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Blood Simple (1984)

June 1st, 2007 · 3 Comments

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Ray (John Getz) drives his employer’s wife Abby (Frances McDormand) down a dark, rain slicked highway in Texas. She’s asked Ray to take her away, but the two end up spending the night together in a motel. The couple is awakened by a call from her husband, bar owner Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya), who has hired a vile private investigator (M. Emmett Walsh) to follow Abby around.

Marty shows up to Ray’s house to rough up his wife. Abby breaks his finger and sends him on his way with a sore groin to boot. Marty notifies the detective that he’s got a job for him. “Uh, well, if the pay’s right, and it’s legal, I’ll do it.” Marty notifies him that it’s not strictly legal. “Well, if the pay’s right, I’ll do it.”

The detective steals a pearl handled .22 that Abby keeps in her purse, but rather than kill the couple, merely photographs them sleeping together and doctors it to make Marty think he shot them. Greed, a body that isn’t dead yet, mistrust, betrayal and other complications ensue.

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After spending four years in the undergraduate film program at NYU, Joel Coen worked as a production assistant on an assortment of music videos and industrial films. He met director Sam Raimi, who was looking for an assistant editor for his first feature film, The Evil Dead.

With his brother Ethan Coen – who had an undergrad degree in philosophy from Princeton and was working as a clerical typist – the Coens wrote a script called Blood Simple on nights and weekends. With Joel directing and Ethan producing, they followed in the footsteps of Raimi, who shot a teaser trailer for The Evil Dead on Super-8 to raise $90,000 to make the film. In the Coens’ teaser, Bruce Campbell played the Dan Hedaya part, bloody and crawling across a road.

The Coens had seen Holly Hunter performing in Crimes of the Heart in New York and offered her the lead. Hunter was already committed to Beth Henley’s next play, but suggested they audition her roommate, Frances McDormand, who the brothers ended up casting. Hunter lent her voice to the picture, as one of the messages played back on the answering machine of a bartender.

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Steven Spielberg, the Coens, Kevin Reynolds, Richard Linklater and Wes Anderson all shot their first feature films in Texas, and out of that class, Blood Simple is the best. It’s dark, gruesome and not for the weak-kneed, but also features the same skewered sensibility that stood out so well in Raising Arizona and The Big Lebowski.

The noir story is nothing new. It’s the visual wit that makes this an overlooked classic; a black bartender at a redneck bar who plays The Four Tops on the jukebox, or the fact that Getz lives on a dead-end street and people dramatically racing away from his house have to turn around and drive past him again. That would have been cut from any other movie, but the Coens are all about non-sequiturs. The music by Carter Burwell is just as eccentric.

McDormand and Walsh are both terrific, particularly Walsh, who plays one of the most treacherous crackers of all time. A director’s cut released in 2001 trimmed three minutes from the theatrical release, and replaced “I’m A Believer” by The Monkees with “It’s The Same Old Song” by The Four Tops over the end credits, a much more ironic musical cue. The film was shot around Austin, Round Rock and Hutto.

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Ruthless Reviews calls Blood Simple, “a thriller that is as convoluted as a Mexican election but presents nary an inconsistency or implausibility.”

“It knows exactly what it’s up to and provides a solid ninety-odd minutes of genuine suspense and sly, gallows humor,” or so says DVDTown.

“It’s a forceful and significant debut, well-deserving of its ranking as a classic,” raves Kasia Anderson at Reel.com.

Tags: Cult favorite · Gangsters and hoodlums · Shot In Texas

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Pat Evans // Jun 5, 2007 at 4:03 am

    This movie was a remarkable calling card for the Coens and the start of a wonderful run of films. Unfortunately their last two were all-out disappointments — particularly “The Ladykillers” which should never ever have been re-made. I do have high hopes ‘though for their Cannes entry “No Country for Old Men” being a return to form.

  • 2 chsmoot // Jun 14, 2007 at 8:29 am

    I disagree with the assertion that “It’s The Same Old Song” is a more ironic musical cue than “I’m A Believer”, especially in light of the beginning of the song – 5 goofy keyboard notes and a goofy guitr lick then the initial strike on the snare drum coinciding with the moment the drop of condensation falls from the pipe under the bathroom sink into the camera (the dying M. Emmett Walsh’s POV) and we cut to black and the credits come up.

    I also disagree with Pat Evans re: “The Ladykillers”. It was very funny, and there was some vintage Coen Bros. style in there, particularly the digging sequence during which a chamber-music-sounding instrumental version of “Trouble Of This World” plays, and then morphs into a hip-hop (or rap or whatever) version as we cut to them dumping the dirt off the side of the bridge.

    As far as objecting to the “re-make,” it wasn’t even really a re-make. The title is the same, as is the basic plot idea (criminals, posing as musicians, use an old-lady’s house as part of a crime plan, she learns of their plan, they find that killing her isn’t as easy as one might think, etc.), but the setting and comic elements are totally different, particularly the primary elements of the lady’s religion and the head criminal’s fondness for literature and Edgar Allen Poe in particular.

  • 3 Andy In Oregon // Mar 3, 2012 at 12:51 am

    I rented the first video release of “Blood Simple” in late 1985, and the closing credits began with a gritty, hard-edged country-rock version of the Neil Diamond-penned song “I’m a Believer.” I know it wasn’t performed by Neil or The Monkees. Does anyone know the artist or band who sang it on the ’85 video release?

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