The Coen Brother’s 1998 comedy The Big Lebowski has many cultural touchstones—the sixties, hippies, Vietnam, CCR, weed, Busby Berkley musicals—but the underlying structure of the movie goes back further to the days of 40s film noir. In a movie full of touches of genius (full disclosure: I’m a Lebowskiphile from way back), the initiating act of genius was the decision to make the film a modern day update of the hardboiled L.A. crime story. Of course, the Coens were well aware that Robert Altman did this back in the seventies when he brought Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe to the grimy, drugged-out LA of 1973 in The Long Goodbye. The Coens did Altman one better by celebrating/satirizing/sending-up every noir trope they can get their hands on.
Here then is a noir geek’s guide to the land of Lebowski:
1. The Big Lebowski, The Title: In the film itself, “The Big Lebowski” refers to the character played David Huddleston, the rich old man who hires “The Dude” to find his missing wife. The title, however, is a throwback to The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler’s novel about a rich old man who hires private eye Philip Marlowe to find his missing son-in-law. It’s evocative, too, of other noir titles like The Big Bluff, The Big Combo, and The Big Heat.
[Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.]