1987 in Film – Raising Arizona

Release Date: March 13th
Box Office: $22,847,000

Raising Arizona (1987) is a daft film.

This is daft in a good way, obviously. It’s a freewheeling self indulgent romp of a film, which means it’s one of those films that you’ll either go with or you won’t. In that way it’s very much representative of the work of The Coen Brothers: they’re willing to cross genres and tone on a whim based on what interests them at the time. Sometime that doesn’t sync up with what the audience wants (like The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) or The Ladykillers (2004)) and sometimes it does.

Like with this film.

The nails it’s colours to the mast with its ten minute long prologue introducing us to H. I. McDunnough played by Nic Cage. Known as Hi he’s a career petty criminal and an not a very good one at that. As he is caught and jailed several times he develops a relation with Ed played by Holly Hunter, who takes his mug shot each time he is processed. Eventually they fall in love and marry.

After promising to go straight and raise a family, Hi and Ed discover they can’t which devastates them. At the same time a rich businessman’s wife gives birth to quints; deciding that they have too many babies Hi and Ed decide to take one and raise it as their own.

Cue the opening credits as the country and western style yodelling music that has underpinned everything so far builds to a crescendo.

It’s a bold opening statement and one that demonstrates the confidence of the Coens in their work. Arizona was designed to be as different from their debut film, Blood Simple (1984), as possible. This makes for a much lighter film with everyone being sympathetic in some way, everyone Is likeable even when they’re robbing banks and kidnapping babies.

This is helped by the casting from top to bottom. Cage and Hunter in the lead roles create a great dynamic then add in John Goodman and William Forsythe in early roles as criminal friends of Hi. The Coens would build up a retinue of returning actors and you can see it start to build here.

However, the cinematography of the film really can’t be understated. There’s an energy and dynamism to the camera work that’s brought to the table by Barry Sonnenfeld. The use of low tracking shots, cameras attached to bikes and cars and borrowing the Ram-O-Cam from Sam Raimi give the film a visual flair to match the plot.

The audiences lapped it up making it a low budget success story and establishing the Coens as their own thing. Remember, despite it mainly affecting Raimi, they were still caught up in the wreckage that followed the disastrous production of Crimewave (1985). It was that film that made the Coens request final cut on Arizona which is probably what saved the film. You can only imagine a film studio taking one look at that film and demanding all kinds of cuts to make it more audience friendly.

But that’s not always the point of the Coens, they don’t set out to make something audience friendly, they want to make something that interests them. And if people agree? Fair enough.

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