The Long Goodbye (1973, Robert Altman)

For this film-by-film look at the career of Arnold Schwarzenegger, I’ve been watching his movies in a random order and jotting down a few thoughts. The Schwarzenegger Says quotations are taken from Total Recall (2012), Arnie’s brilliantly bonkers autobiography.


Watched: 22 September 2019
Format: A DVD found in a great little shop called Music & Video Exchange in Greenwich, south-east London. Its basement of secondhand DVDs is an absolute treasure trove.
Seen before? Yes, when I was at university, though I didn’t remember much.

Review: Released the year before Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, The Long Goodbye is a similarly revisionist film-noir. It’s a movie that is aware of the genre’s clichés – a cynical private detective, a convoluted case, a parade of oddball characters – but it’s willing to subvert and mock as well as celebrate them. We’re in the modern day of 1973. Elliott Gould’s Philip Marlowe is a perma-smoking, sarcastic and drily laid-back private eye who becomes embroiled in at least two mysterious cases, neither of which he fully understands. Bad guys are searching for some missing money, while a writer’s wife is searching for her missing husband. The fact we all know that these two strands will eventually intertwine is part of the fun. There are also assorted diversions along the way such as a hungry cat, yoga-loving hippies, frustrated cops, the sinister manager of a dry-out clinic, and a recurring piece of lounge music. 

The film is directed by Robert Altman in his idiosyncratic style – a drifting camera, long lenses, slow zooms, low-level lighting, an unpolished sound mix, a mixture of toughness and humour. Like much of his work, the storytelling also veers from the sharp and vital to the loose and meandering. Meanwhile, the script – which is more or less based on  Raymond Chandler’s original story – is by Leigh Brackett. She was a woman with superb film-noir credentials, having co-written Howard Hawks’s The Big Sleep, a 1946 mystery film that brought new meaning to the word labyrinthine. (She also later wrote an early draft of The Empire Strikes Back.) Partly a satire, partly an exercise in style, and mostly an examination of existential angst, The Long Goodbye is a marvellously enjoyable experience. But where does Arnold Schwarzenegger come into it?

In 1973, he was a bodybuilder in the middle of a five-year reign as Mr Olympia, essentially making him the best bodybuilder in the world. But, ever ambitious, he was already keen on a movie career. The Long Goodbye was his second film, and in some ways it was a comedown. After the starring role in Hercules in New York (1969), here he’s simply an extra: a dialogue-less goon who hangs around in a gangster’s office. Arnie’s one scene is largely comedic. In an attempt to intimidate Marlowe, the gangster orders all of his henchmen to strip naked; the astonishingly ripped, pumped-up and moustachioed Arnie gets down to his briefs before the scene moves on.

Schwarzenegger Says: Nothing. Very oddly, Arnie fails to mention his uncredited cameo in his autobiography.

Eight tins of Courry Brand cat food out of 10

Next: Predator

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