5. Little Murders (1971)
Most likely the best under viewed Elliot Gould film, and even becoming more obscure to younger audiences due to limited availability is Alan Arkin’s Little Murders. The comedy is bleak and dark, but fit the tone of the United States at the time, with the Vietnam War still going on and inner cities deteriorating at a rapid pace. Just the imagery of Gould sitting on a packed New York City subway covered in blood with no one person batting an eye screams early 1970s’ cinema.
Little Murders is based on the play by Jules Feiffer and is considered one of the great modern satires. The film follows a couple as the violent and dangerous Manhattan deteriorates almost every aspect of their lives. Gould plays Alfred Chamberlain (who he also performed as in the play) and the nonchalant attitude and bizarre behavior is one of the characterizations that Gould will continue to embrace. He seems to be physically there, but mentally drifting through life. The film also explores the American family where Chamberlain does not fit into this standard. His character just brings the viewer through an emotional whirlwind where the absurdity brings humor, but Gould also evokes a sadness where the viewer can thankfully not feel empathy, but sympathy for his desperation. Little Murders is one of the all time great dark comedies, and one that needs to be made more easily accessible so generations can continue to enjoy Gould’s performance and the entire film.
4. California Split (1974)
Robert Altman and Elliot Gould were just as much as a force in the 70s’ as Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro. The first of three Altman films on this list, when Gould and Altman are together there is just an unparalleled chemistry to almost any other director/actor duo of the same era. The film follows Gould and George Segal as gambling friends who are in search of a massive payout and the ups and downs that they face in the gambling world.
The film is about consequences and how different personalities react unto the consequences that we face. George Segal’s character is straight laced, where Gould’s character is the catalyst that will lead to Segal’s more risky gambling. Gould plays a degenerate gambler who lives with multiple prostitutes and he brings his typical humor here. The character just drifts without a care in the world. Gould plays it so convincingly where the viewer knows whatever will happen to him, he will act like it is nothing and this is one of the signatures to many of his characters. California Split truly is a barrier breaker where cinephiles will love it and so will someone who knows nothing about film.
3. The Silent Partner (1978)
One of the best thrillers of the 1970s’ that we do not talk about is The Silent Partner. The film has everything, where at its core it is a thrilling cat and mouse game, but also filled with humor and romance. The film which is a remake of the Danish film Think of a Number, follows a bank teller, played by Gould, who finds out he is about to be robbed by the mall Santa and uses this to his advantage to also skim money from the bank.
The Silent Partner shows just how likable Elliot Gould is. The viewer watches him commit a crime nearly as bad as the person we’re rooting against, and we still love the Gould character and want him to get away with stealing from the bank he works for. Part of this is due to the difference in character traits where the mall Santa is a sadistic psychopath perfectly played by Christopher Plummer, whereas Gould is just an everyday guy trying to make it through the work week. Gould plays a character who is a little more meek, but with obvious intent where the character needs to stay under the radar. The Silent Partner would not work nearly as well without Gould and is a great example of how casting takes an already good film and makes it a highlight of the late 1970s’.
2. M*A*S*H (1970)
Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H is undoubtedly the biggest hit that Gould, along with Robert Altman has ever made. One of the biggest films of 1970, crowds when out in droves to see it, the film had a great critical reaction, won the Cannes Palme d’Or, was nominated for Best Picture, and obviously spawned one of the most beloved television shows of all time. If there is a single point where Elliot Gould became a star and household name, M*A*S*H is it. Timing played a huge role in the success of the film, where the Vietnam War was one of the biggest things on Americans minds.
For those who don’t know, the film follows Trapper John (played by Elliot Gould) and Hawkeye Pierce (played by Donald Sutherland) as two medics of a field unit during the Korean War. The brutally comic satire has been called one of the all time best dark comedies and Gould’s performance is one of the focal points of that. Again, this is his signature carefree and nonchalant everyday man that we root for, even though we know he should care more than he does. M*A*S*H is the most critical point in Gould’s career, and sets what the audience would come to expect from him.
1. The Long Goodbye (1973)
Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye may very well be the best film of the 1970s’ . At the time the film received mix reviews, was not a financial success, and audiences were not receptive towards it. Sometimes films just need time to marinate in the subconscious of an audience because now that we jump to over 40 years later, the film has been cited as one of the best of the 70s’ and all time. Roger Ebert wrote another review in 2006 giving the film a perfect four stars and heavy influence was cited by Paul Thomas Anderson when he made Inherent Vice.
Assuredly a candidate for what could be described as a perfect film, all of the pieces come together, with the Gould performance being the spoke in the center of the wheel. Elliot Gould takes a character that is ingrained in American literature and reinvents and reinvigorates what has become faded. The film follows private detective Phillip Marlowe as he investigates a missing persons case throughout Los Angeles. Gould’s performance of Marlowe is absolutely game changing where he is constantly speaking, but not even to give dialogue of necessary importance, but to build on the character. Constantly mumbling and talking to himself, lonely and not liked by many, the audience picks up on the impression Marlowe is a loser early in the film, but find themselves putting full faith in him. Elliot Gould gives one of the best acting performances ever seen on screen in this genre shifting masterpiece that is nothing like anything that ever came before it.