Detective Green: My, my, you are a pretty asshole.
Philip Marlowe: Yeah, my mother always tells me that.
The Coen brothers, writers and directors of The Big Lebowski, have made no secret of their fondness for author Raymond Chandler and his unshakeable detective, Philip Marlowe. Not knowing much about Chandler, that really didn’t mean anything to me. But after seeing The Long Goodbye, director Robert Altman’s adaption of the Chandler novel by the same name, I totally get it now. The convoluted plot, the ridiculous characters, the twist on film noir, Los Angeles as the back drop, the drama of the wealthy and foolish wreaking havoc on all those around them. If you’re a Lebowski fan and haven’t seen The Long Goodbye, I recommend giving it a shot.
To me, what was most fascinating was the Lebowski-Marlowe comparison. Jeff Bridges’ Lebowski is a stoner shlub who loves his weed, White Russians and bowling. He gets dragged into nefarious business that’s not his simply by having the same name – Jeffery Lebowski – as the wealthy man whose drama it truly is. Lebowski stumbles and bumbles his way through a poorly executed ransom payment then stumbles and bumbles some more as he hopes to recover the cash and luck into a payday.
Elliot Gould’s Marlowe is a private detective, although the mystery of who killed Eileen Wade isn’t his case. Marlowe’s pal Roger Wade shows up late one night asking for a lift to Mexico. Marlowe obliges, then is arrested upon his return for aiding and abetting Roger in the murder of his wife. Marlowe is dragged in further by gangster Marty Augustine, who believes that Marlowe knows where Roger and Augustine’s missing money are located. Marlowe neither stumbles nor bumbles, nudging, grimacing, yelling, threatening and smart-alecking his way through the madness in an attempt to figure out who framed his friend and clear his own name, both with the law and the lawless.
The story is similar, and there are even similarities between Marlowe and Lebowski. But while Lebowski is just kind of wandering aimlessly hoping to luck into his fortune and out of trouble, Marlowe only appears to be aimless. His constant smart-ass comments, his chain smoking, his rumpled appearance, his mumbling, all of that are part of the show. He wants to be underestimated, because if you believe he’s a bozo, Marlowe has that much more of a chance to ooze into your life and learn what he wants to learn without you even realizing it. At first, Marlowe very much comes off as incompetent and a jackass. After awhile, the viewer starts to realize that’s just as false as anything Marlowe’s adversaries are throwing at him.
What I’m considering doing now is watching both, back-to-back, just to get a better look at how the two parallel each other. Marlow and Lebowski, two shlubs cut from slightly different cloth.