It’s always weird to see Elliot Gould in a serious role. To think that prior to being known to my generation as Jack Geller in Friends he was making films like MASH and The Long Goodbye. It’s also a trip to re-discover that he was once married to Barbra Streisand. The things you learn when listening to cinema history podcasts.
If the name Philip Marlowe, the protagonist of The Long Goodbye, rings any bells it’s because he is a character that has appeared in many films over the years. He is the hero of a number of pulp novels by Raymond Chandler and has been played by a number of actors including Robert Mitchum, Toby Stevens and Humphrey Bogart (in The Big Sleep).
As with The Big Sleep I had some degree of trouble with the pacing of The Long Goodbye. It goes for something that is complex, but does it in such a languid way that everyone feels like they’re either on drugs of succumbing to the California heat. Unlike The Big Sleep it was easier to understand the twists and turns of the storyline. It’s just that by the time you get to the end you wonder why you ever cared.
Then again, I wonder if that’s the point. After being given the runaround for a number of weeks Marlowe just seems mildly annoyed at the conclusion and is just happy to put an end to this case. I don’t blame him either and can completely get on board with him playing his harmonica in a carefree fashion after just killing someone.
One thing that The Long Goodbye does better than The Big Sleep is the character of Marlowe. Gould’s portrayal feels more rounded and realistic, which is mostly because of the first ten minutes where we see him doting on his cat who is very choosy about the brand of cat food they’ll eat. Also, Gould’s interaction felt more naturalistic and less ‘acted’ than Bogart’s… I guess I’m saying that I feel this is the superior performance.
However, one thing I did miss was a truly memorable secondary female character performance. There’s no Lauren Bacall or Martha Vickers here, just some cookie cutter tropes of women (and not many of them at that). It did deliver a good male secondary character in the form of a security guard who delights in impersonating stars of old Hollywood.
It’s an okay film, just not something I’d watch again… or really recommend.