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The Big Easy

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Jim McBride
Produced by Executive Producer:
Mort Engelberg
Stephen J. Friedman
Written by Daniel Petrie Jr.
Starring Dennis Quaid
Ellen Barkin
John Goodman
Ned Beatty
Music by Brad Fiedel
Cinematography Affonso Beato
Editing by Mia Goldman
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date(s) August 21, 1987
Running time 108 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Big Easy (1987) is an American neo-noir crime film directed by Jim McBride and written by Daniel Petrie Jr. The executive producer of the motion picture was Mort Engelberg and the cinematographer was Affonso Beato.[1] The film was later adapted for a television series for two seasons on the USA Network (1996–1997).[2]

The film stars Dennis Quaid, Ellen Barkin, John Goodman, and Ned Beatty. It tells the story of how New Orleans police lieutenant Remy McSwain (Quaid) and Louisiana district attorney Anne Osborne (Barkin) investigate mob violence and possible police corruption, and in the process learn to deal with their very different personalities.

The action takes place in New Orleans, Louisiana and was shot on location.



McSwain tries to woo Osborne after a fight.

The film begins by introducing a protagonist, Remy McSwain, who is a police lieutenant and sword maker's son detective with a Cajun-Irish family background who investigates the murder of a local mobster. His investigation makes him suspect that members of the New Orleans police force may be involved, but he can't be sure. Early scenes in the film reveal that Remy has a charming, easy going, "one of the guys" personality, and that, while he does engage in some questionable activity, he is, at heart, a good guy when and where it counts.

Enter Anne Osborn, a state district attorney, who is sent to investigate alleged police corruption in New Orleans and soon meets Detective McSwain. On his prodding, they go out to Tipitina's for dinner and the restaurant owner (Gailard Sartain) refuses to accept their money, as is the norm when Remy eats there. So, after a couple of deliberate winks and a loud introduction from Remy, "Have you met Ann Osbourne from the DISTRICT ATTORNEY's office?", he's given the check. Straight and narrow Anne accuses Remy of being on the take, and he accuses her of not understanding how the system in New Orleans works. Remy explains, "Just relax, darlin'. This is the 'Big Easy.' Folks have a certain way o' doin' things down here."

Since both are hard-headed individuals they quickly clash, fight and fall in love. Soon, however, McSwain gets caught accepting payoffs in an Internal Affairs sting. Osborne has the burden of prosecuting him, which complicates their new relationship. With a little help from his police friends, the evidence is lost and McSwain beats the rap, but their new love affair is dead for the moment.

After the trial and at a Cajun dance she has been quasi-kidnapped to attend, she says to Remy:

Anne: You're a cop for God's sake, you're supposed to uphold the law, but instead you bend it and twist it and sell it. I saw you take that bribe and, and resist arrest and tamper with evidence and perjure yourself under oath.
Remy: Don't forget I ran a red light too, huh.
Anne: You still think it's funny, don't you? Why don't you just face it, Remy? You're not one of the good guys anymore.

Yet, they finally agree to work together to solve the crime and, in the process, get to like each other again.

As the film credits roll, we see Remy in a tuxedo and Anne in a white wedding dress dancing to Cajun music in her apartment after their wedding.



Osborne having supper with McSwain at Tipitina's ... it ends in a fight. "Just relax, darlin'. This is the 'Big Easy,' says McSwain."

Filming took 50 days and the lead actors rehearsed three weeks prior to the start of principal photography.[3]

The original title of the script was "Windy City", and was set in Chicago.

Well known New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison makes a cameo appearance as a judge. Garrison became known for his Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories, and his own investigation into JFK's murder from New Orleans in the 1960s.


City of New Orleans

The city of New Orleans and its atmospherics function as a protagonist in the film. This is evident from the beginning of the film: the opening is an aerial shot of the New Orleans bayou and the zydeco band Beausoleil plays "Zydeco Gris Gris" on the soundtrack (title sequence). The producers also used well known locations such as Tipitina's, Antoine's, Blaine Kern's warehouse full of Mardi Gras parade floats, and a French Quarter strip joint, to flesh out the mood of the film.

At the time of filming The Big Easy, Tipitina's night club was temporarily closed because of financial problems. Location Manager Itsy Atkins secured the use of a renovated warehouse a few blocks away, where Dianna Chenevert's booking agency Omni Attractions was located (500 Valence Street - corner Tchopitoulas). This building previously housed the night club "Rosys" and the downstairs bar and stage where the filming took place was still intact.

Critical reception

Roger Ebert, film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times, lauded the film, and wrote, "The Big Easy is one of the richest American films of the year. It also happens to be a great thriller. I say 'happens,' because I believe the plot of this movie is only an excuse for its real strength: the creation of a group of characters so interesting, so complicated and so original they make a lot of other movie people look like paint-by-number characters."[4]

Sheila Benson, writing for the Los Angeles Times, wrote, "Screenwriter Daniel Petrie Jr. sets up the conflict, and director Jim McBride fleshes it out with devastating, sexy assurance..."[5]

Film critic Vincent Canby was a bit tougher on the film, and wrote, "Remy and Anne are made for each other, or would have been if The Big Easy were the sophisticated comedy it could have been...[the film] was directed by Jim McBride who one day is going to come up with a commercial movie that works all the way through, and not just in patches."[6]

Critics Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, of the web site Spirituality & Practice, liked the film, and wrote, "The Big Easy says a lot about the peculiar problems and exhilarations which are the daily fare of law enforcement officers...The sparks fly in their volatile love affair which is kept heated throughout by director Tim McBride. Veteran cop writer Joseph Wambaugh once commented that 'an unlucky policeman's life passes through four phases — cockiness, care, compromise, and despair. The lucky ones don't reach phase four.' All of these phases — and perhaps a few more — are convincingly brought to life in The Big Easy, a movie with moral clout and dramatic spunk."[7]

The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 100% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on 13 reviews.[8]

Both Quaid and Barkin have commented that this is their favorite of any film they've worked on.


The film was first shown in 1986 at various film festivals including the Cognac Festival du Film Policier, the Davao City Film Festival in the Philippines, the Valladolid International Film Festival in Spain, and the Sundance Film Festival before being picked up for distribution. According to Robert Redford, founder of Sundance, The Big Easy was the first film sold at the festival. Redford tells of dragging David Puttnam, then the head of Columbia Pictures, to see the film. After the screening, Puttnam decided to pick up the movie for distribution.[9]

It opened in wide release in the United States and Canada on August 21, 1987. The first week's gross was $3,626,031 (1,138 screens) and the total receipts for the run were $17,685,307. In its widest release the film was featured in 1,219 theaters. The motion picture was in circulation five weeks.[10]

Video and DVD

On February 2, 1999 a video and DVD of the film were released on the Trimark label as part of the label's "Gold Reel Collection."

Television adaptation

The film inspired a television series of the same name. The show premiered on the USA Cable Network August 11, 1996. Tony Crane played McSwain and Susan Walters played Anne Osbourne. Daniel Petrie Jr. (who wrote the screenplay to this film) was the executive producer of the series; there were approximately 35 episodes broadcast over two seasons.[11]


With the action taking place in New Orleans, and the main protagonist's Cajun family background (Remy McSwain), the producers of the film used cajun, zydeco, R&B, and gospel music in the soundtrack.

An original motion picture soundtrack CD was released in 1987 on the Island label, and re-released in 1991 on the Fontana Island label. The CD contains twelve tracks including "Tipitina," played by New Orleans pianist Professor Longhair, the New Orleans anthem "Iko Iko," played by The Dixie Cups, and a ballad, "Closer To You," written and performed by actor Dennis Quaid who also performs the song in the film.

Other performers on the album include Beausoleil, Buckwheat Zydeco, Dewey Balfa, Aaron Neville & The Neville Brothers. A few tunes heard in the film did not make the cut to the CD. They include St. Augustine's Marching Hundred's "Li'l Liza Jane" and Clifton Chenier's "You Used to Call Me" (performed by Dennis Quaid).


CD Cover of soundtrack.



  • Independent Spirit Awards: Best Director, Jim McBride; Best Feature, Stephen J. Friedman; 1988.
  • Casting Society of America: Artios Award; Best Casting for Feature Film, Drama, Lynn Stalmaster and David Rubin; 1988.
  • Edgar Allan Poe Awards: Edgar; Best Motion Picture, Daniel Petrie Jr.; 1988.

Notable quote

  • Remy McSwain: If I can't have you, can I at least have my gator? (Remy's stuffed toy alligator.)


  1. ^ The Big Easy at the Internet Movie Database.
  2. ^ The Big Easy (television series) at the Internet Movie Database.
  3. ^ Van Gelder, Lawrence. The New York Times, August 28, 1987.
  4. ^ Ebert, Roger. The Chicago Sun-Times, film review, August 21, 1987.
  5. ^ Benson, Sheila. Los Angeles Times, Calendar Section, film review, August 21, 1987.
  6. ^ Canby, Vincent. The New York Times, film review, "The Big Easy, Comedy About Police Case," August 21, 1987.
  7. ^ Brussat, Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat. Spirituality & Practice, film review, 1970 – 2007. Last accessed: March 22, 2008.
  8. ^ The Big Easy at Rotten Tomatoes. Last accessed: January 27, 2008.
  9. ^ Hernandez, Eugene and Anne Hubbell. IndieWire, January 22, 2000.
  10. ^ The Numbers box office data. Last accessed: December 5, 2007.
  11. ^ IMDb, The Big Easy (television series), ibid.

External links


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