A brief note on The Big Easy (Jim McBride, 1986)

Are Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin the sexiest couple in American cinema of the 1980s? Hadn’t seen The Big Easy since it came out and it’s even better than I remembered, even taking into account the low quality of the version available on Amazon Prime. I don’t have time to review the film properly so this is more a listing of thoughts and a file of elements that I might return to at some point and that some of you might find useful. Girlfriends have told me how this is a ‘wallow’ film for them, many of them having seen it more than twenty times, and I think the easy heterosexuality, the sexyness (which felt transgressive when I first saw it), the romanticism, and the playing of the leads has something to do with it.

It’s hard to remember what an enormous impact Dennis Quaid made in this film. But here is Libby Wexman-Glaner to remind you:

I used to follow Libby’s column avidly in Premiere. There was no one who made me laugh so much and so hard about movies. I didn’t know Libby was really a pseudonym for Paul Rudnick, a writer who worked on the screenplays for The Addams Family(1991),, Sister Act (1992), The First Wives Club (1996), and other comedies with a camp bent. He had a big hit off-Broadway with Jeffrey (1993), described as ‘the first comedy about AIDS’. My friend Ben Baglio tells me that reading about The Big Easy, ‘I see that Charles Ludlum has a small role. And that got me to remembering his Ridiculous Theatrical Company in Greenwich Village which he ran with his partner Everett Quinton. I saw them in The Mystery of Irma Vep, which Ludlum wrote. Ludlum succumbed to AIDS shortly after I left New York. Pleased to see Quinton is alive and well. God, it really was a terrible time. This terrible time is not evident in The Big Easy. It’s noir about many things but not about love.

Recently I’ve been reading  Tracy Tynan’s Wear and Tear: The Threads of My Life. Aside from being the daughter of Elaine Dundy and the great Kenneth Tynan, she was an accomplished costume designer, married to Jim McBride, the film’s director, and she designed or put together the clothes for The Big Easy. This is what she has to say about the wedding dress at the end:

A great film, with a great score of zydeca and Bayou music — hearing Aaron Neville in this film singing ‘Tell It Like It Is’ still gives me chills — some of the most charismatic performers of 1980s American cinema — one weeps to see how great Ellen Barkin is here and how little and badly American cinema used her subsequently– and one of the greatest sex scenes ever. Also a film whose direction make it add up to even more than the sum of its great parts. A film to revisit.


José Arroyo

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