AlfredAngier’s review published on Letterboxd:
I don't know what's more odd: That Elliott Gould's Philip Marlowe spends his first few moments on screen trying to find a particular brand of food for his stuck up cat or that this film is set in the 1970's and has a non-speaking role from pre-fame Arnold Schwarzenegger while Farewell My Lovely with Robert Mitchum as Marlowe released two years later but set 35 years before has a non-speaking role from pre-fame Sylvester Stallone.
Spooky muscle men cameos aside this Robert Altman directed, John Williams scored (the man had range, in case you didn't know) noir-ish film is weird. Maybe not in a bad way but it's for sure odd.
The story feels very standard noir (or neo-noir given the time it was released and tone) which given the source material isn't shocking but the way Altman shoots it is almost like an indie movie with lots of interesting and not so traditionally noir shots and feels like a "the protagonist can't catch a break" film and the jazzy score with the title song repeating throughout which I usually hate actually adding to the atmosphere of "what else could possibly go wrong?" after Marlowe's friend Terry (Jim Bouton) asks to be driven down to Tijuana (I'll never be good enough friends with anyone to ask for a ride to TJ and I pray that no one thinks they're good enough friends with me to ask for a ride there either) Marlowe is arrested and he comes to find out that Terry is accused of murdering his wife and fleeing the country, making Marlowe an accessory.
What follows is a twisty web as the PI tries to clear his friends name as well as his own with a criminal Terry ripped off turning up the heat on Marlowe and while the investigation aspects worked really well I wasn't prepared for how funny it would be and how well the humor would work with a lot of quirky side characters like Marlowe's frequently topless neighbors who do yoga and are high all the time.
Some things in L.A. never change I suppose.
Those neighbors do a great job of showing the moral compass of Marlowe who not only isn't fazed by the nudity and treats the women like human beings but also the compass of all the sleazy men who come to visit and leer at the women, be they criminals or criminals with badges.
There are some plot points that don't fully add up like when Marlowe is hired to find an alcoholic writer and of course it's connected to Terry. Why would the person who hired Marlowe not go to a different detective for their services instead of one directly connected to a crime that's being covered up and they might be involved with?
The detox clinic also feels important but isn't actually.
The clash of dark and gritty noir with offbeat humor didn't always gel for me but worked more than it didn't.
The ending was also bleak as hell and I was not expecting that based on the lighter tone of some of the scenes.
Overall an interesting film and I'm glad I saw the Altman/Williams collaboration of Images first as it helped prepare me for the style here.
If you like noir and/or L.A. set crime films definitely give this a watch.
Also, I finally get why Phoebe had a crush on Jack Geller in that one episode. Young Elliott is kind of hot and very charming. You could say he's as good as Gould... (I'll see myself out now)