Philip Marlow in The Long Goodbye

Essay by ladderman301University, Master'sA+, November 2004

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Right from the opening sequence in The Long Goodbye, the viewer sees that this is not your typical detective film. Marlowe (Elliott Gould) wakes up in his clothes, with his cat scratching at his face. What director Robert Altman has done, is to take the Marlowe character from the 1940s and dropped this laid-back, super-cool character, almost unchanged, into the frothy, hippy, pot-smoking Los Angeles of the 1970s. This Marlowe is like a swimming bird, he's there, but out of his element. He basically exists in a world of his own, where he lets things happen around him.

Philip Marlowe has traditionally been played by such tough guy icons as Bob Mitchum and Humphrey Bogart, who limned a portrait of a laconic, wisecracking, tough guy. Elliot Gould kept to the wisecracks, but did not deliver them in a hard boiled manner, instead he mumbled, leaving many lines to the viewers' imagination.

This Marlowe does get involved, briefly at the films ending, but never seems to be in the center. Most of the time, this is the story of a stranger in an alien landscape, who is whirling on the periphery of events. He gets drawn in, but then pushed right back out.

The music in this film is brilliant, yet simple. The theme for The Long Goodbye is played at various tempos and in various tunes depending on the mood of the film. First, Altman features a jazz-blues version of The Long Goodbye to familiarize the audience with the tune, then goes on to play a mariachi version when at the Mexican border, then plays a fast version when chasing a car, then even plays a slow marching version while a funeral passes by.

Throughout the film, Altman's camera is constantly in motion, symbolizing that people are...