Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Movie – Raising Arizona (1987)

I first saw Raising Arizona when it came to HBO back in the late 1980s.  I laughed quite a bit and remember thinking those Coen Brothers had a good future as makers of comedic movies.  I had no idea they had already done a dramatic crime movie prior to this one.  This film was the first time I had ever heard of them.  I had seen Nicolas Cage before, but this was also the first time I ever saw Holly Hunter in a movie.  As it turns out, it was her first starring role.  Both she and Cage do great jobs playing stylized characters with very distinctive vocal patterns – something that would become a Coen Brothers trademark.  In future movies both would go on to win Oscars for Best Actor and Best Actress respectively.

Raising Arizona lets you know right away that it is going to be just a little off the beaten path in its presentation.  There is a quick sequence where petty thief H.I. “Hi” McDunnough (Nicolas Cage) keeps getting arrested and processed by a police officer named Edwina, or “Ed” for short (Holly Hunter).  He soon proposes and they are married.  Unfortunately, Hi finds that Ed’s womb “is a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase.”  With Ed devastated by the news that she won’t be able to have children, Hi decides that the logical thing to do is to relieve a local businessman – Nathan Arizona (Trey Wilson) - of one of his new quintuplets, since they have far more kids than they need and Ed has none.

Although unsure at first, Ed quickly comes to see things Hi’s way, even though she is a former police officer.  She sets about making a nice home for her new family, and she’s made Hi give up his petty thefts now that they have a child to raise.  Nathan Arizona isn’t going to just forget about the fact that one of his children is missing, especially when it’s Nathan, Jr. – he thinks – and he hires mean-as-a-junkyard-dog bounty hunter Leonard Smalls (Tex Cobb) to bring his son back.  Complicating things further is that two criminal brothers acquainted with Hi “release themselves under their own recognizance” from prison and make straight for Hi’s house to hide out.

The older brother Gale (John Goodman) always tells his younger brother Evelle (William Forsythe) what to do and Gale takes the same approach with Hi.  He keeps asking Hi questions about the baby and why Hi is doing only what Ed tells him to do.  In addition to the pressure here, Ed gets pressure from her friend Dot (Frances McDormand – another future Best Actress Oscar winner) about doing all the proper things for a new child.  Things come to a head when Hi and Ed can’t hide the truth about their baby any longer.

The funny chase scene is a combination foot and car chase that involves Hi, police cars, dogs, mother and baby, and some well-armed store clerks.  Hi goes into a store to pick up some Huggies (disposable diapers) while Ed and baby wait in the car.  Hi falls back into his old pattern by opening a package of pantyhose, pulling it over his head, and sticking up the clerk for the Huggies and whatever money is in the cash register.  Ed sees Hi doing this, gets pissed at him (“You sumbitch!”), and takes off in the car before Hi can get to it. 

Meanwhile, the clerk has alerted the police and soon Hi is getting tons of bullets fired at him by the gun-happy store clerk and the cops.  His chase takes him through back yards, over fences, through a home, in a truck driven by a panicked man, back into another store for some more Huggies since the original package was blown out of Hi’s grip by a bullet, and finally hooking back up with Ed who’s been driving around trying to find Hi.  The absolute classic capper comes when Hi starts giving Ed driving directions.  I remember wondering what the heck he was doing.  When we are finally shown why Hi is doing this it is very funny.  I must have laughed for a good minute after that, and chuckled for quite a while longer.

This movie has a bunch of fun references to other films, from Dr. Strangelove to The Shawshank Redemption to The Shining.  The only negative I will mention is that the very end of the movie felt like it wasn’t in sync with the rest of it.  I don’t know whether the Coens were not quite sure how to end it, whether the studio interfered a little and made them do that ending, or whether that was always what the Coens intended and it’s just me that felt it was off.

Raising Arizona is a different kind of comedy and it is still one of my favorite Coen Brothers' films.  If you prefer your movies to be straightforward then Raising Arizona might turn you off.  For everyone else, I highly recommend this film.

Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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  1. "I'll be taking these Huggies and whatever cash you got"

    Man, that is one of favorite films ever.

    1. "Now there's people - and I know 'em - who'll pay a lot more than $25,000 for a healthy baby. Why, I myself fetched $30,000 on the black market....and that was in 1954 dollars."

      Gotta love the dialogue in this movie.

  2. Good review Chip. Just a fun-loving and energetic movie that never stopped entertaining the hell out of me. If only Cage stuck clear of roles like these, because the guy is so damn good at them.

    1. Thanks. For all the crappy roles he's had lately, he did quite a few good movies earlier in his career.

  3. Another of my favorites! I guess you've got a new reader for your blog. I came here from a link at 1001plus.

    Do you want me to get nitpicky? The kidnapping was Ed's idea "At the time, Ed's little plan seemed the answer to all our dreams" and later she confesses it was her idea. Also, Nathan Arizona didn't hire Leonard Smalls if you remember the showdown in Nathan's office.

    1. I honestly didn't remember it was Ed's idea. I did know that technically Smalls wasn't hired because they couldn't agree on his price. I actually used a bit of that dialogue in a response above. I sometimes write too much when I really like a movie, so I make a conscious effort to restrict myself. I thought about going into the subplot where Smalls is out to sell the baby on the black market, but that would have added another medium sized paragraph.

      I welcome any and all corrections. I don't want to give people the idea that a movie is one thing when it is really another.

      Thanks for becoming a Follower. I'll check out your blog when I get a chance.