RARA-AVIS: The various incarnations of The Long Goodbye

From: Rick Helms (writerrickhelms@aol.com)
Date: 16 Sep 2010

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    Eric Chambers wrote, quoting Elliot Gould:

    "The Chandler estate is supporting it. Because I played Marlowe once, I have their approval to play him again. They regard The Long Goodbye as the only film that properly represents Chandler, aside from the original films with Humphrey Bogart."

    There is no such thing as 'the Chandler estate' any more, except in the possible form of superagent Ed Victor, who continues to profit from licensing pieces of the great man. There are no heirs to benefit from these sales, and so Chandler has become more a commodity than a benefactor. Cissy and Raymond had no children (she was way past childbearing age during the majority of their marriage). Helga Greene--Chandler's agent and eventual paramour--'inherited' the Chandler estate at his death, more by default than anything else, after a brief legal dispute with Jean Fracasse, who had served as Chandler's secretary.

    It is my understanding that Helga Greene lived until sometime in the early 1980s, and so would have been alive at the time Altman directed THE LONG GOODBYE. I have a hard time, however, imagining any circumstance in which she might have regarded Elliot Gould's portrayal (which he developed largely on his own, with Altman's blessing) as a 'proper representation' of Marlowe.

    Having just finished reading TLG, and having just finished watching the film, I suspect that Gould's ego may have run away with him a bit. Any resemblance between the book and movie is purely coincidental. There is no mention of Randy Starr or Menny Menendez. They are replaced by a comical character named Marty Augustine (Mark Rydell), whose motive regarding Terry Lennox bears no resemblance whatsoever to those of either Menendez or Starr in the book.

    Roger Wade (whom may be the most autobiographical character ever penned by Chandler) may be well-played by Sterling Hayden, but his character only vaguely shadows that of Chandler's Wade. About the only similarity between the two versions is the identity of the killer (no spoilers here). And where in hell is Candy? Probably one of the most memorable and honorable figures in the book, and he's completely missing in the film. So is Linda Loring, whom would eventually become Mrs. Marlowe in POODLE SPRINGS.

    Elliot Gould shambles through the picture with all the determination of a stoned surfer boy. His only response to anything is "Okay with me, lady... okay with me.", which was an improvisation that Altman allowed him to perpetuate. This is not the insightful, deductive Marlowe who so cleverly unmasks Senor Maioranos in the book. This Marlowe deduces facts by stumbling over them, rather than by making shrewd connections between seemingly unrelated events.

    Except for the fact that Marlowe himself refers to his age as 42 in the book, give me Robert Mitchum's taciturn, lonely, but very bright Marlowe in FAREWELL MY LOVELY any day of the week. How wonderful it would have been if Mitchum had made a faithful version of THE LONG GOODBYE sometime in the late 1960s. In fact, while watching the film, all I could think about was why someone hasn't done a remake in the almost forty years since it was released--perhaps one set in the correct timeline, and more closely following the original plot, which I regard as one of Chandler's greatest. For my money, THE LONG GOODBYE--as envisioned by Chandler--has it all over THE BIG SLEEP.

    What amazes me more than anything is that the two versions of Marlowe cited by Elliot Gould (his in THE LONG GOODBYE, and Bogie's in THE BIG SLEEP) were both written by Leigh Brackett (who also wrote one of my favorite westerns of all time, RIO BRAVO/EL DORADO). Brackett took very few of the liberties in THE BIG SLEEP that she did in THE LONG GOODBYE, and I can't help wondering whether this might be due to the fact that Chandler was still around to kick her ass when THE BIG SLEEP was made, and perhaps because of the influence of cowriting the earlier film with William Faulkner. I also suspect that much of her work on THE LONG GOODBYE more strongly represented Altman's vision than her own.

    Having said this, I should also note that I am an Elliot Gould fan. I like a great deal of his work over the years. In this case, though, due to the apparently weak-wristed direction by Robert Altman (who admits that he intended to deconstruct Marlowe as an iconic detective figure), Gould missed the 'real' Marlowe by a country mile.

    Gotta boogie. Things to write... R

    Richard Helms SIX MILE CREEK,a Judd Wheeler novel, from Five Star Mysteries

    THUNDER MOON, coming in June 2011! www.richardhelms.net

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