters either find him droll or downright irritating. Naturally, he is the only innocent character of the film, constantly being passed, and quickly forgotten by the jaded and corrupt. It is in this simple gesture that Altman suggests that we as an audience have become jaded, and perhaps the modern, sophisticated American cinema of the 70’s should stop a moment and reflect.
– James Merolla