Elliott Gould did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Philip Marlowe in The Long Goodbye.
Elliot Gould after his breakout in the late 60's found himself in a career slump due to his behavior on the set of the film that eventually became What's Up Doc, and I would imagine his performance in Ingmar Bergman's The Touch did not help matters. Robert Altman though cast him here as Philip Marlowe which seems like a rather curious casting choice on paper. The role of Philip Malowe is usually reserved for tough guy actors like Humphrey Bogart, James Garner, James Caan, and even later on in the seventies Robert Mitchum. This is not a traditional representation of the role though, and not simply because it was given a contemporary setting. The film opens not with Marlowe taking care of a case but rather dealing with his cat who has gotten hungry in the middle of the night. This Marlowe lives in a lonely apartment but with a group of frequently nude hippie women live across the way from him. Don't take that as a glamorous setting because it's really not.
Marlowe, after attempting and failing to find the right cat food, still doesn't get a case just request to drive his friend Terry, who claims to have fought with his wife, to Tijuana. Gould casting suddenly starts to make sense as this is not the Marlowe of Bogart, and I'd say may have influenced Doc Sportello of Inherent Vice. Gould does not seem like a fit for a tough guy, and his performance isn't as a tough guy. The thing is he isn't separate entirely from the character either, he is Philip Marlowe but entirely Elliott Gould's Philip Marlowe. To explain, Gould's performance is not without the traits of Marlowe, and what is set up around the character. As required of a P.I. in the forties he smokes in basically every scene, and he always wears a suit. Again those features of Marlowe though not exactly Gould's performance per se. Gould's performance feels as though he is a Marlowe though is perhaps more of as an actual private detective rather than the hero of a detective novel.
That is not to say that this what one would charge as a "realistic" performance, not that it is fantastical though. Gould gives us perhaps the Marlowe of being in the life as he is and would be in as a private detective. Gould's delivery often is curious yet intriguing to the character in as he drifts out of conversations with those who really are not interested in him all that much. It's something brilliant though in this and the way Gould plays it. In that maybe the tough guy Marlowe might say similair things and seem "cool", the way Gould suggests perhaps a certain loneliness in this act as thought he man's life is made of these cursory interactions. Of course Marlowe has his time when he does get a bit more attention, where he fits in the role as the protagonist of a film noir. That begins as the cops come by the question Marlowe about the disappearance of his friend who asked for the ride, and the brutal death of that man's wife.
As Marlowe is arrested, on a trumped up charge, we are given a Marlowe perhaps more in his element as he deals with the police. Gould is rather hilarious in this scene as he kind of talks around the cops and makes fun of them for their severe attitude. Again though there something genius in how Gould approaches this in again he is the film noir hero, but he's also not at all. This is also apparent in his scenes where he deals with a strange vicious criminal Augustine (Mark Rydell) and his gang who wants money that was being kept by Terry which Augustine thinks was given to Marlowe. Gould seems to fulfill kind of the typical way of acting above those interrogating him and trying to menace him. As typical he's pretty calm and collected, kind of above it all while showing a certain disdain towards them. Gould even fulfills the requirement in that he's indeed rather enjoyable to watch in these scenes, but all of it is not truly in the normal way. Instead of being the master of the room, Gould plays it somewhat adrift as someone really would come across as who is not taking such a situation seriously. It is so different yet it still absolutely works.
That also is again not how Gould plays every scene as the detective, he carefully only plays scenes that way when technically the situation is a waste of time for Marlowe. We are also given scenes where we actually see him in action such as when he is hired to find a writer, Roger Wade (Sterling Hayden), by the man's wife Eileen Wade. Marlowe quickly finds the husband at a shady detox center, and even sneaks in to help the man escape. These scenes are actually a brilliant bit of directing by Altman, though Gould is important within them. Altman though directs them in this purposefully kind of low key way while Gould portrays more of that assertiveness of behavior that would be more fitting to more of closeups with some more pronounced edits. Marlowe saves the man and it soon becomes as though there is no mystery to anyone besides Marlowe. Here's kind of a part of the key of Gould's whole performance that makes it take a step further than it might have been as this approach could've been parody but it's not. It's something truly fascinating.
Gould again is adrift in those meaningless, to him, interrogation scenes but he's not that way towards the mystery that involves people that Marlowe does care about. Gould does bring this palatable undercurrent of an emotional connection there. When he quizzes Wade's wife on knowing more than she acts as though she does, there is a severity in his voice, and Gould makes Marlowe as someone who cares. There is something even more to this as again he's being the film noir hero, but this takes on yet another purpose that is surprisingly poignant. In that Gould again shows that Marlowe does care and the way he does, while no one else seems to, is made rather moving even. The performance in a way I found to be covert in its emotional impact. Now it was already an entertaining engaging work, but it's more. There's an incredible scene that closes the film where Marlowe finally "solves his problem". It is very cathartic moment as Gould attaches the emotion within that goes beyond just getting the villain so to speak. Gould reflects a further attachment of the personal betrayal involved but also the satisfaction of essentially being truly "Philip Marlowe". What Gould does here is this remarkable contradiction of a characterization. In that Gould has the features of that noir detective, Philip Marlowe. He's in the seventies though, and he's not exactly as everyone else should be yet he feels entirely natural to himself because of Gould's work. Gould never falls into caricature, but makes sense of this contradiction of character. This is such daring work that absolutely succeeds in terms of creating something completely new out of something old. I loved this performance.