Director Robert Altman offended the fans of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe character by completely subverting the role here. Elliott Gould plays the usually hard-boiled detective as something of a well-meaning bumbler, and while it may not be Chandler, it is a moody and entertaining film. The film is set in Los Angeles where Gould's troubles begin when he gives his friend, Bouton (a former baseball pitcher) a ride to Tijuana. Upon his return, he learns that Bouton is wanted by police for the brutal murder of his wife. Convinced of his friend's innocence, Gould begins his own investigation of the crime. His inquiry first leads him to the beautiful Van Pallandt, with whom Bouton was having an affair. Her husband, Hayden, is a once-successful author who is suffering a severe case of writer's block, which has turned him into an alcohlic. Somewhat batty and insanely jealous regarding his wife, Hayden becomes Gould's prime suspect in the killing. Fueling his suspicion is the bizarre relationship Hayden has with the sinister Gibson, an alleged psycholigist who has been treating him. The case is complicated further by vicious hood Rydell, to whom Boulton owed a large amount of cash. Rydell is certain Gould has the cash and goes to great lengths to show the detective he better fork it over if he does have it. As Gould sifts through the clues, he is sure he has solved the case--but his instincts are wrong, and the trail leads to a suprising and somewhat improbable conclusion.
Certainly Gould shatters the Marlowe mold in this film, playing the detective as a wise-cracking, disheveled eccentric, much the same character he portrayed in other Altman films, M*A*S*H (1970) and CALIFORNIA SPLIT (1974). From that viewpoint, Chandler's fans had reason to be upset, but Altman's approach to the film noir crime drama is not without its good points. Gould's persona is an amusing counterpoint to the traditional tough-guy detective who always knew exactly what to say and do and who never ran across a situation he couldn't handle. Gould's Marlowe is an often bewildered investigator, who nevertheless maintains the character's strong sense of morality in the midst of a cruel world. Gould gets admirable support from the volcanic Hayden, who superbly conveys a character rendered impotent by the loss of his talent. Also notable is Gibson, whose work for Altman in
this film and NASHVILLE (1975) revealed an acting talent that sadly was never put to use by other filmmakers. Rydell, who had directed such films as THE REIVERS (1969) and THE COWBOYS (1972) and would go on to direct ON GOLDEN POND (1981), is chilling as the brutal Augustine. The scene in which, to show Marlowe he means business, he smashes a Coke bottle across the face of his girl friend (Brody) is startling in its violence and thoroughly depicts the character's ruthlessness. Altman's penchant for offbeat casting is in evidence with appearances of Van Pallandt and Bouton. Van Pallandt achieved much notoriety at the time as the mistress of Clifford Irving, whose faked biography of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes had landed him in prison. This was her screen debut, and she had a limited career with appearances in other Altman films such A WEDDING (1978) and QUINTET (1979), as
well as AMERICAN GIGOLO (1980). As for Bouton, he had offended the baseball establishment with his bawdy biography Ball Four, and his brief appearance here showed his acting abilities were decidedly slim, which explains why this was his only film appearance. Look for Arnold Schwarzenegger in a small role as one of Rydell's hoods. Billed as Arnold Strong, he had made his film debut in HERCULES IN NEW YORK in 1970; this was his second film. In his next film, STAY HUNGRY (1976), he would begin using his real name.
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- Released: 1973
- Rating: R
- Review: Director Robert Altman offended the fans of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe character by completely subverting the role here. Elliott Gould plays the usually hard-boiled detective as something of a well-meaning bumbler, and while it may not be Chandler,… (more)