Films by the Coen Brothers
that include major references to classic crime fiction
novels and novelists, as well as film noir
. In reverse chronological order.
The Man Who Wasn't There (2001) is inspired by the novels of James M. Cain, specifically The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity. The California setting remains, as do some major plot points, but the obsessiveness and the overheated emotion of Cain are reversed to allow for the introverted character of Ed Crane, played by Billy Bob Thornton. The Postman Always Rings Twice was filmed twice, once with John Garfield and Lana Turner in the lead roles, and once with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange.
The Big Lebowski (1998) is a reference to and a major parody of the Philip Marlowe novels of Raymond Chandler, especially The Big Sleep. Several characters have direct counterparts in the latter. The whole thing is also a variation on Robert Altman's adaptation of Chandler's The Long Goodbye, which also radically changed Marlowe's persona and transferred him to contemporary Los Angeles, as opposed to the L.A. of the 1940s. Both The Big Lebowski and The Long Goodbye feature a character who is a devout jew: Walter Sobchak and Marty Augistine respectively. The Big Sleep itself was filmed twice, allowing Marlowe to be played by both Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum.
Miller's Crossing (1990) is a recongifuration of two novels by Dashiell Hammett: Red Harvest and The Glass Key. Harvest received only one straight film adaptation (the obscure 1930 movie Roadhouse Nights), but was the uncredited inspiration for Akira Kurosawa's hugely influential Yojimbo. Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars was in turn inspired by Yojimbo, not crediting either Kurosawa or Hammett, and Walter Hill's Last Man Standing actually completed the circle by returning Kurosawa's samurai plot to its' original setting -- Prohibition-era America -- but still crediting only Kurosawa and not Hammett. The Glass Key is more straightforward - it was filmed in 1942 with Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake and Brian Donleavy, and in 1935 with George Raft and Edward Arnold.
And finally Blood Simple (1984), the Coens' first movie, and itself a seminal film noir, is too generic and pastiche-like to qualify as a reference to anything specific. However, James M. Cain can be seen as a major influence in terms of plot and characters, and the title itself is a quote from Hammett's Red Harvest.
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