Release Date(s)1973 (December 7, 2021)
Studio(s)United Artists/MGM (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A+
Robert Altman had established himself as a maverick filmmaker by the time he found success on the big screen in his late 40s with M*A*S*H, followed by a string of the distinctly assorted titles Brewster McCloud, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, and Images. He would then continue that trend by adapting Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe novel The Long Goodbye. Now considered one of his best films, it turned the hard boiled private detective mystery milieu on its head, tossing out the usual genre trappings that were as old the 1920s in favor of character explorations and embellishments. As a result, an excellent entry into the genre was made, despite Altman doing things his own way (which happened often whenever he would tackle a particular genre).
Dealing with his finicky cat in the middle of night, private eye Philip Marlowe (Elliott Gould) is paid a visit by his friend Terry Lennox (Jim Bouton), who arrives with scratches on his face, asking Marlowe to drive him to the border so that he can cross into Tijauna. Asking no questions, Marlowe does just that. Arriving back home, Marlowe is promptly arrested and informed that he’s a possible accessory to the murder of Lennox’s wife. After a brief stint in lockup, he’s released, but continues to be hassled by local mobster Marty Augustine (Mark Rydell), who demands the money that Lennox took from him. Marlowe is also contacted by an Eileen Wade (Nina van Pallandt), who wants to hire Marlowe to find her husband, abusive alcoholic and famous writer Roger Wade (Sterling Hayden). As it turns out, Roger owes money to Dr. Verringer (Henry Gibson), who took him under his wing at his clinic in order to get sober, which Roger failed to do. Marlowe becomes entangled with them, but is preoccupied with who killed Terry Lennox.
Robert Altman’s distinctive style permeates The Long Goodbye, but the film would also be nothing without two very important factors: Elliott Gould and Vilmos Zsigmond. Gould is perfect as a softhearted, wise-ass PI who finds himself in a terrible situation that he must claw himself out of, despite nearly everyone, including the police and local gangsters, giving him constant grief at every turn. His low-speaking, sardonic manner, often in shabby clothes with five o’clock shadow and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, is a refreshing change from the hard-nosed, fedora-wearing, overcoat-clad private dick of the past. Zsigmond, who worked with Robert Altman often and would go on to shoot Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Deer Hunter, gave the film a visual personality all its own. Besides using specific filters and lenses, he and Altman also developed the idea of “flashing” the negative before and after shooting with it to manipulate the look of the film. As such, some scenes appear darker and brighter, the latter often with a glow.
I personally consider The Long Goodbye to be one of my favorite Altman films, even in my top five. Picking a favorite amongst such an assortment of delicious and entertaining films is difficult, as many film fans will attest, but Altman’s and Gould’s take on Philip Marlowe continues to not only entertain, but reveal more layers to it each and every time it’s viewed.
The Long Goodbye was shot by cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond using Panavision PSR R-200, Panavision Panaflex, and Arriflex 35 II cameras with Panavision C-Series AL Prime lenses, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Kino Lorber brings the film to Blu-ray for a second time utilizing a new master taken from a 4K scan of the film’s interpositive element. Because the film is filled with variable exposures due to Vilmos Zsigmond’s flashing technique, The Long Goodbye has a distinctive look to it, which Robert Altman described as having an “old postcard” feel. All of that said, this new presentation is a marked improvement over its predecessor. It’s much more crisp with excellent contrast thanks to a new color grade, which the film is extremely beneficial from. Grain and detail are tighter, allowing for higher levels of detail in day and nighttime scenes. The biggest controversy for some may be how dark the shadows are. Blacks are extremely deep in spots, but not always. One must remember that the film was carefully crafted by its cinematographer and director, meaning that not every shot is going to match from scene to scene, making this a film that’s likely been very difficult to release on home video. The previous Blu-ray was a bit too bright, which this release corrects, but crushes some of the detail. Scenes involving Marlowe attempting to rescue Roger Wade on the beach, as well as his final confrontation with Marty Augustine in his office, are extremely dark passages. They appear correct, at least to me, but without Zsigmond’s and Altman’s direct involvement with the grade, who knows 100% for sure how accurate it is. In any case, the color palette is lush otherwise. The bar room scene in which Marlowe calls Mrs. Wade for the first time is a much darker red than before. The aspect ratio is also slightly more narrow, but the overall presentation is clean and stable, with hardly a speck of damage in sight. In this reviewer’s opinion, this presentation is amazing, and a major improvement over previous releases.
Audio is included in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English. The track offers excellent support for score and dialogue, with sound effects that have plenty of push within the limited space. It’s a clean and problem-free track.
The Blu-ray disc of The Long Goodbye sits inside a blue amaray case featuring double-sided artwork, which includes a variation on one of the film’s theatrical posters on the front and another one of the film’s posters on the reverse. Everything is housed within a slipcover featuring the same artwork on the front of the insert. The following extras are included on the disc:
- Audio Commentary by Tim Lucas
- Rip Van Marlowe (SD – 24:34)
- Vilmos Zsigmond Flashes The Long Goodbye (SD – 14:24)
- David Thompson on Robert Altman (HD – 21:03)
- Tom Williams on Raymond Chandler (HD – 14:28)
- Maxim Jakubowski on Hard Boiled Fiction ()
- American Cinematographer 1973 Article (HD – 47 in all)
- Trailers from Hell with Josh Olson (HD – 2:42)
- Radio Spots (HD – 3:25)
- TV Spot (HD – :31)
- Trailer #1 (HD – 2:32)
- Trailer #2 (HD – 2:51)
- Busting Trailer (SD – 2:45)
- The Silent Partner Trailer (SD – 1:55)
- Winter Kills Trailer (SD – 3:20)
Author and critic Tim Lucas offers a new audio commentary, providing a detailed analysis of the film, but also examining the film’s cast and crew. As always, his tracks are must-listens. Rip Van Marlowe features vintage interviews with Robert Altman and Elliott Gould from the film’s original DVD release, telling their sides of the making of the film separately. Vilmos Zsigmond Flashes The Long Goodbye is from the same era and includes an interview with the cinematographer about his relationship with Robert Altman and his work on the film. Documentary filmmaker and writer David Thompson, who worked on the book Altman on Altman, details the state of Robert Altman’s career around the time of the release of The Long Goodbye and talks about facets of the production. The audio for this interview is bit wobbly, but after a few minutes you get used to it. In the interview with Tom Williams, who is the author of A Mysterious Something in the Light: Raymond Chandler: A Life, he talks about the titular writer, his work, and adaptations of it. Writer and critic Maxim Jakubowski then proceeds to briefly cover the history of the hard boiled detective genre. Next is a recreation of an American Cinematographer article from 1973 on Vilmos Zsigmond and his work creating the look of the film. There’s also a Trailers from Hell commentary from Josh Olson, three radio spots, a TV spot, two trailers for the film, and three trailers for other Kino Lorber releases related to Elliott Gould and Vilmos Zsigmond.
Kino Lorber ups the ante of their previous Blu-ray edition of The Long Goodbye with a much better presentation of the film and a hefty and wholly satisfying set of bonus materials. Altman fans will want to pick this up right away, as will film fans as it’s a true gem. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons