|"Boy, you got a panty on your head."|
For whatever reasons, I missed seeing RAISING ARIZONA when it was released in 1987. I remember that the film had great buzz at the time and I had seen and thoroughly enjoyed the Coen brothers' debut film, the masterful, shot-in-Austin neo noir, BLOOD SIMPLE (1984). But I just never got around to seeing RAISING.
The first time I saw the film was several years ago, when Judy and I were dating. We used to have a regular movie night at her house and one of the films I rented at Blockbuster (remember them?) for us to watch one evening was RAISING ARIZONA. We enjoyed it then and we enjoyed it again the other night when we watched it again for our Friday Night Thrift Store Theater movie.
This cockeyed, whiz bang comedy starts strong and never lets up. It's the story of hard luck, minor criminal Hi McDunnough (played with hang dog sincerity by Nicolas Cage) and the love of his life, police officer, "Ed" (Holly Hunter). After consistently being arrested by Ed and subsequently sent to prison several times, Hi and Ed finally tie the knot and settle down in a trailer somewhere in the desert. Ed desperately wants to start a family but she's incapable of bearing a child. Thus, the pair hatch a scheme to kidnap one of the five Arizona Quints, figuring the family of furniture tycoon Nathan Arizona (Trey Wilson), won't miss one. They snatch the child, dub him Nathan Junior and start their new life together as a loving, family unit.
But things quickly accelerate into crazy town. Hi and Ed are visited by a pair of escaped inmates Gale and Evelle Snoats (John Goodman and William Forsythe), whom Hi knew in prison. The brothers' take up residence with Hi and Ed. When the cons find out the true identity of Nathan Junior, they abscond with the infant and take him with them on their way to rob a bank.
Meanwhile, Nathan Arizona has hired a bounty hunter, Leonard Smalls (Randall "Tex" Cobb), to track down and retrieve his missing child. Smalls is a scowling, growling, heavily armed man mountain on a motorcycle who embarks on his quest with a vengeance.
All of these narrative elements collide in a dizzy third act that brilliantly combines the visual style of Sergio Leone with the madcap pacing, rhythm, sight gags and physical humor found in the Warner Brothers cartoons directed by Tex Avery. The Coen brothers direction and screenplay are both assured and confident in depicting these lovable losers and the over-the-top, crazy-quilt universe in which they reside. A great deal of credit must be given to the camera work of cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld who gives many interior spaces a slightly larger-than-life look and feel. RAISING ARIZONA is a bonafide comedy classic, a very funny film which has stood up quite well since 1987. It ranks number 31 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Laughs list.
I haven't seen every film the Coen brothers have made but here's a list of what I have seen, broken down by the good, the bad and the incomplete.
The good: BLOOD SIMPLE (1984), MILLER'S CROSSING (1990), FARGO (1996), O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? (2000) and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007).
The bad: BARTON FINK (1991) and THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998). I hate LEBOWSKI. This fresh-out-of-the-box cult classic is one of the most overrated films of the last twenty years. I found it a confused mess of a movie with characters that I couldn't stand. If you like it (as many do), that's fine. It's just not my cup of tea.
The incomplete: THE LADYKILLERS (2004). A bizarre remake of a classic British comedy is uneven at best. Tom Hanks delivers a totally bizarre performance but he's offset by some truly funny moments courtesy of J.K. Simmons.
If you've never seen RAISING ARIZONA, I highly recommend that you do so. If you've seen it before, it's well worth a repeat viewing. This one's a comic gem.