In this unforeseen neo noir Robert Altman is moulding the Philip Marlowe one would like to have as a son, a brother, why not, a father for his (better, her) child. Because, alas, we would all like to have Philip Marlowe as a lover anyways, no matter how harsh, senseless or misogynist he seems at times (speaking mainly of on-screen portrayals here); we all share some excitement for the strong, brainy guy who always has it his way.
Well, you know what? This one doesn't. First of all, his lovely cat abandons him and he is looking for her day after day to no avail. Then, his best friend betrays him. But, this is not all: third and foremost, the woman he was helping while being enchanted by her, the woman for which he was run over by a car was playing with him all along. She left town with someone else, without even saying goodbye.
This Philip Marlowe may be mellow, but he is no fool. He manages to see things through in the end. He even manages to pull the trigger, cause there's one thing he cannot stand: betrayal (me neither).
His image equally defines him: with fluffy hair and old-fashioned look, as opposed to his contemporaries, Robert Altman "takes this anachronistic man-apart concept literally" here. Raymond Chandler is the first to present Marlowe "as a kind of anachronism", already in his book, though. As "a man out of step with the changing world, though he’s clearly not a step behind, but rather a step ahead. This is an older Marlowe, and thus technically wiser, but no less foolhardy and devil-may-care.", as Christopher Schultz says in LitReactor.
Over there, I found a very original comparison of The Long Goodbye, the book (written on 1953) and The Big Lebowski, the film (shot on 1998 -for which the Coen Brothers apparently admitted having that Marlowe in mind on the making), which may sound far-fetched if you haven't seen Robert Altman's take on our favourite private eye, but will make perfect sense once you're acquainted with him. Watching these two films, one can easily see how the Dude who had his carpet destroyed and Marlowe who lost his cat could be good friends in a parallel universe.
To wrap it up, this is the one Marlowe film you have to see, if you're tired of Philip Marlowe films. There could not be a better choice than Elliott Gould for this eccentric Marlowe, who first worked with Altman on M*A*S*H and who was once Barbra Streisard's husband. You see how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together now.