Elliott Gould as Philip Marlowe, wisecracking private investigator and “born loser”
Los Angeles, Summer 1972
Film: The Long Goodbye
Release Date: March 7, 1973
Director: Robert Altman
Men’s Costume Designer: Kent James (uncredited)
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
I’m pleased to address a repeated request from BAMF Style leaders like Brandon and Craig to take a look at Elliott Gould’s scrappy attire as an equally scrappy Philip Marlowe in The Long Goodbye, maverick auteur Robert Altman’s adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s 1953 pulp novel of the same name.
It’s okay with me…
A generation after the golden age of noir in the 1940s and early ’50s, an unofficial cinematic revival began re-adapting hard-boiled detectives for the silver screen. Early contenders in this neo-noir subgenre include Harper (1966), starring Paul Newman as Ross Macdonald’s eponymous private eye, followed by Frank Sinatra’s back-to-back movies as Miami detective Tony Rome. The decade closed with Marlowe (1969), a refreshed look at Raymond Chandler’s arguably greatest creation, updated for the ’60s and portrayed by James Garner, ostensibly auditioning for his future role on The Rockford Files. Directed by Paul Bogart, Marlowe had been the first major cinematic adaptation featuring Chandler’s famous detective in more than 20 years, aside from a single season of an ABC series starring Philip Carey, and served to re-introduce audiences to the wisecracking investigator.
The Long Goodbye would be the first of several 1970s productions to center around Philip Marlowe. Robert Mitchum would dust off his venerable noir chops to portray the detective twice, once in the period-set thriller Farewell, My Lovely (1975) and again in a re-imagining of The Big Sleep (1978) that updated the setting to contemporary England. Before those, Mitchum had been the initial choice for executive producer Elliott Kastner when casting The Long Goodbye, though Mitchum was reluctant at the time, paving the way for Elliott Gould to reteam with M*A*S*H director Robert Altman and make the role his own. Kastner considered the eventual casting a blessing, appreciating that Gould “had a kind of dandruff on his shoulders, if you know what I mean.”
Prolific screenwriter Leigh Brackett, a co-writer of the original Bogie and Bacall version of The Big Sleep (1946), again put her deft hand to work at adapting Chandler for the screen. By retaining the Los Angeles setting so integral to Chandler’s works and Marlowe’s seedy world but updating the timeframe to the early 1970s—specifically around midsummer 1972—Brackett’s script allowed for satirical contrasts of just how much the world had changed in 20 years… and how much of an anachronistic oddball a guy like Philip Marlowe would be. Indeed, Robert Altman was so enthusiastic about highlighting this dissonance that he nicknamed Gould’s portrayal “Rip Van Marlowe”, suggesting that the character had been asleep for 20 years, waking up in a polyester-clad world of hippies, health foods, and yoga.
Initial receptions to what Altman would call “a satire in melancholy” ranged from lukewarm to ice cold, forcing United Artists to reconsider how the film was being marketed. After its re-release, more positive reviews appeared from stalwart critics like Vincent Canby, Roger Ebert, and Pauline Kael, though audiences were still unsure of how to react to our anachronistic protagonist driving his 1948 Lincoln, grumbling about his lost cat, and chain-smoking unfiltered Camels through a now health-conscious California that, though branding itself as a brave new communal world, was an increasingly self-obsessed culture where “nobody cares but me,” as Marlowe observes.
“The picture almost got destroyed out here,” Gould himself recalled decades later in an interview with the BBC’s Brett Berk. “I think a lot of people didn’t know what we were doing.”
“The Long Goodbye sits at all these intersections: of Altman and Chandler, of Altman and noir, of the 1950s (when the novel was written) and the 1970s, of old and (at the time) new Los Angeles. The film has many points of entry, including Elliott Gould’s eccentric, loopy, intensely likable performance as Chandler’s private eye, Philip Marlowe,” wrote Mike Hale for The New York Times in a 2014 retrospective review, which continues:
“There are so many levels on which to appreciate the film,” said the musician Gabriel Kahane, who collaborated in the programming of Sunshine Noir. “One is the rewriting of Marlowe as this kind of sharp-tongued Jewish guy.”
The series accompanies Mr. Kahane’s performances there of his new album, “The Ambassador,” a song cycle that explores the history and fantasy of Los Angeles, and he said that for him the real appeal of The Long Goodbye was the way it transformed the noir narrative for a more cynical, more ruthlessly capitalistic era. “At the center of it is the way noir means something fundamentally different in the 1970s because of our collective consciousness about how the economy has shifted,” he said. “The film is at once neo-noir and an elegy for the golden age of noir.”
Working from a screenplay by Leigh Brackett that ruthlessly distilled Chandler’s novel, Altman rendered the streamlined story — Marlowe gives a friend a ride to Tijuana, the friend is accused of killing his wife and then turns up dead himself, Marlowe sets out to prove the friend’s innocence — as a series of mostly comic set pieces. He simultaneously satirized the post-hippie self-absorption of Southern California, registered the narrow-minded brutality of the cops and gangsters, and signaled his fondness for an old Hollywood that was already history in 1973.
Mr. Gould’s Marlowe, always dressed in black suit [sic] and tie despite the blinding light and driving a hulking 1940s Lincoln, is the last honest man in this sun-kissed cesspool. He’s an avatar of the midcentury noir hero, out of step but also thoroughly up-to-date, a hipster in the original sense. He rolls with whatever the city and the times throw at him — the blissed-out women next door doing yoga in the nude; the vicious mobster who strips in a fake-sensitive display of honesty — shrugging and repeating the mantra: “It’s O.K. with me.” Until, in the end, he discovers that some things just aren’t O.K.
#Noirvember continues with a look at this unconventional entry in the private eye genre, a welcome contribution from seminal noir figures Raymond Chandler and Leigh Brackett, filtered through the characteristically subversive lens of Robert Altman, who died of complications from leukemia 13 years ago today on November 20, 2006.
What’d He Wear?
“You know, you don’t tie in. This suit, the name Philip Marlowe… what the hell are you from?” asks an aggressive interrogating detective, lampshading Marlowe’s anachronistic character in a world that’s moved on from gumshoes to groovy hippies and gas crises. Poor Marlowe—though he doesn’t seem to care one bit—is constantly out of place, whether he’s in a town full of weirdos like 1970s L.A. or heading south of the border, clad in his oppressively hot but relentlessly patriotic red, white, and blue as he searches for clues about his pal Terry Lennox’s fate.
But enough commentary… let’s get to the crux of what BAMF Style’s about. Is Marlowe wearing a suit?
In fact, no. It’s actually a mis-matched jacket and trousers that were hand-selected by Elliott Gould, according to Christopher Laverty of Clothes on Film, who identified the jacket as a slightly darker navy than the trousers as opposed to reviewer Mike Hale’s inaccurate description of Marlowe’s “black suit.” While I certainly knew that Marlowe’s jacket and trousers weren’t black, I have to admit that I hadn’t noticed the contrasting pieces, but—given Mr. Laverty’s authority on the subject—I took a closer look and indeed noticed the difference between the cloths of each respective piece, particularly under the blazing California sun during his afternoon drinking session with Roger Wade (Sterling Hayden) and, later, when chasing after Eileen Wade’s (Nina van Pallandt) retreating gold Mercedes-Benz convertible under the L.A. street lights.
It’s significant—and perhaps even poetic—that Gould’s Marlowe doesn’t even own a navy suit, considered an essential foundation for any gentleman’s wardrobe. “Rip Van Marlowe” is hardly a gentleman though, more a guy going through the motions to wear a jacket and tie because he must. And why must he? Because Raymond Chandler wrote him that way.
Marlowe’s navy blue single-breasted jacket is made from soft-napped flannel with a high-fastening three-button front that balances Gould’s lanky 6’2″ frame. The somewhat ill-fitting jacket has substantial notch lapels, stitched less than a half-inch from the edges for a sporty “swelled” effect that was a popular detail of 1970s menswear.
The jacket has a welted breast pocket and straight hip pockets with rumpled flaps that tend to stick out from the sides like wings. The sleeves are finished with three spaced buttons on each cuff, and the back is split with a long single vent. Eagle-eyed experts may be able to recognize the maker of Marlowe’s jacket when the white label is briefly seen on the inside of the right breast when he slides the jacket off in Marty Augustine’s office.
Marlowe’s slightly lighter blue flat front trousers have a low rise without a belt, braces, or side-adjusters to suspend the trousers to a higher point on Gould’s waist. The trousers have “frogmouth”-style front pockets and two back pockets with a button through the left. The bottoms are finished with turn-ups (cuffs), a somewhat old-fashioned detail by the 1970s that suggests the garment to be a product of the previous decade.
“This is my good shirt,” Marlowe protests when a grumpy LAPD officer tells him to wipe his fingerprinting ink on it. Indeed…it may be his only shirt. Marlowe wears a white cotton shirt with a long point collar, front placket, and breast pocket. The sleeves end with squared barrel cuffs with two buttons to close.
Roger Wade: I wish you’d take that goddamn J.C. Penney tie off, eh? And settle down with me, and what you and I are gonna do is have a little old-fashioned, man-to-man drinking party.
Philip Marlowe: That’s okay with me, but I’m not gonna take my tie off.
Even at 3 a.m. when he rolls out of bed to pick up cat food, Marlowe is sure to toss his already-tied cravat around his neck for the trip to the 24-hour grocery store, sticking to an outdated, genre-informed sense of decorum—one to which he feels compelled to later educate Harry the hoodlum (David Arkin)—even if he falters in his half-assed execution. Marlowe certainly cares a lot about that tie, desperately flinging it off of his neck to protect the silk when he makes his frantic and futile dash into the ocean to try and prevent a suicidal Roger Wade from throwing himself to the mercy of the Pacific waves… well, Roger had always wanted him to take that tie off.
The narrow tie is crimson red silk with a motif of red, white, and blue American flags made barely discernable by the post-flashing techniques of cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond which dampened the color black on screen and softened more intense colors to the point of appearing nearly pastel. The small flags are bannered in widely spaced-apart stripes following a “downhill” direction.
Most “flag ties” commercially available are hardly as subtle as Marlowe’s, ranging from at least organizing its patriotic pattern (as on this Jacob Alexander tie) to going unapologetically American in its presentation (as on this collage-covered tie from PARQUET.) Vineyard Vines also offers a “Flags & Stars” printed silk tie that, like Marlowe’s tie, illustrates its national banners against a red backdrop, though hardly anything about this tie could be considered subtle.
Marlowe’s undergarments are seen most clearly when he’s in various forms of captivity, first jail and eventually the hospital after he’s waylaid by a yellow Mustang while in pursuit of Eileen’s Mercedes, as seen above. He spends his days in a white ribbed cotton sleeveless undershirt and “tighty-whitey” white cotton briefs.
Marlowe walks through L.A. and Mexico in a pair of much-traveled black leather apron-toe derby shoes, worn with thin black socks.
Shining from the third finger of Gould’s right hand is a large and ornate gold ring, its provenance and significance unknown though it recalls the decades-earlier glory of men like the Rat Pack who wore their pinky rings with pride.
Marlowe also wears a classic dress watch evoking an earlier era of elegance, a gold tank watch with a silver square dial on a black leather strap, not unlike the Cartier Tank that adorned the wrists of such gents as Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, and Rudolph Valentino. Philip Marlowe—particularly Gould’s scruffy “Rip Van Marlowe”—is hardly a suave screen lothario, but he’s a product of an era that celebrated such debonair class.
It makes sense that Marlowe wears the same thing throughout the movie as, when we see the luckless detective try to return home with his newly cleaned laundry, he’s assailed by Marty Augustine’s henchmen who strew his clothes all over the floor of his apartment before they tear the place apart.
While the Marlowe of Chandler’s novel makes frequent reference to his trusty “Olds”, an aging Oldsmobile convertible, the “Rip Van Marlowe” of Altman’s The Long Goodbye pilots a forest green 1948 Lincoln Continental convertible through the streets of Los Angeles.
In his 2014 interview with Brett Berk for BBC, Gould confirms the Continental’s model year, adding that “It was my car. I wouldn’t have used that car. Bob wanted to use it. I didn’t even charge him for it. But that was Marlowe absolutely: a stranger in a strange land. A guy out of time and place.”
Though several generations of the Lincoln Continental were produced across the 20th century, it would be difficult to surpass the iconic status of the original, first produced for the model years 1940 through 1942—designed by Bob Gregorie—and again after World War II for the 1946 to 1948 model years, redesigned by Raymond Loewy. 1948 marked the final model year not just for the Continental but also the last time—as of 2019—that a major American automaker had produced a car with a V12 engine.
1948 Lincoln Continental Convertible Cabriolet
Body Style: 2-door convertible
Layout: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive (RWD)
Engine: 292 cu. in. (4.8 L) Lincoln-Zephyr “Model H” V12
Power: 125 hp (93.2 kW; 127 PS) @ 4000 RPM
Torque: 220 lb·ft (298 N·m) @ 2000 RPM
Transmission: 3-speed manual
Wheelbase: 125 inches (3175 mm)
Length: 219.6 inches (5578 mm)
Width: 77.8 inches (1976 mm)
Height: 63.1 inches (1603 mm)
According to IMDB, Marlowe’s ’48 Continental—with its telling license plate of “PVT 101” (or “private eye 101”)—had been repainted yellow and placed in The Harrah Collection’s National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada. If you’re interested in reading more about this make and model, check out my earlier #CarWeek post about the 1941 Lincoln that James Caan drove as Sonny Corleone for the famous “tollbooth scene” in The Godfather (1972).
For being a noir-esque detective story, there’s relatively few firearms in The Long Goodbye, with the majority relegated to the various gun racks at Roger Wade’s home or in the Mexican police station. It isn’t until the final act that a gun truly comes into play when Philip Marlowe pulls a 4″-barreled Smith & Wesson Model 10 revolver from the back of his waistband.
In contrast, Raymond Chandler describes a half-dozen different firearms in the novel The Long Goodbye, including at least two curious references to “a Mauser P.P.K.” in the hands of both Roger Wade and Terry Lennox, mixing up the German manufacturers of the Mauser HSc and Walther PPK. Chandler’s Marlowe arms himself with two different revolvers, beginning with “a tough little short-barreled .32 with flat-point cartridges” when he drives to Dr. Verringer’s estate in chapter 19 and, in chapter 47, he packs “a gun in a belt holster on the left side, butt forward, a short-barreled Police 38.”
Aside from the holster, this latter weapon and its context of preparing for a climactic confrontation was likely what inspired the filmmakers of The Long Goodbye to arm Elliott Gould with a .38 Special police revolver like this venerated handgun introduced by Smith & Wesson for the law enforcement market in 1899.
What to Imbibe
Roger Wade: I got champagne, beer, Scotch, bourbon, aquavit, port…
Philip Marlowe: What are you drinking?
Roger Wade: What I’m drinking is called aquavit.
Philip Marlowe: Well, I’m drinking what you’re drinking.
Roger Wade: God bless you, I like to hear that. You know, there’s an awful lot of people, you say, what do you want to drink? “Ooh, I want this, I want that, and a twist of lemon.” Balls!
The literary Philip Marlowe may be a famous imbiber, but he can hardly match the hard-drinking, Hemingway-esque author Roger Wade (Sterling Hayden), with whom he imbibes in aquavit as the gregarious and poetically profane writer continues refilling their mugs from a chilled bottle of Aalborg.
Also known as “akvavit”, reportedly derived from the Latin aqua vitae for “water of life”, this spirit dates back to at least the 16th century as a staple of Scandinavian culture, distilled from either grain or potatoes and flavored with a variety of herbs and spices.
Aalborg, the distillery headquartered in the Danish town of the same name, distills their aquavit with amber. (For the record—and perhaps not coincidentally—Aalborg was determined to be the “happiest” European city in a European Commission study.)
Though it unfortunately didn’t make it to the screen adaptation, Chandler’s famous commentary on the gimlet appears in the third chapter of The Long Goodbye as Marlowe joins Terry Lennox for a drink on a “wet March evening.”
We sat in a corner of the bar at Victor’s and drank gimlets. “They don’t know how to make them here,” he said. “What they call a gimlet is just some lime or lemon juice and gin with half a dash of sugar and bitters. A real gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s Lime Juice and nothing else. It beats martinis hollow.”
Questionable comparison to the venerable martini aside, Terry has excellent taste as the gimlet is a simple and classic cocktail worthy of anyone’s time. The IBA has updated the proportions from the sweeter days of the 1930 edition of The Savoy Cocktail Book championed by Lennox to be two parts gin and one part lime juice, but the essence remains the same. Both ingredients are to be shaken with ice, poured into a chilled cocktail glass, and—should one be so inclined—garnished with a lime slice.
Marlowe comments that “although [Lennox] wasn’t English, he had some of the mannerisms.” The gimlet too shares Terry’s dubious English origins with the perhaps apocryphal suggestion that Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Gimlette, KCB, of the British Royal Navy had stumbled upon the modern gimlet when he added lime curvy to his shipmates’ daily gin tot to combat scurvy.
Marlowe would certainly be well-protected against scurvy after the events of The Long Goodbye, drinking gimlets in tribute to his pal Terry in chapters 22 and 46.
“A gimlet,” I said. “No bitters.”
He put the little naplkin in front of me and kept looking at me. “You know something,” he said in a pleased voice. “I heard you and your friend talking one night and I got me in a bottle of that Rose’s Lime Juice. Then you didn’t come back any more and I only opened it tonight.”
“My friend left town,” I said. “A double if it’s all right with you. And thanks for taking the trouble.”
If you’re not in the mood for citrus or you have a more cavalier approach to the formidable threat of scurvy, you can follow the example of Gould’s Marlowe who stumbles into a dive after three days in the pokey, aiming to reacclimate his liver to the private eye lifestyle by ordering a highball concocted of Canadian Club whiskey and ginger ale:
I think I’ll have a drink… C.C. and ginger.
Finally, as a a drenched Marlowe and Eileen stand on the beach behind the Wade compound, they attempt to warm themselves by drinking brandy by Korbel, a California brand that many may know better today for its budget-priced sparkling wine, manufactured using the méthode champenoise process. While Korbel’s champagne has been the winery’s best-known output since 1882, its brandy is particularly popular in the state of Wisconsin, home of the brandy-and-Sprite Old Fashioned.
The brandy inebriates Marlowe to the point that he’s cursing out the police and threatening to sicc then-governor Ronald Reagan on them.
For what it’s worth, Marlowe does get to meet a California governor in the following scene…as future “Govern-ator” Arnold Schwarzenegger makes an uncredited appearance as one of Marty Augustine’s thugs.
How to Get the Look
In his novel The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler didn’t go into as much detail when describing Philip Marlowe’s clothing as he famously did in The Big Sleep, adding only passing references to his jacket, tie, and dark sunglasses, giving Elliott Gould free reign to develop his own look as the iconic detective.
“Slapdash suits” of semi-matching jackets and trousers are rarely advisable, so—for all intents and purposes—it behooves me as a style blogger to insist that anyone inspired by Marlowe’s all-American red, white, and blue garb should at least don a suit of matching pieces before looking for that patriotic tie and chunky gold ring to bring the look together.
- Navy blue napped flannel suit:
- Single-breasted 3-button jacket with swelled-edge notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, spaced 3-button cuffs, and long single vent
- Flat front low-rise trousers with fitted waistband, frogmouth front pockets, jetted back pockets (with button-through left pocket), and turn-ups/cuffs
- White cotton shirt with long point collar, front placket, breast pocket, and 2-button squared barrel cuffs
- Crimson red silk tie with American flag motif
- Black calf leather apron-toe derby shoes
- Thin black socks
- White ribbed cotton sleeveless undershirt
- White cotton briefs
- Large ornate gold ring
- Gold tank watch with silver square dial and black leather strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
(And, if you’re Steven Soderbergh, text Elliott Gould back! He wants to play Marlowe again!)
Yeah, I get the picture. Case closed, all zippered up like a big bag of shit.