Marlowe (Gould), a private dic helps his friend, Terry Lenxox to the Mexican border only to be imprisoned for aiding and abetting the murder of his mate's wife. After his release, he's asked to help a glamorous blonde wife find her husband, but Marlowe becomes more and more warey as he realises the blonde may have a connection to Lennox and his dead wife.
Robert Altman's languid, free-form version of Raymond Chandler's novel subtly critiques the values of Philip Marlowe, played by an unshaven, chain-smoking Elliott Gould as an all-time loser, introduced in a brilliant sequence that has him try to pass off inferior pet food on his supercilious cat. Shambling through the remains of Chandler's plot, Gould tries to help an alcoholic writer (Sterling Hayden) and clear his only friend of a murder rap.
Many individual sequences are astonishing: violent gangster Mark Rydell smashing a bottle in his mistress' face ("That's someone I love, you I don't even like"), Hayden's stumbling suicide, and an invigoratingly cynical punch line that turns Marlowe into some sort of winner after all. This release is letterboxed; a major bonus since Altman as usual makes sure a lot of the action is happening almost unnoticed in the corners of the frame.
A subtle criqiue of the main character that contains some astonishing set pieces.