Review: 'The Long Goodbye' on Blu-ray a Superb Look at an Underrated Altman Movie

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday December 21, 2021

Review: 'The Long Goodbye' on Blu-ray a Superb Look at an Underrated Altman Movie

Robert Altman was one of the maverick filmmakers of the 1970s, along with Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, et. al. But he was a generation older, as he was working in TV for over a decade before his big break in 1970. Unlike a few of his '70s comrades, he was not overly concerned with box office. His films were groundbreaking on artistic and technical levels: "M*A*S*H," "McCabe and Mrs. Miller," and the seminal "Nashville" continue to influence new filmmakers, and that's just his work in the span of a few years.

Sandwiched in that period, he made what can arguably be called his first Hollywood satire, "The Long Goodbye," released in 1973, a film that was a reinvention of Raymond Chandler's classic detective Philip Marlowe as well as parodying '60s culture. Seen today, the film is bracing and subversive, so the fact that audiences and some critics had no clue what to make of it then is no surprise.

Altman loved to take a genre, blow it apart, and then pick at it, and "The Long Goodbye" is a perfect example. The film opens with a ginger cat leaping on a sleeping Marlowe (Elliott Gould) at an ungodly hour of the morning to alert him to the fact that the nameless cat is hungry. Marlowe, who enjoys mumbling to himself, must go out and find a specific kind of cat food, which he cannot locate, so he attempts to trick the cat. Not surprisingly, this doesn't work, and the cat storms out his little cat door, never to be seen again — a metaphor for the narrative that involves a gruesome murder, betrayal, a horrific assault, more murder and an accidental death... or was it?

Gould was coming off an Oscar nomination for Paul Mazursky's "Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice" and Altman's own surprise hit, "M*A*S*H." He graced the cover of Time magazine shortly after that, and then made "The Touch" with Ingmar Bergman, who labeled him difficult to work with, so he was having a bit of trouble securing his next role. Lucky for him, this film came along, since it's easily the best role of his career. Never has he been smarter, sexier, and allowed to flesh out a wonderfully bizarre, richly layered character. His Marlowe is tired but trusting, until he gets fed up.

The cracking screenplay by veteran Leigh Brackett ("The Big Sleep") simplifies certain things, but allows for denser subtexts.

But it's Altman's signature style (which he really cut his teeth on here) — the dollying and zooms, the overlapping dialogue — that allow this film to soar. His work with master cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond ("McCabe and Mrs. Miller," "Images") is extraordinary.

There are so many delights in this film, from Marlowe's being able to strike a match on anything to light his cigarette, to the security guard doing bad impressions (Barbara Stanwyck, James Stewart), to Mark Rydell's lunatic role as a Jewish crime boss, to the astonishing ending (still so today!).

And the title track, written by Johnny Mercer and John Williams (yes, that John Williams), is brilliantly used throughout the film in so many different forms it boggles the mind.

The Blu-ray 4K restoration looks fantastic. Zsigmond's gorgeous camerawork can be fully enjoyed. The audio is also on par.

The Extras on this Special Edition are a treat, especially a 24-minute feature from 2002, "Rip Van Marlowe," where Altman and Gould chat about all aspects of making the film. A conversation with Zsigmond is also a highlight as well, as is the super-informative audio commentary by film historian Tim Lucas, who tells us that one of the cats used was the actual Morris the Cat from the TV commercial.

"The Long Goodbye" is not just classic Altman, classic neo-Noir, and classic satire, it's one of the best and most underrated films of the 1970s.

Blu-ray Extras Include:

  • Brand New 4K Master

  • New Audio Commentary by Film Historian Tim Lucas

  • "Rip Van Marlowe": Featurette with Robert Altman and Elliott Gould

  • "Vilmos Zsigmond Flashes 'The Long Goodbye' ": Featurette

  • David Thompson on Robert Altman: Featurette

  • Tom Williams on Raymond Chandler: Featurette

  • Maxim Jakubowski on Hard Boiled Fiction: Featurette

  • American Cinematographer 1973 Article with Animation

  • "Trailers from Hell" with Josh Olson

  • Radio Spots

  • TV Spots

  • Two Theatrical Trailers

    "The Long Goodbye" is currently available on Blu-ray.

    Frank J. Avella is a film journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep and a Member of the New York Film Critics Online. Frank is a recipient of the International Writers Residency in Assisi, Italy, a Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, and a NJ State Arts Council Fellowship. His short film, FIG JAM, has shown in Festivals worldwide (figjamfilm.com) and won awards. His screenplays (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW) have also won numerous awards in 16 countries. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. https://filmfreeway.com/FrankAvella https://muckrack.com/fjaklute