Robert Altmans The Long Goodbye As A Genre Revisionist Film

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"Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye attempts to do a very interesting thing. It tries to be all genre and no story… It makes no serious effort to reproduce the Raymond Chandler detective novel… it just takes all the characters out of that novel and lets them stew together in something that feels like a private-eye movie."

The period of American cinema between 1965 and 1975 produced many films that almost completely restructured classical Hollywood’s accepted genre conventions. A fine example of this would be Robert Altman's iconoclastic take on Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe in The Long Goodbye (1973), a detective film based on the final book in Chandler’s Philip Marlowe series. Altman, who is known for turning around traditional genre conventions, revises and reinvents the film-noir style made popular by Dick Powell in Murder, My Sweet (1944), Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep (1946), and Robert Montgomery in Lady in the Lake (1947). The actors and the films in the 1940’s film-noir period conformed to genre conventions, and it wasn’t until Robert Altman directed Elliot Gould’s Philip Marlowe in The Long Goodbye that the detective genre had changed.
It is very interesting to note how the conventions of 1940’s hardboiled private eye fiction translate into the 1970’s. The low-rent drabness of the genre loses much of its allure. The dark shadows and long nights of urban Los Angeles become the bright lights and warm sunshine of Malibu beaches. The detective’s normally snappy dialogue turns into joking asides. Marlowe’s hardboiled narration becomes the self-conscious mutterings of a lonely man talking to himself. The romantic myth of a man set apart from the city is turned on its head as a pathetic man living alone with his cat.
Elliot Gould plays private investigator Philip Marlowe, who uses his smart-aleck detachment carried along by a natural wave of 1970’s California that Altman exercises for both humour and social commentary. Rich drunks, drugged out youth, multicultural gangsters in touch with their heritage and their feelings, people more than willing to use their friends, all indicate a self-obsessed society, a force as relevant in the 1970’s as the ever-present title song.
Originally, Hollywood backed Altman, the eccentric director of M.A.S.H and Nashville, in the hopes that a gritty detective film would cash-in on the...

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...grab glimpses of the character's true nature. In The Long Goodbye, these foreground strokes, intended to lay a foundation for audience sympathy with the lead character, are made as prominent as the climax, as well as the end. This is because Marlowe wanders through the action of the film meeting and reacquainting himself with unrelated characters, such as the gatekeeper-impressionist in Terry Lennox’s neighbourhood, and the grocery store clerk, who Marlowe meets again in prison.
The time between The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye signifies a significant evolution of American, or at least Hollywood, culture, from the country's post-WWII optimism to the alarm of Vietnam. The character of Marlowe, it appears, has one foot in each book-end of history.


Kagan, Norman. American skeptic: Robert Altman's genre-commentary films. Ann Arbor, Mich., Pieran P. 1982.

Karp, Alan. The Films of Robert Altman. Metuchen, N.J., Scarecrow P. 1981.

McGilligan, Patrick. Robert Altman: jumping off the cliff; a biography of the great American director. New York, St. Martin's P. 1989.

Wexman,Virginia Wright. Robert Altman; a guide to references and resources. Boston, Mass, Hall. P. 1984.

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