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Long Goodbye, The

When Robert Altman’s film of Raymond Chandler’s novel was released, purists claimed it betrayed its source. Over the years, however, those who consider it not only a marvellously witty commentary on hard-boiled fiction (literary and cinematic), but a superb piece of work in its own right, have grown in number, so that it is now widely regarded as one of the great American movies of the modern era.
True, it takes a few poetic but very appropriate liberties. By updating the story to ’70s L.A., Altman and screenwriter Leigh Brackett who also adapted Chandler’s The Big Sleep for Howard Hawks turn private eye Marlowe (Elliott Gould in his finest performance) into a shambling, deceptively laid-back anachronism, his clothes, car, cat obsession and, most importantly, his moral values at odds with those of the society in which he lives: despite his insistence that it’s okay with me, he cares, about people and principles, which is more than can be said of the people he encounters while searching for a missing novelist and fending off police suspicions that he’s somehow involved in the murder of his friend’s wife.
Reflecting changes not only in American society but in what we expect from the heroes and villains of crime fiction, the film is packed with pithy allusions and gags, great performances (Sterling Hayden and Mark Rydell stand out as the alcoholic author and a ruthless gangster), and wondrously memorable images, courtesy of Vilmos Zsigmond’s constantly prowling ‘Scope’ camerawork. Amply repaying repeated viewings, it’s a masterpiece that, like its hero, refuses to grow old.

U.S.A., 1973.
Colour.
Panavision anamorphic.
113 mins.

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