25 years on, the Dude still abides... Why The Big Lebowski is a cult classic

The Big Lebowski still looks good at 25 and remains a pure delight from start to finish, says Ralph McLean

Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski
Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski

The Big Lebowski may have reached the ripe old age of 25 but the Dude, it would seem, still abides.

The brothers Joel and Ethan Coen have made many a film that’s worthy of attention in this column since they first graced our cinema screens with Blood Simple back in 1984 but few, if any, have had the lasting cultural impact of the simple tale of a supremely laidback, cardigan wearing, herb imbibing bowling enthusiast who gets mixed up in criminal doings after a case of mistaken identity.

I’ll not waste time with a fuller breakdown of the film’s story – I’ve doubtless done that here in the past, and if not then shame on me – but suffice to say it’s a classic Raymond Chandler style LA crime fable laced with the kind of quirky, oddball characters and social scenarios the Coens have carved a career out of creating on the big screen.

At the very centre of the film’s seriously stoned soul is Jeff Bridges with his career best performance as Jeffrey 'The Dude' Lebowski. Bridges so inhabits the character it’s impossible to imagine anyone else in the role which makes it all the more shocking when you realise that Mel Gibson was one of the names originally considered for the part. Hard to get your head around that isn’t it?

The Coens based their lead character on two figures they knew in Hollywood, film producer Jeff Dowd (a fervent anti-Vietnam campaigner who drank White Russian cocktails and answered to the name of 'The Dude') and fellow Vietnam vet Peter Exline. Many of the comic scrapes Jeff Lebowski finds himself in were lifted directly from stories related by the duo.

The roles of The Dude’s loyal sidemen were taken by long time Coen brothers players John Goodman and Steve Buscemi as Walter and Donny. While Donny is sweetness and dim witted charm personified Walter is an altogether more volatile figure.

An eminently quotable ball of frustration and anger he was apparently based on Apocalypse Now screenwriter John Milius (whose passion for firearms and hair trigger temper were legendary), as channelled by the bear-like genius of Goodman of course.

Other key roles include Julianne Moore’s eccentric artist Maude and David Huddleston who played her millionaire father, the 'Big' Lebowski of the title.

As the blustering businessman Huddleston is note perfect so it’s odd to think that everyone from Marlon Brando to Gene Hackman was initally considered for the role.

Watched today the film remains a uniquely entertaining proposition. The plot may consciously echo old Hollywood crime epics but there’s so much to enjoy it’s almost untrue. Cinematographer Roger Deakins, whose relationship with the Coens stretched back to Barton Fink, captures the mundane and the dreamlike vistas of Los Angeles beautifully and the brothers' famous way for dialogue leaves you wanting to quote whole scenes back to friends the moment you see them.

Strange, knowing and funny with a killer soundtrack that blends Henry Mancini with Yma Sumac and Captain Beefheart, The Big Lebowski still looks good at 25 and remains a pure delight from start to finish.