The Long Goodbye: Special Edition on Blu-ray – The DVDfever Review

long goodbye

The Long Goodbye stars Elliott Gould (below) in his first and only film role as Detective Phillip Marlowe. He’s hard-drinking, hard-smoking and hard-womanising, and he’s the coolest mo-fo around.

In fact, I think the only time he’s NOT smoking is when he’s asleep at the start!

His friend Terry (Jim Bouton) asks for a lift to Tijuana to get away from his wife, but before long, the cops are knocking on Marlowe’s door because Terry turns up dead by suicide and they think he also murdered his wife before skipping town, which makes the detective look like an accidental accessory. Knowing his friend better than them, Marlowe seriously doubts Terry topped himself, and certainly didn’t bump off the missus.

There’s also another case thrown into the mix of a missing writer.

While I enjoyed the occasional moment when even minor tertiary characters get a good bit of banter going between them, I started off enjoying The Long Goodbye with its slow pace, but I expected it to pick up before too long… and it never really did.

Gould equips himself well in the role of Marlowe, so it’s a shame he didn’t get another crack at playing the private detective because this film is, ultimately, overlong and drags in a fair number of places, meandering from scene to scene when it could’ve got to the point more succinctly.


The film is presented in the original 2.35:1 widescreen ratio and in 1080p high defintion, but there are some scenes where the print has a grainy haze across it. It certainly evokes the feel of its period with the soft-focus tones. The Long Goodbye features Altman’s trademark use of zooming slowly in and out of scenes, which is interesting to witness.

I noticed a sort-of white splodge which appears on the top-middle of the Blu-ray around 74 minutes into the film. It lasts for around 40 seconds and I thought initially it was part of the mastering of the disc rather than the original print, but it turns out that was not the case.

Thanks very much to Michael Brooke who was involved in the mastering of the disc, who confirmed that the most likely reason is that “the blemish was caused by a bit of dirt ending up in the optical printer when the dissolve was created between the two shots during the film’s original post-production back in late 1972. The printer would have been working from the negative, hence a black mark ending up as white in the final print.

In such situations, you basically have three choices:

  • 1. Try to get hold of the original shots before the dissolve was created, and do it again more carefully;
  • 2. Try to paint it out digitally;
  • 3. Accept that it’s what Robert Altman signed off on, and leave it alone.

(1) is almost invariably going to be impossible, especially where major studio films are concerned. Even if the original negative elements still survive (not necessarily a given), it’s wildly unlikely that a small indie label in a foreign country is going to be granted access to them – and even if they were, it would be an expensive, logistically demanding process as you’d have to dig the footage out of the vault (or, more likely, pay someone else to do so), identify the precise shots, scan them, recreate the dissolve, and drop the end result seamlessly into the master – which would inevitably involve the expense of creating a fresh master.

(2) is notionally possible, but was ruled out in this case because of the nature of the blemish – it appears over grainy footage taken by a constantly moving camera. In other words, for 35 seconds (roughly 840 frames) you’d have to remove the blemish digitally in such a way as to ensure that the grain structure remains convincing. This is theoretically achievable, but it’s a huge and inevitably expensive job, with the strong risk that the end result might look worse.

In which case, (3) is the least worst option, provided that you are indeed certain that the blemish has always been there. In this case, it’s definitely present in the 2003 DVD and the 2012 French Blu-ray (which already confirms that it’s inherent in the 35mm printing materials, since the DVD and BDs were sourced from different masters), and a friend of mine swears that he also saw it in a 35mm print, because he remembered wondering how it got there,since most print blemishes don’t remain in the same place like that for a sustained length of time). So that’s what we went with, and I’m satisfied that what’s on Arrow’s Blu-ray matches what was first released in 1973.”

Also, when it comes to the grainy haze I referred to, Michael adds, referring to the American Cinematographer article in the accompanying booklet, that it’s down to: “Zsigmond’s daringly risky “flashing” technique, described in detail in the article, is responsible for the hazy look. It’s risky, because once you’ve pre-exposed the negative to a certain amount of light prior to shooting, there’s no way of reversing the process, but that was what he and Robert Altman wanted – not least because it meant that United Artists couldn’t have produced a normal-looking print even if they’d fired Altman and Zsigmond during post-production and taken over the project themselves! Basically, Altman and Zsigmond wanted the film to be obviously set in early 1970s L.A. but have a much hazier, timeless feel – and it’s also a deliberate inversion of the classic film noir approach: those films are almost invariably high-contrast as a key part of the overall look, while ‘The Long Goodbye’ is decidedly (and deliberately) low-contrast.”

For the record, I’m watching on a Panasonic 50″ Plasma TV with a Samsung BD-P1500 Blu-ray player.

The sound is in mono and has no issues, but is purely used for dialogue and nothing out of the ordinary.

The extras on this disc are as follows – most of which are in HD, too. Sadly, none are subtitled:

  • Rip Van Marlowe (24:35): A documentary originally made in 2002 to accompany the DVD. Before you start it, the disc tells you about a detail misremembered by Robert Altman.

    The title of this extra relates to how Elliot Gould’s character looks, at the start, like he’s just woken up after a 20-year sleep and then just wanders about through the film. There’s also chat from Gould regarding his time on the film, as well as reference to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s uncredited appearance (below) as one of Augustine’s muscle men in his office.

  • Robert Altman: Giggle and Give In (56:32): A documentary about Altman by Paul Joyce, originally broadcast on July 17th 1996 in Channel Four’s Cinefile series.

    Running at almost an hour in length, this has seven chapters (better than none, like most of the rest) and also includes interviews with Elliott Gould, Shelley Duvall, Alan Rudolph and Joan Tewkesbury, with film clips including M*A*S*H and Popeye.

  • Interviews: Five here, and there’s a lot of work gone into them:

    • Elliott Gould discusses The Long Goodbye (53:05) – more like a Q&A with the actor, and this extra has seven chapters spread throughout.
    • Vilmos Zsigmond Flashes The Long Goodbye (14:23) – the cinematographer gives his thoughts on the film, and working with Altman.
    • David Thompson on Robert Altman (21:04) – chat from the writer and filmmaker who edited ‘Altman on Altman’ and produced Robert Altman in England for the BBC.
    • Tom Williams on Ray Chandler (14:29) – Williams is the man who wrote A Mysterious Something in the Light: Raymond Chandler: A Life and talks about the man here.
    • Maxim Jakubowski on Hard Boiled Fiction (14:33) – the crime writer talks about the genre in this featurette.

  • Trailer (2:30): Presented in around 2.00:1. I would say it gives away a bit too much if you haven’t seen the film, but then the film itself is a bit of a mish-mash, like the trailer.

  • Radio spots (3:24): Five radio adverts here.

  • Isolated music and effects: Does what it says on the tin.

The package also includes a stunning 40-page booklet featuring new writing on the film by Brad Stevens, a new interview with assistant director Alan Rudolph and an extract from American Cinematographer discussing Zsigmond’s unique treatment of the film, illustrated with original archive stills and posters.

As you put the disc in, the menu bursts into life with clips from the film and a piece of the theme. There are subtitles in English, but when it comes to the chaptering, I feel one should come every five minutes on average. Arrow, like many other distributors, go for a low 12 however long the film. I would like them to increase this number.



Detailed specs:

Running time: 112 minutes
Year: 1973
Distributor: Arrow Films
Released: December 16th 2013
Chapters: 12 FCD903
Picture: 1080p High Definition
Sound: PCM 2.0 (Mono)
Languages: English
Subtitles: English
Widescreen: 2.35:1 (Anamorphic Panavision)
Disc Format: BD50

Director: Robert Altman
Producer: Jerry Bick
Screenplay: Leigh Brackett (based on the novel “The Long Goodbye” by Raymond Chandler)
Music: John Williams

Philip Marlowe: Elliott Gould
Eileen Wade: Nina van Pallandt
Roger Wade: Sterling Hayden
Marty Augustine: Mark Rydell
Dr. Verringer: Henry Gibson
Harry: David Arkin
Terry Lennox: Jim Bouton
Morgan: Warren Berlinger
Jo Ann Eggenweiler: Jo Ann Brody