And thus began Altman’s unprecedented run of innovative masterworks. One by one, Altman ran the gamut of American genre favorites, upending and undoing every convention and expectation held within their structures as a means of dissecting and interrogating the inherent truths buried beneath their mountains of cliches. Time and time again, contemporaries of Altman have called McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)(a film Altman himself dubbed an “Anti-Western”) his greatest film. Not to give away the ending, but we tend to agree. Images (1972) was Altman’s sole contribution to the horror genre, and quite expectedly for the maverick director, its unconventional nature sets it apart from comparable contenders and leaves an indelible impact on the mind. His signature iconoclasm is never better represented, however, than in the tearing down of an American literary favorite in the form of an adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. With Elliot Gould starring as the ineffectual, yet still effortlessly cool, Phillip Marlowe in a complete subversion of the typically suave and collected Noir private eye. Continuing their collaboration, Altman and Gould pair again for California Split (1974), a buddy comedy with sinister undertones as the specter of addiction looms over the heads of two free-wheeling, luckless gamblers. It was inevitable, then, that Altman would find himself drifting towards the nostalgic trend of reconsidering the romantic vision of the turbulent Great Depression and the lionized gangsters of that time. Thieves Like Us (1975) strips away most of the action and drama to focus on the intimate conflicts of such characters, achieving a kind of tragic serenity that, while quite of a piece with the earlier Altman upheavals, nonetheless retains his signature of deconstructing the American psyche in search of inherent cultural truths nestled in their cores.
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