Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Raising Arizona (1987)

Raising Arizona is a hoot.

Filmmaking siblings Joel and Ethan Coen made their debut, to much critical praise, with 1984's Blood Simple.


Raising Arizona, their third film, could very well be the most slapstick effort from this talented duo.

H.I. McDunnough (Nicholas Cage) is a small-time thief with a penchant for holding up convenience stores and then getting quickly caught.

He takes a fancy to Edwina, 'Ed', a female police officer, who takes his mugshot after each failed hold up attempt.

McDunnough vows to reform. She leaves the force. They marry and try, repeatedly, to have a child. Edwina can't conceive. They're devastated.


When they learn unpainted furniture king Nathan Arizona (Trey Wilson) and his wife have quintuplets, H.I. and Ed reason that's too many children for one couple. They steal one of the five boys, possibly Nathan Jr.

Their dream is finally realized, but troubles soon arrive. Deciding on a consistent story about their son is one.

When McDunnough's boss and his wife, Glen and Dot (Sam McMurray and Frances McDormand), they bring their destructive brood. Dot besieges the new parents with concerns ranging from health care to financial planning.

Add jailbirds, and brothers, Gale and Evelle Snoats (John Goodman and William Forsythe) and Leonard Smalls (Randall 'Tex' Cobb), a bounty hunter possibly from Hell, and the McDunnoughs are overwhelmed with challenges.

There's hints of the Coens remake of True Grit with poetic language from several of the characters. Besides plenty of pratfalls and frantic chases, there's plenty of great dialogue to savour in this film.


Several supporting performances are top notch too including Wilson's Arizona, eager to promote his business even when his child is abducted, and McMurray's Glen, a boss with a penchant for Polish jokes and open marriages.

Raising Arizona also offers some very interesting perspectives on human emotions - from the need for love to outright greed. Many characters have a genuine affection for baby Nathan, but a $25,000 reward for the boy's return encourages greed too.

John Crowder's yodeling is a treat throughout the film's 94-minute running time. Even with all the silliness, the ending is a warm treat.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Cage's character finds a job at Hudsucker Industries. The Coens made The Hudsucker Proxy in 1994. M. Emmet Walsh, a key actor in Blood Simple, has a small role as Cage's very talkative co-worker. Cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld became a director himself helming films such as Men In Black and Addams Family.

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