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Monday, 6 August 2012

On Saturday I saw two films featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, though I really only expected to see one.

The one I expected to see was, of course, Total Recall. You know this if you read my Friday post.

The one I did not expect to see was ...

... The Long Goodbye, the 1973 Robert Altman film featuring Elliot Gould as the (then) modern-day version of Phillip Marlowe.

You may rightly ask if I'm kidding. I'm not.

You may then rightly ask, "What the hell was Arnold Schwarzenegger doing in a 39-year-old Robert Altman movie?"

The answer is, not much. He wasn't even credited. But he was in the movie, which I thought was absolutely hilarious.

If this seems impossible to you, don't forget that Schwarzenegger made his film debut in 1969, in what I am sure is a great cult classic: Hercules in New York. I've really got to see that. He was billed as Arnold Strong in Hercules, and he didn't even get to use his own voice -- his lines were dubbed because his accent was too heavy. (Arnold Strong is an especially funny stage name, because that movie also features an actor named Arnold Stang.)

The Long Goodbye was his second appearance on film, and apparently, having starred in Hercules did not warrant him even getting credited as Goon #2. He plays a thug who appears in the office of Marty Augustine (Mark Rydell), the gangster who's trying to recover a bag of cash he thinks Marlowe knows something about. Language skills weren't a problem this time, as he never opens his mouth. He does, however, reveal that body builder's physique, as the scene requires Augustine and his goons to strip down to their skivvies. (If that doesn't sound like it makes any sense, see the movie -- it's just one of the wonderfully outside-the-box moments in this terrific film.)

I laughed when I saw him. It seemed like such a disconnect. At this stage in his career, I expected Schwarzenegger to appear in marginal movies, not in classic films by the great Robert Altman. In fact, an argument could be made by certain segments of movie lovers that The Long Goodbye is the best film in which Arnold ever appeared.

I probably prefer some of Schwarzenegger's more iconic roles, as they are the ones I have grown up on and loved for years. But after finally seeing The Long Goodbye, I am convinced of its absolute brilliance. It has immediately become one of my favorite Altman films, which is saying a lot. Gould is simply perfect as Marlowe, a private dick who seems in a perpetual state of semi-confusion about the world in which he finds himself, yet nonetheless can maneuver in this world using a copious amount of street smarts and a clever sense of how to manipulate people and anticipate their next moves. A friend over the weekend described Gould as wearing a second skin of Phillip Marlowe -- you can't tell where Marlowe leaves off and Gould begins. I could go on about the world created in The Long Goodbye -- Marlowe's apartment complex alone, featuring a neighboring apartment of free-love hippies in various states of undress, might warrant an entire post. But the fact is, I've got to get to work.

And I'm pleased to say that one of those iconic Schwarzenegger roles -- Quaid/Hauser in Total Recall -- still holds up. Sure, some of the effects are dated. But with a script this tight and a performance by Schwarzenegger that has genuine sympathy and nuance -- he had come along way in those 17 years since The Long Goodbye -- I didn't care one bit about the only thing the 2012 version of this film can probably do better.


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