Category Archives: Robert Altman Films

The Long Goodbye-1973

The Long Goodbye-1973

Director-Robert Altman

Starring-Elliott Gould

Scott’s Review #830

Reviewed November 14, 2018

Grade: A

Nearly a full-fledged character study of one man’s moral fiber, The Long Goodbye (1973) is an edgy piece of direction by famous mastermind Robert Altman. The setting of the Los Angeles underbelly is fabulous and effective as is dim lighting and excellent camera work prevalent throughout. The film is not cheery and rather bleak which suits me just fine given the smart locale. Perhaps a more obscure Altman offering, but the film sizzles with zest and authenticity.

The film is based on a story written by Raymond Chandler in 1953. Altman, however, opts to change the setting from 1950 to present times- 1970’s Los Angeles and present a film noir experience involving deceit and shenanigans where all is not as it seems. I think this is a wise move and I could not help but draw many comparisons (mainly the overall story) to Chinatown (1974), released the year after The Long Goodbye, but a film much better remembered.

Elliott Gould is wonderful as Phillip Marlowe, a struggling private investigator and insomniac. He is asked by a friend, Terry Lennox, for a ride to the Mexico border one night and agrees to do the favor. This leads to a mystery involving police, gangsters, and Eileen and Roger Wade, after Phillip is questioned regarding his connection to Terry, who is accused of murdering his wife Sylvia. The seedy side and complexities to several characters are revealed as the story unfolds and the plot gradually thickens.

My favorite aspects of The Long Goodbye are not necessarily the primary storytelling, though the writing is filled with tension. As the film opens an extended sequence featuring a “conversation” between Phillip and his cat is both odd and humorous. The finicky feline refuses to eat anything other than one brand of cat food. As Phillip tries reasoning with the cat through talking and meows, he is forced to venture out in the middle of the night to an all-night grocery store. Altman, known to allow his actor’s free-reign for improvised dialogue, appears to allow Gould to experiment during this scene.

Phillip’s neighbors, a bundle of gorgeous twenty-something females, seems to do nothing except exercise on their balcony, get high and request he buy them brownie mix for a “special occasion”. As they stretch topless, usually in the background and almost out of camera range, they are a prime example of an interesting nuance of the film. The girls are mysterious but have nothing to do with the actual plot adding even more intrigue to the film.

In one of the most frightening scenes in cinematic history and one that could be straight from The Godfather (1972), crazed gangster, Marty Augustine (Mark Rydell), slices the beautiful face of his girlfriend to prove a point to Marlowe. In a famous line he utters, “That’s someone I love. You, I don’t even like.” The violent act is quick, unexpected and fraught with insanity.

Finally, the film’s conclusion contains a good old-fashioned twist worthy of any good film noir. In the end, the big reveal makes sense and begs to raise the question “why did we trust this character?” In addition to the viewer being satisfied, Marlowe also gets a deserved finale and proves that he cannot be messed with nor taken for a fool.

The Long Goodbye is undoubtedly the best film of Gould’s career. With a charismatic, wise-cracking persona, the chain-smoking cynic is deemed by most as a loser. He is an unhappy man and down on humanity, but still wants to do what is right. He lives a depressed life with few friends and the company of only his cat. While he is marginally entertained by his neighbors, he goes about his days only barely getting by emotionally. Gould is brilliant at relaying all these qualities within his performance.

The addition of the title theme song in numerous renditions is a major win for the film and something noticed more and more with each repeated viewing. The ill-fated gangster’s girlfriend hums along to the song playing on the radio at one point, and a jazz pianist plays a rendition in a smoky bar. This is an ingenious approach by Altman and gives the film a greater sense of mystery and style.

There is no question among cinema lovers that Robert Altman is one of the best directors of all time. In his lengthy catalog filled with rich and experimental films, The Long Goodbye (1973) is not the best remembered nor the most recognizable. I implore film fans, especially fans of plodding mystery and intrigue to check this great steak dinner of a film out.

The Player-1992

The Player-1992

Director-Robert Altman

Starring-Tim Robbins, Peter Gallagher

Scott’s Review #601

Reviewed January 11, 2017

Grade: A

The Player ranks up there with other Robert Altman classics such as Gosford Park, Network, and Short Cuts. The film is an excellent piece of Hollywood satire and centers around a jaded movie executive, played by Tim Robbins, who does an incredible job with his role.

Robbins plays Griffin Mill, a man with no scruples. Feeling usurped by a younger executive, played by Peter Gallagher, as well as receiving death threats, he goes on the hunt for the person he feels responsible, which leads to murder.

The audience is unsure whether to love or hate Mill, thanks to Robbins performance. He is snarky, but also vulnerable and a tad sympathetic.

The film contains a slew of real Hollywood celebrities (Cher, Malcolm McDowell, Bruce Willis) playing themselves and is largely improvised (as many of Altman’s films are). Whoopi Goldberg and Lyle Lovett star as odd police detectives.

The plot is nothing that hasn’t been done before, but it’s the realness and the direction that make this movie a must see, especially for Robert Altman fans. A hidden gem.

3 Women-1977

3 Women-1977

Director-Robert Altman

Starring-Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek

Scott’s Review #578

Reviewed January 1, 2017

Grade: A

Robert Altman is one of my all-time favorite directors and what a pleasure it is to uncover additional gems that he has directed over the years. I have seen 3 Women before, certainly, but some films (the true greats) are like fine wines and get better and better over time, in addition to being appreciated more and more with each passing viewing. 3 Women is a prime example of this. The level of psychology and the changing personalities of the character’s make it a unique and brilliant experience.

3 Women is a psychological feast and the study of three complex characters, hence the title. How fantastic how Altman claimed to have dreamed the entire film, complete with Duvall and Spacek in the roles, and then attempted to recreate the dream on film- he has done a masterful job. The film is certainly dream-like with an interpretive element that will leave the viewer pondering not only the relationships between the three women, but who exactly each woman is- consciously and sub-consciously. Lots of questions will abound as the film concludes. The main relationship is between the characters portrayed by Duvall and Spacek.

Duvall plays Millie Lammoreaux, a chatty and confident woman, who works at a California health spa for elderly clientele. She is statuesque and gorgeous, but surprisingly not well-liked by her colleagues, two of whom are mysterious identical twins. New employee Pinky Rose is a shy and vulnerable mousy type, who takes an immediate liking to Millie, becoming somewhat obsessed with her. The pair eventually move in together and begin to engage  in a mysterious and sometimes volatile friendship dripping in jealousy and lust. Eventually, they switch personalities, only adding to the mystique of the film. They reside in the Purple Sage Apartments, run by Edgar and Willie Hart. Willie is the third woman referenced in the title and is a pregnant painter, creating unsettling murals marveled at by Pinky.

It has been argued that 3 Women was an influence on the David Lynch masterpiece, Mullholland Drive (1992), and the more I ponder this the more that I agree with it. The dream-like, surrealistic qualities are prevalent in both films. Peculiar, strong written women are the central characters in both films and psychology and amnesia are main themes. The southern California setting is identical as are the interpretive elements, and the fantastically odd characters- both lead and supporting. When Pinky’s elderly parents are introduced, this is uncanny to a pair of grandparents featured in Mullholland Drive. Both are superior films so the comparisons are a joy to think about and ponder the complexities.

Ingmar Bergman’s 1966 psychological film Persona is most certainly a large influence on 3 Women. That film dared to explore merging personalities among women.

The final scene of 3 Women is intense and thought provoking. The lives of the women carry on following a tragic event, but each take on a certain persona and role within the family unit that they have forged.

Among other qualities, I view 3 Women as a feminist film, despite being directed by a male. Altman was famous for allowing his actors free reign in dialogue and development and this most certainly had to be the case with 3 Women. One of Altman’s masterpieces.

Altman is certainly a genius in nearly every film that he creates, but 3 Women is probably his most cerebral, and the film that can be talked about and analyzed more than the others. What a pure treat for a complex film lover to explore. 3 Women is not for mainstream audiences nor is is meant to be.

A Wedding-1978

A Wedding-1978

Director-Robert Altman

Starring-Carol Burnett, Mia Farrow, Paul Dooley

Scott’s Review #539

Reviewed December 17, 2016

Grade: A

A Wedding is an obscure, brilliant gem penned and directed by Robert Altman- a film genius in my opinion and one of my most adored directors. I love most of his movies and A Wedding is no exception. The creative way that Altman weaves intersecting story-lines and dialogue, thereby creating a real-life tone, gives immense realism to his films.

In A Wedding, he takes a basic life event, and turns it into a well nuanced, fascinating, comical, yet dramatic story. He is known for having enormous casts (in A Wedding it is forty eight principles), but every character serves a purpose. The viewer will feel that they are a fly on the wall of a real wedding.  Altman’s actors primarily improvise the dialogue, speaking at the same time, bringing a reaistic edge. I adore this quality.

The film is a satire- people either love or loath attending weddings and Altman’s film caters to the latter. He creates a setting, from the ceremony, to the reception, riddled with awkward moments, and social guffaws.

In pure satirical, soap opera fashion, two wealthy families gather at a lavish estate for the ceremony to commence. Hilarity ensues when the dead corpse of the matriarch of one family lies in her bed, nobody realizing she is actually dead. Other hi-jinks, such as the revelation of a nude, life-size portrait of the bride, the caterer falling ill, and a tornado wreaking havoc.

Slowly, secrets are revealed by the families, as the alcohol flows and the characters become involved in the perilous situations. Altman does it again as he creates a masterpiece based on a real-life situations that most can relate to.

Gosford Park-2001

Gosford Park-2001

Director-Robert Altman

Starring-Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Ryan Phillippe

Top 100 Films-#68

Scott’s Review #350

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Reviewed January 9,2016

Grade: A

Somewhere between the brilliant PBS series of the 1970’s and the ultra modern cool of Downton Abbey (also PBS) lies the masterpiece that is Robert Altman’s 2001 gem, Gosford Park. Ironic, is that the creator, writer, and executive producer of Downtown Abbey, Julian Fellowes, wrote the screenplay of Gosford Park. No wonder, combined with Altman’s direction, they created genius.

The time period is 1932 and the wealthy, along with their servants, flock to the magnificent estate of Gosford Park, a grand English country home. The guests include both Americans and Brits and everyone is gathered for a shooting weekend- foreshadowing if ever there was. Following a dinner party, a murder occurs and the remainder of the film follows the subsequent police investigation, and the perspectives of the guests and the servants as a whodunit ensues. Many of the characters lives unravel as secrets are exposed.

Sir William, the murder victim, is a powerful industrialist. After he announces he will withdraw an investment, the ramifications effect many of the guests so that the set-up is spelled out for the audience. At the risk of seemingly nothing more than a plot device- it is so much more than that. During a pheasant shoot, Sir William receives a minor wound thanks to a stray birdshot- is this intentional or merely an accident? When Sir William meets his fate that evening, the potential suspects pile up.

If there are two compelling aspects to a great film, they are a good old fashioned whodunit and an enormous cast, all potential suspects. What makes Gosford Park exceptional is that every character is interesting in some way and all are written well. Secrets abound for miles in this film and are revealed in a delicious way. Torrid affairs, sexuality secrets, and blackmail abound as revelations make their way to the surface and Altman knows exactly how to cast doubt or suspicion on many of his characters.

The compelling relationship between American film producer Morris Weissman and his valet, Henry Denton (Ryan Phillipe), along with the domineering head housekeeper, Mrs. Wilson (Helen Mirren) are my favorite characters and dynamics. How clever that Maggie Smith would play similar roles as stuffy aristocrats in both Gosford Park and Downton Abbey. Rich in texture are the balancing between the haves and the have nots and how those characters mix with each other (sometimes in secret rendezvous!)

Typical of Altman films, the character dialogue commonly overlaps and the actors largely improvise the script. In addition to being an actors dream, this quality gives a realism to his films and Gosford Park is no exception. Since there are so many characters and so many plots and sub-plots going on at once, my recommendation is to watch the film at least twice to fully comprehend the layers of goings-ons. The film will become more and more appreciated.

Nashville-1975

Nashville-1975

Director-Robert Altman

Starring-Lily Tomlin, Keith Carradine, Karen Black

Top 100 Films-#7

Scott’s Review #47

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Reviewed June 19, 2014

Grade: A

Nashville is a brilliant film. I have found that with each subsequent viewing it creeps higher and higher on my list of favorite movies of all time. The style is unique (largely improvised) and epitomizes creative freedom in film during the 1970’s. Director Robert Altman lets his actors express themselves, even allowing them to write their own songs, the dialogue overlaps at times, which results in a natural feeling as the viewer watches the cast of 24 principles intersect over a period of 5 days at a political rally/country music festivals. It is pure Robert Altman at his finest.

Nashville is a satire of the political arena of the early1970’s and of the Vietnam conflict and politicians, specifically. The film certainly questions and challenges the government with an ironic patriotic setting (Nashville). The country music industry was in an uproar upon initial release of the film. It is a layered film that can be discussed and appreciated and each and every character is cared about. I cannot adequately describe the multitude of nuances in each scene that are noticed over time.

Each character- even some with limited screen time are important to the story as is the political elements- the questions of wars, policies, etc. abound. The chaotic bits and individual storylines come together at the end and many background happenings are incredibly interesting to watch and take note of throughout each viewing. With each experience the audience will notice more and more. I certainly do.

Lily Tomlin, for example, plays Linnea, a haggard mother of deaf children with a supportive husband, a woman who on the surface is heroic, yet she has is a complex character; she is bored with her life and falls in love with a young musician despite the guilt and repercussions.

The musician in question is Tom Frank, played by Keith Carradine. Handsome, and self-absorbed, he arrives in Nashville to dump his bandmates in hopes of a solo career, and beds many willing females. He also lashes out at a soldier at the airport, saying, “kill anyone lately?” Despite his unlikable character, Carradine gives one of the most beautiful performances in the film when he sings “I’m Easy”. Several  of the female characters assume he is singing the song for them, but who is he truly singing it for…if anyone?

Another character to analyze is Barbara Jean, played by Ronee Blakley. A frail yet very successful country singer, she is in and out of hospitals as she frets about her replacement singer stealing her thunder. Her insecurities rise to the surface. In fact, insecurity is a common theme among the characters. Many of them are either unsure, afraid, or not confident about either their musical talent, their relationships, or even themselves.

These are only 3 examples of the 24 richly layered characters- some ambitious, some falling apart, others meandering through life.

Many songs throughout were created by the actors themselves. Nashville is storytelling and filmmaking at its best. A creation by Altman that is deservedly admired, revered, and heralded as a major influence. It is studied in film schools as it should be.