Sunday, 8 December 2013

Blu-ray Review: The Long Goodbye

Robert Altman's take on Raymond Chandler's 1953 novel takes private investigator Philip Marlowe and moves him from 1949 to 1970s Hollywood. Health concious California is the setting for Rip Van Marlowe (Elliott Gould) whose character appears to have woken from a 20 year slumber to emerge as a chain-smoking stranger in a strange land. Marlowe's best friend Terry Lennox (Jim Bouton) has gone missing and the cops haul Marlowe in for questioning, telling him that Lennox's wife has been beaten to death. Enentually, Marlowe is released with the police now declaring Terry is dead, and the case is closed. Of course, Marlowe isn't put off that easily, and an encounter with local hood Marty Augustine (Mark Rydell) hardens his resolve to discover the truth; particularly as Marty reveals Lennox stole $355,000 from him and accusing Marlowe of knowing where the money is stashed. Add to this a juicy sidebar involving the elegant Eileen Wade (Nina Von Pallandt) and her hard-drinking husband Roger (Sterling Hayden) and you have an industrious plot containing some major diferences to Chandler's book.
Inevitably, many Chandler devotees did not take kindly to Leigh Brackett's screenplay, feeling too many liberties were taken, and certainly the ending is a major revision from its source, together with Roger Wade's demise, yet both scenes work beautifully, in my opinion.

Happily, time has been kind to Altman's film, now banishing the original negativity to emerge blinking in the bright sunlight of critical acclaim. Elliott Gould really does excel in the role he was born to play, and there's a fine supporting cast at work with the shocks and surprises that keep you glued to the screen: check out Mark Rydell as the truly nasty Augustine who figures in a shocking act of violence designed to show Marlowe that he#s not fooling around like some lightweight crook.
It's well past time that The Long Goodbye was treated to a feature-packed high definition outing and the Arrow Academy Blu-ray does the job beautifully. Image quality maintains the high standard output adopted by Arrow, and DOP Vilmos Szigmond provided detailed colour notes so the master could better match the original look intended from 1973. The result is a transfer with muted, desaturated colours and plenty of detail that will surely satisfy fans of this film.

On the extras front, the Channel Four documentary Robert Altman: Giggle And Give In is a 56 minute look at Altman and his work, which was screened on 17th July 1996 by Channel Four. Here, Alan Rudolph, Elliott Gould and Shelley Duvall hold forth, with the latter declaring Altman to be "the best at depicting Americana". 'Giggle' was shot around the time of the 'Kansas City' release, so there's a slice of proceedings given to this film, and also clips from other key works such as 'Three Women' and 'Come Back To The Five And Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean': how I would love to see this long-neglected classic hit Blu-ray in 2014!

Next up is the 53 minute Elliott Gould Discusses The Long Goodbye. This really is an absolute joy, as Gould reveals this to be his favourite role, and throws in many anecdotes (including a wonderful harmonica story) and recalls Altman's generosity - particularly with regard to actor's improvisation - recalling the Al Jolsen scene and that immortal line "I've seen all your movies". One feels a genuine sense of regret when this absorbing Q&A ends, and a word of thanks to Michael Connelly who is an excellent host, and who declares he watches The Long Goodbye once a year, acknowledging that it changed his life.
Vilmos Szigmond Flashes The Long Goodbye is next on the agenda, being a 14 minute interview with this great cinematographer. Szigmond has been in much demand recently with Blu-ray documentaries, and his talents add so much to Altman's film. Szigmond chats about Altman's value as a great director, about his use of the zoom lens, and shares memories of this film and of the great McCabe And Mrs Miller.

David Thompson On Robert Altman is a 21 minute interview with the writer and filmmaker which centres on Altman's work, describing the remarkable 'Images' as his European art movie; discusses how he mixes actors with real people playing themselves and how Altman felt liberated by his break from television to the big screen.

Raymond Chandler enters the spotlight next, as Tony Williamson (author of a book on Chandler) gives a 14 minute interview, explaining how Chandler discovered Pulp and his relationship with Billy Wilder, writing the screenplay for 'Double Indemnity'.

Finally, we have crime writer Max Jakubowski on Hard Boiled Fiction (14 min) where the names of Cornell Woolrich, Ed McBain and Jim Thompson crop up along the way. Devotees of The Long Goodbye will also be pleased by the inclusion of a trailer and a booklet containing new writing on the film, including a piece fro Brad Stevens (which I didn't receive a copy of).
Oh, and do check out a remarkable theory amongst these extras. it centres on the scene where Marlowe is knocked down chasing a car driven by Eileen Wade, possibly getting killed in the process. This puts a whole new spin on the ending, and is well worthy of your consideration.

The Lon g Goodbye is a Region B release, and comes out in the UK on 16th December. It's a tremendously satisfying package, and a worthy contender when the Best Blu's Of The Year lists are rolled out.

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