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L.A. Private Eyes

The Films:

The Long Goodbye

The Big Lebowski

The Nice Guys

Inherent Vice

I’m not much of a fan of Robert Altman, I’ve never been drawn in by Film Noir, and although the ‘70’s have a reputation for being a great decade for cinema I most often prefer films that came out of the ‘50’s or ‘60’s or movies from the last fifteen years. Yet, The Long Goodbye is such a perfect mystery, an amazing cast and establishes a little mini-genre of tripped out L.A. Noir set in the ‘70’s or a timeless version of the city that elicits the same mood. I feel like there are three excellent examples of this mini-genre that all make great companions to Altman’s classic: the Big Lebowski, The Nice Guys and Inherent Vice.

It’s almost difficult to separate some of these movies from each other in my memory, they all seem to have a looseness of memory, reality, sobriety or just plain storytelling that give a feeling of cognitive overlap of all 1970’s L.A. private investigators. This is it’s own version of Noir, set in the smog and sunshine of 1970’s Los Angeles, “Trippy Sunshine Noir.” Even that is a bit of a misnomer, often these characters avoid the sun, The Dude of The Big Labowski wears sunglasses and finds his recreation in the interior of a bowling alley. When they do go to the beach, it is foreign to them, The Dude is summoned to a pornographer’s party at the beach, Doc Sportello of Inherent Vice lives by the beach, but it feels distant through an alleyway, Marlowe of the Long Goodbye and The Nice Guys of The Nice Guys never venture out of the smog of the city to see the water, or at least to take a tie off at the beach.

The storyline in The Long Goodbye of Eliot Gould’s character hunting down Sterling Hayden’s novelist character and ultimately finding him in a detoxification clinic feels like it could be in any one of these movies. I have memory lapses while watching the other films where I will piece Long Goodbye scenes into the other movies. The Sterling Heyden scene at the sanitarium could come from any of these movies, especially Inherent Vice. A lot of the lighting and seashore backgrounds feel cut from the same reel of film. I can only assume that the look and the surreal use of the Long Goodbye theme were strong inspirations for some of the oddities of Inherent Vice. Long Goodbye’s Marlow spends the entire film trying to hunt down the killer of his friend, only to find that he was chasing a nonexistent crime of his friend who faked his own death to get away with a murder in which he was thought to be a victim. It’s much like the ending of Big Lebowski that reveals that the plot was all for naught. Perhaps the crime equivalent of becoming aware of L.A. self importance for the filmmakers.

All four of these movies are wonderful L.A. crime novellas, most likely inspired by each other, and the writers from source material. And all four are classics of their own generations. And at the end of The Long Goodbye, the final image is of Eliot Gould walking away, reminiscent of Joseph Cotton at the end of The Third Man, a previous generation's version of these private eye movies with a touch of humor, despite it's post-World War II Europe setting.


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