Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Long Goodbye and Leigh Brackett: A non-Bouchercon, non-international post

And I mean Robert Altman's 1973 movie, not Raymond Chandler's 1953 novel, on which it was based.

1) Jim Bouton, who plays Terry Lennox, is a better writer than actor. He was also a better baseball player.

2) That comment notwithstanding, none of the actors was awful. Altman let no one in the large cast dominate the movie, either, though Sterling Hayden gave a sometimes enjoyable over-the-top performance as the drunken writer Roger Wade.

3) But the real reason for this post is that, as much as the movie makes me want to reread Chandler's novel, it really makes me want to read some Leigh Brackett. You'll get no plot spoilers here, but every significant departure from the novel, with the possible exception of the movie's 1970s setting, seems due to the writing, and that was Brackett's job.

Brackett was familiar with the formidable task of adapting Chandler to the screen; Howard Hawks hired her to co-write his screen adaptation of The Big Sleep. She also wrote science fiction and westerns in addition to crime, and her screenplays include Hawks' Rio Bravo, Hatari!, Man's Favorite Sport, El Dorado and Rio Lobo — and The Empire Strikes Back.

OK, Brackettologists, where should I start my Leigh Brackett reading? (I've got a head start on the viewing already.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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21 Comments:

Blogger Paul D. Brazill said...

What a good post. I'll be keeping an eye of this one since Brackett is clearly a hell of a writer.

September 29, 2010  
Blogger Fred said...

One of her novels that I read was _The Long Tomorrow_, a post-holocaust. Only small rural communities had survived the war, consequently large urban areas and any advanced learning were outlawed. Aside from this, I read only her shorter works that appeared in the SF magazines and short story collections.

Brackett's first novel, _No Good from a Corpse_, apparently a mystery novel in the tradition of Raymond Chandler, led to the job of screenwriting for _The Big Sleep_.

September 29, 2010  
Blogger August West said...

I never cared for the film and I've always wondered why it got so many rave reviews. Gould's performance as an up-to-date Marlowe was terrible. But Brackett's screenplay is very good and I've always enjoyed her mystery writings. For me two reach the head of the class, the novel "No Good From A Corpse" and the short story "I Feel Bad Killing You"

September 29, 2010  
Blogger Dana King said...

I saw THE LONG GOODBYE a few years ago for the first time and was horrified. I understand movies are different from the books they represent; they have to be. It's a completely different storytelling medium. The problem here was the changes she made to Marlowe were so antithetical to his character (the diffidence, and, especially, killing Terry Lennox at the end, which invalidates everything else Marlowe did) that she and Altman would have done better to do what the Coen Brothers did with THE BIG SLEEP when they made THE BIG LEBOWSKI, just grab a few ideas and run with it.

September 29, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Paul, I'm getting a nice range of opinions on this, which I take as a tribute to Leigh Brackett. I'm clearly more sympathetic to her handling of this script than your fellow commenter Dana is. That's because Brackett seemed to have had a clear idea about the film, and not just fuzzy thoughts of "updating" Marlowe. Whatever one may think of the changes she made to the novel, the script is coherent.

September 29, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Fred, Bill Pronzini called No Good From a Corpse "so Chandleresque in style and approach it might have been written by Chandler himself." That's a fascinating comment considering her later judgment about The Long Goodbye and the changes she made when she wrote the script to Altman's movie. This suggests she may not have been among that group that considers The Long Goodbye Chandler's best work.

September 29, 2010  
Blogger Bill Crider said...

Lordy, lordy. The controversy over that movie has raged for years on rara-avis, the hardboiled yahoogroup. In fact, only recently there have been a lot of posts about it.

As for reading Brackett, NO GOOD FROM A CORPSE is a good place to begin, but if you want some great SF instead of crime, you might like her books about Eric John Stark. Good hardboiled stuff.

September 29, 2010  
Blogger Fred said...

Peter,

Guess I should look it up then. Haven't read a good "Chandler" novel in some time now.

September 29, 2010  
Blogger Fred said...

Speaking of Chandler, I just watched part of "Lady in the Lake" last night.

Couldn't watch more than 10 or 15 minutes of it, it was so bad. It was the Robert Montgomery version, where the camera takes the place of Marlowe.

September 29, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

August, did the movie really get rave reviews? I had read that it was poorly received at screenings and pulled back from general release for six months because of this.

It's interesting that one can dislike a movie but appreciate the writing. I say that whatever one thinks of what Leigh Brackett did to Chandler's original, she seems to have done it with a plan in mind. Her script was no mere pastiche of updates.

I'd say aspects of Gould's performance were annoying rather than terrible, the opening sequence with Marlowe and his cat, for instance. I was also no great fan of those self-referential lines with the cops, either, the ones that begin "Is this the part where I'm supposed to ... " But I thought Gould did he did a decent job playing a tired almost-loser, which is what the character is supposed to be. What one thinks of portraying Marlowe this way is another matter, of course.

Thanks for the reading suggestions, and thanks for the comment.

September 29, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Paul, have you seen The Long Goodbye or read any Leigh Brackett? I’m assuming you’ve seen some of the movies for which she wrote the screenplays.

September 29, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Fred, I lasted more than fifteen minutes with Lady in the Lake, but I agree that its particular gimmick has not dated well. I should do a post one day on updates that work and others that don’t.

September 29, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I’ve read Chandler’s short stories more recently than his novels. “Nevada Gas” and “No Crime in the Mountains” stick out.

September 29, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, I'd agree that Brackett and Altman's "Long Goodbye" is not Chandler's. But for me, it was a more or less coherent work -- on first viewing, at lease. It was anything but a clever pastiche, along Coen brothers lines. (I haven't seen "The Big Lebowski," which its partisans swear by, so my comment is based on their other movies.)

September 29, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Bill, I’d like to look in those discussions some time. I’m guessing that those who hate the Brackett/Altman adaptation throw around words like “desecration.”

Why had earlier producers stayed away from The Long Goodbye? And did the movie spark the small revival of moviemakers’ interest in Chandler that included Robert Mitchum’s versions of Farewell My Lovely and The Big Sleep?

(I guess we have the recently deceased Elliott Kastnerto thank for all three movies. A comparison of the updates would make for fruitful comparison between the useful but cosmetic changes in Farewell My Lovely and The Big Sleep and the radical reworking of The Long Goodbye.)

September 29, 2010  
Blogger Paul D. Brazill said...

Peter, I saw The Long Goodbye in the early eighties. A couple of times. Those were the days when BBC2 on Sunday nights showed some weird and wonderful films. I loved it at the time but haven't seen it since then. I'm sure it's not for purists but it's an apples and oranges thing.

Altman is a fairly sloppy filmaker and sometimes I like his stuff and sometimees I don't. I agree with Dana about Lebowski.

I really like Brackett's films. I still love The Big Sleep & the Hawks films. 'Empire ' is the only Star Wars film that I've seen and I liked it.

September 29, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Paul:

Wow, you are a real Brackettologist.

I'm no student of Altman's work, but I did note his deft management of a fairly large ensemble cast, which was one of his hallmarks. No one ran away with The Long Goodbye, though Sterling Hayden appeared to try more than once.

September 29, 2010  
Blogger Fred said...

Peter,

You have a greater amount of tolerance than I do.

I also found the acting to be incredibly stiff. They seemed to be reading their lines off the script. I wonder if responding to the camera affected them. It certainly didn't sound to me as though they were involved in human interaction.

September 29, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Fred, I can't disagree with you impression of the acting, though I reach a different conclusion. It was low-key, all right, especially noticeable in Elliott Gould's performance. And the guy who played Marty Augustine was pretty restrained for a sociopath, wasn't he? But maybe I just oprefer a lower-pitched style of acting than you do. One thing is sure: I preferred this style to the mugging in Harper.

September 29, 2010  
Blogger Fred said...

Peter,

Sorry, I wasn't clear, I guess. I was referring to Robert Montgomery's version of _Lady in the Lake_.

I have also seen Gould in _The Long Sleep_ and wasn't that happy with it either, but I do consider it superior to Montgomery's _LitL_.

September 29, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Aha. Well, an exercise in style like "The Lady in the Lake" is bound to be stiff and self-conscious, I think.

September 29, 2010  

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