CFS to screen ‘The Long Goodbye’

Heather West

Just as the book “The Long Goodbye” ranks among the best works of mystery writer Raymond Chandler, the 1973 film of that book is a monument to the creative genius of its director, Robert Altman.

The story features Philip Marlowe (Elliot Gould), a private detective who finds himself drawn into a web of upper-class crime.

While Altman determined the film’s overall style and structure, he also drew from the talents of screenwriter Leigh Brackett and composer John Williams, a pair that would later collaborate on George Lucas’ “The Empire Strikes Back.”

Like anyone who undertakes an adaptation, Altman had to make a crucial decision.

He could stay true to Chandler’s 1950 vision, or he could reinterpret it for a later generation.

The first option meant placing a cold, matter-of-fact hero into a world of passionate crimes, and the second meant giving him a passion strong enough to combat those crimes.

The conflict between these two roads is evident in Altman’s version of the story.

On the one hand, Marlowe is still the hard-boiled gumshoe facing promiscuity, deception, betrayal and death with an attitude that can best be described as casual suspense.

But on the other hand, Altman’s detective is more emotionally involved in the plot than the literary Marlowe ever was – a fact that makes him susceptible to the events around him.

In the film, Marlowe is less symbolic than the white knight Chandler envisioned but a lot more realistic.

Ultimately, the ending that Altman chose for Marlowe, which differs sharply from the original, would not have been possible with Chandler’s original character.

Altman’s transformation was necessary.

It was also unpopular. At the film’s theatrical release, Altman was criticized for taking liberties with the story; literary purists saw the adaptation as a denial of Chandler’s clean-cut, black-and-white tradition.

It was only years later that critics started to view “The Long Goodbye” not as a poor carbon copy of the novel but as an innovative twist in an already innovative genre.

In a 2002 interview with MGM, Altman explained his approach to the film saying, “I really think we did what we set out to do. It was a reinvention of Phillip Marlowe.”

“The Long Goodbye” is considered one of the highlights of Altman’s career, a career that ended with his death in November 2006.

The third offering in Villanova’s Cultural Film & Lecture Series, “In Memoriam,” “The Long Goodbye” will be shown four times in the Connelly Cinema: Saturday at 7 p.m., Sunday at 3:30 and 7 p.m. and Monday at 7 p.m.

Admission is free for students and $5 for all others.

The Monday showing only will feature John O’Leary, the CFS director.

For more information, contact the communication department at x9-4454 on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., or consult the CFS Web site: