The Dyke Detective: An Interlude
The Long Goodbye (1973) and Elliott Gould
What makes Elliott Gould cool happens in the space of 5 seconds. It’s about 50 minutes into The Long Goodbye, and the Jewish gangsters who have busted into Elliott Gould/Phillip Marlowe's home are about to cut his dick off. He’s been fucking them around even though he knows he’s in hot water—a few scenes before, the gangster in question slashed the face of his own mistress with a broken coke bottle in front of Gould, forever marring her beauty. “And that,” the gangster says, "is somebody I love."
So you can imagine how little he cares what's going to happen to Marlowe/Gould, a man he clearly both despises and resents since he happens to live next door to a lesbian nudist commune.
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But Gould does a shocking thing. First off, you've known all through this movie that you love him. You've known that from the first few minutes when you saw him leave his home—a high-up apartment in the Hollywood Hills accessible by private elevator, but dingy, a bachelor pad—at 3am to get his cat the only kind of food she'll eat. We've seen him expose his loneliness to the guy at the supermarket who says he doesn't need a cat because he has a girl. By the end of the film, Gould will have neither cat nor girl. He will end the film as he began it, alone. Other people exist in his universe, sure, but not in a real way. He's a man who walks around in the LA summer wearing a full evening suit, dress shoes, and tie. He cuts a perfect silhouette in it, almost: if not for the unmistakable crown of Jewish curls that refuse to be tamed or even combed through. He is half mess, half tradition. He is conservative, but only because he doesn't care enough not to be. So when the gangsters are about to make like a mohel and give him the Big Circumcision, he just kind of stands there. Like, "go on, I dare you." It’s the opposite of a reaction.
That's what makes Elliott Gould cool. It's all in his face. You know it's not that he doubts they'll do it: he was as surprised as everyone else when the gangster smashed his own girlfriend's face in earlier. He knows they mean business, and he still doesn't give a fuck. He's still acting like a cute bastard. Go on, he says with his face. Do it. What the hell do I care? My cat's gone. It's all over for me.
Because that's the secret of Elliott Gould. He's a dyke. It doesn't matter whether his dick gets cut off or not. It's such a laughable thing to him, like sure, take it. What the hell do I need it for?
The world's first-ever jew dyke detective is on the scene, and he's lost his cat, and his best friend turns out to be a piece of lying shit, and it all just doesn't matter anymore. So go on, cut it off. I dare you.
Elliott Gould's dick, however, stays in place, as we always knew it would. The cash he's been accused of stealing has miraculously appears just in time, and he's off the hook. But here's the thing about that dick: he's not gonna use it anyway. There's no fucking that happens in this version of LA, at least, not for this version of Phillip Marlowe. Sure, there's a femme fatalein the mix, there always is. But it's not what he wants—it's not even on his mind. Sex isn't what he's about. This is The Long Goodbye we’re talking about, a movie you knew you were going to love for years before you got up the nerve to see it. Because it's telling you about yourself. This is a movie that understands LA better than most, and by extension, it understands you. That’s why you were scared to see it. That’s why you put it off for so long. You knew it was going to be about you. You knew it was going to see through you with blazing eyes. You knew once you saw it, you weren’t going to be able to hide.
It's not just 70s cool that's happening here with Gould—it's got the markers of that but it's also more than that. It's that faded, lonely, fucked up who cares of it all, it's the blinding single-focus of it all, the itching to know what happened but finally not really giving a shit of it all. This is LA the movie, and it stars Elliott Gould, termed by some as the first cool Jew.
He's cool, alright, and he's beautiful in the way that only a Jewish dyke can be: it's the permanent 5 o'clock shadow, the cigarette wag-wag-wagging out the side of his mouth, the tall but stooped posture, the permanent knowing tilt of the head, the lighting of matches upon unconventional surfaces. It's the sense of a dyke who's in possession of the greatest strap on earth and couldn't care less, surrounded by guys who only care about their dicks. “I can’t believe what I’m looking at,” the murderous gangster says when he glimpses the perpetual naked-lady view from Marlowe’s apartment. Marlowe can believe it: he lives next to it, and it holds no interest for him. “I’m just some guy,” he says when called upon to introduce himself. And he is just some guy. He doesn’t need to be anything but what he is: A private dick.
But he's not using that dick—for the purposes of this film, it doesn't exist. And that's what makes Gould—and by extension Marlowe—the coolest, realest man you've ever seen.
A lot of noir heroes profess not to care. But Gould? He actually doesn't care. And what's cooler than that? What's cooler than being the patriarchy and living next door to a bunch of yoga dykes? What's cooler than having a cat instead of a girl? What's cooler than having the world's greatest dick and not using it, not even caring whether it's there to use or not?
Nothing, is the answer. There’s nothing cooler than being who you are. There’s nothing cooler than when the world forces you, at gunpoint, to change, and you just stay exactly who you are. Nothing is cooler than having no choice—less than no choice—in the matter of identity.
Next week: a concert film.
She runs him over at an intersection.
In the words of one astute reviewer: “He speaks carefully and with a Talmudic weight, so much so that even when he bounces around ideas incoherently, he comes across as sage-like.”