The Long Goodbye

This movie begins with detective Phillip Marlowe being woken up by his hungry cat. (I feel your pain, Marlowe.) He gets out of bed, finds out that he's out of cat food, then drives to the store only to discover that the store is out of the one brand his cat will eat. He returns home to try to fool the cat with a false brand, but the cat doesn't buy it and leaves. Ten minutes have passed and not a single thing has happened that is relevant to the plot, which is about a hunt for a friend who may have murdered his wife and then disappeared to Mexico, not a hunt for kibble.

Now, I'm of a generation that grew up with the Big Lebowski, so my initial reaction to that opening sequence was to compare it to Lebowski, which opens up with The Dude buying sixty nine cents worth of half and half before he returns back to his apartment, which he discovers is suddenly packed with thugs with full bladders. However, the opening to Lebowski actually does a lot to set the tone for the rest of the movie: when The Dude's at the grocery he's wearing slippers and a bathrobe, but the TV behind the cashier is showing footage of the first Gulf War, creating a juxtaposition that suggests that goings on are afoot that The Dude is too stoned to notice. Furthermore, the comedy of that opening sequence works because the Big Lebowski is about it's characters first and it's plot second (if not third or fourth) so an opening that establishes The Dude's character is important. In contrast, the opening to the Long Goodbye is basically a total throwaway, because once the friend disappears it does become about the plot, and the fairly typical detective story that the movie ends up telling isn't served well by having such an odd introduction.

It is also confounding if it's meant to set up Marlowe's character, because that opening would seem to suggest that Marlowe is the sort of down on his luck shmuck who can't ever get anything right. But nope. He solves his secondary case pretty easily, he gets threatened a few times but is never beat up, he doesn't fall for a dame that he knows is bad for him, and he doesn't seem to be one step away from skid row like movie detectives always are. Running out of cat food doesn't seem to be an indicator of his karmic fate as much as it is proof that he got lazy about grocery shopping.

Even more perplexing is the theme song of the movie, which for some reason thought that it was a good idea to sing "The Long Goodbye" over and over. I'm not sure who thought that such a cheesy and terrible song would be a fitting soundtrack for footage of a man driving to a grocery store, or why any of this was a promising start to a murder mystery, but someone apparently did.

Gumshoe tales aren't automatically interesting to me, and so I'm very susceptible to the little details, like how moody the cinematography is, or the little touches actors sometimes bring into their performance to humanize roles that are often pretty stock. Ten slack minutes might not be the end of the world for some people, but you can't waste ten minutes of my time at the very start of a detective movie and still expect me to be invested in what happens after that. When Marlowe's cat checked out because she was tired of Marlowe's shit I probably should have checked out, too, instead of waiting around to get tired of his shit.

Winner: The Cat

The Long Goodbye on IMDB