While I'd seen the movie once many years ago and liked it all right, watching it this time I found it stunning and captivating. Instantly it vaulted near the top of my favorite '70s movies (hallowed ground for me). It’s damn near a masterpiece. As with most Altman movies, critics love to toss out the word "revisionist," since the movie reimagines the classic noir stylings in daytime and with a "sensitive liberal" type as the no-nonsense Marlowe.
Upon first release it was a bomb, so after a few months United Artists went back and redid the ad campaign, highlighting its absurdist and iconoclastic take on the Chandler hero, best illustrated by this new poster, by MAD magazine's Jack Davis.
A few of my favorite things: listen for the theme song (music by John Williams, lyric by Johnny Mercer, who of course wrote "Hooray for Hollywood") again and again, replicated throughout the movie as muzak in a supermarket, performed by a mariachi band in Mexico, tinkled in ivory by a desultory pianist in the bar where Marlowe gets his messages ("Why can't I get my messages in a bar?" I exclaimed to the lady watching with me. Forthcoming answer was unsatisfactory.) Watch for deceptively unthreatening gangster Marty Augustine, who wields a mean Coke bottle. Check out the beachfront party scene in which diminutive Henry Gibson (one of the Illinois Nazis from Blue Brothers that Belushi hated so much) terrifies the blustery Jack Daniel's-brandishing Hayden into paying him the $4,000 Hayden owes.
These might be the movie's best scenes, Hayden's character's home (Altman's own). Behind them the ocean beats an endless surf beyond the machinations of men and women. It literally traps Marlowe in it at one point; our mortal problems nothing to the might of the sea. A dog comes running with a cane, a sad postscript to suicide. One of Gould's best scenes is a convincing drunken diatribe against the useless cops that hound him. But this Marlowe is a chump, cut off at every turn, going with the flow ("It's okay with me," he cheerfully mutters over and over). We will come full circle, of course; the film's climax is welcome and satisfying. Hooray for Hollywood indeed!New York Times had an interview with him the other day, and he's doing his Q&A after Goodbye. Cool. Too bad many of the movies being shown are not on DVD. Not on DVD?! They still have that?