Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye is probably the most unusual film noir I have ever seen. It takes Raymond Chandler’s iconic private dick Philip Marlowe and places him in a world where he is no longer relevant, 1970s hippie-infested Los Angeles.
Film noir is all about structure, yet Altman treats the plot like a master musician improvising an epic jazz tune. His Marlowe, played by the purposefully miscast Elliot Gould, is a lost man in a lost time. His 50s style airtight morals and old-fashioned thinking does not fit with with his neighbors, the hot pothead women doing naked yoga 24 hours a day, or with the truly bizarre and psychotic mobsters.
The film is quite a masterpiece and a study of how much the conventions of a genre can be stretched out of its comfort point yet still retain it’s base qualities. It’s a film that should be watched by viewers who are very experienced with film noir archetypes and Altman’s oeuvre. Otherwise, you will feel severely lost and confused.
Let’s get to the part about the universe working in mysterious ways. Perhaps known to some of Arnold Schwarzenneger’s die-hard fans, he was hired for this film to act as a glorified extra, as one of highly disturbed mob boss Marty Augustine’s (Mark Rydell) goons. Years away from establishing himself as Conan and T-800, he was only known back then as Mister Universe and didn’t have much of a film career.
You can tell by watching the scene he’s in. He’s stiff and confused, as if he wasn’t told a word about what to do or where to stand during the whole scene by the director. Knowing Altman’s style, this is very likely. He was probably chosen for his massive muscles, and nothing else.
But knowing what happens thirty years into the future makes this scene very bizarre. The scene takes place in the mob boss’ apartment, where he, looking for a substantial amount of money he believes Marlowe is in possession of, orders Marlowe to take off his clothes, because he believes “being naked brings out the truth”.
For whatever reason, he then orders his entire crew to undress, including Arnold who can’t help but show off his chest muscles.
It’s a very unusual sequence to begin with, but what makes it eerie is what happens in the previous scene. After the suicide of a major character, Marlowe gets pissed at the detectives for their sloppy work and tells them that he’ll be talking to Reagan (Governor of California at the time) to complain.
Right after this dialogue, we cut to the scene at the mob boss’ office. In fact, the very next shot after that line, Arnold is sitting comfortably in the background. So the future governor of California, a then-unimportant extra “goon”, sits behind Marlowe right after he said he wants to meet with the governor of California. In a way he gets his wish, only about 30 years too soon.
What baffles me about this is that no one at the set during that day of shooting would ever believe that this random muscle man they hired as an extra will one day become not only a major movie star, but the governor of California. I wonder, does stuff like this happen in other countries?
You can watch the scene here: