Blood Simple (1984):'Cause When Blood Gets Difficult Things Get Really Messy

Before Raising Arizona made it cool to put a panty on your head, before the Dude abided, and way before No Country for Old Men made cattle guns the 'it' thing for the hip killer on the streets, the Coens started off their career with Blood Simple, a flick that brought the Noir of the 40s right into the neon arms of the 80s. While the screenplay was wholly original, the Brothers took the title of their film from a passage in famed pulp novelist Dashiell Hammett's novel Red Harvest. In the novel, Hammett describes blood simple as the addled, fearful mindset of people after a prolonged immersion in violent situations. A perfect term to describe the reactions of many of the characters in the Coen's films, and it fits this film like a glove. Violence, greed, lust, and suspicion are the engine that fuels this film, and with a coterie of astounding performers, the Coen's kicked off their careers with a movie that is anything but simple.

Julian Marty (Dan Heyaya) owns a small Texas bar, but drunk patrons are the least of his worries. He's convinced that his wife Abby (Frances McDormand) is running around on him. So he hires a private investigator, Loren Visser (M. Emmett Walsh), to track her down. When the private eye returns with pictures of Abby and Julian's employee Ray (John Getz) in flagrante delicto, the barman has a bigger job for the gumshoe, he wants the lovers killed. Visser takes the job, but he fakes the pictures of the bullet ridden bodies and double crosses Julian, plugging him with Abby's gun he stole from Ray's house. Soon after, Ray stops by the bar and finds Julian dead and Abby's gun. So thinking he's cleaning up Abby's crime, he hauls the body off to dump in the desert. Only Julian's not quite dead yet. So Ray buries him alive. After telling Abby that he covered her murder, she goes to the office to find it ransacked, unbeknownst to her because Visser left a clue that would lead the cops to him. Instead, she begins to believe that Ray killed Julian. 

I could go on further about the ins and outs of the film, but I'm sure you get the idea. The plot is twistier than a party at Chubby Checker's house in 1960. Blood Simple draws on many influences to create its story. With shades of Film Noir and The Postman Always Rings Twice author James M. Cain's classic novels all wrapped up in thick layer of Texas heat, Blood Simple strikes up a symphony of treachery that doesn't let go until the film's final frame. The film hinges on the character's lack of communication between each other, and the misunderstandings coupled with the intrusion of private dick set them on a spiral that leads nowhere except down a progressively tragic road. Blood Simple is also greatly enhanced by the mood laid down by cinematographer, and future blockbuster director, Barry Sonnenfeld. With a feeling of dread cast over the proceedings like rising heat on a Texas highway, Sonnenfeld and the Coens come together to create a total vision with Blood Simple.

Of course none of this vision would have made a bit of difference if it were not for a stellar cast. Holly Hunter originally auditioned for the role of Abby, but due to other commitments, she had to pass on the role and suggested her roommate Frances McDormand try out for the role. It would kick off a collaboration between the actress and the Coens that would span over seven films and twenty five years. McDormand could not have been more perfectly cast. While not overtly sexy, she has a presence to her, and it made her the perfect woman to come between Hedaya and Getz. In an early teaser trailer used to drum up business, Hedaya's role was played by Bruce Campbell, and as much as I like the Chin of Chins, he just wouldn't have been a good fit here. Hedaya can play desperate, sweaty, and slimy like no other. Well, except perhaps M. Emmet Walsh which is what makes their scenes so great. When
Walsh was cast, the role was fine tuned to the actor, and it worked perfectly. So perfectly that the only actor I could even imagine in the role other than Walsh would be Sydney Greenstreet. If there is a weak link, then it would have to be John Getz. I'm not saying he was bad, but in the face of the film's other performances it just doesn't stack up.

If Blood Simple had been the only film that the Coens ever made, it would still be enough to vault them into the hallowed halls of genre film, but that this first film was only one of many more to come, makes it a career high point at the beginning of a career filled with such moments. While they would revisit crime again in films such as Raising Arizona and Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou with a more comic tone and Noir sensibilities in Fargo, The Man Who Wasn't There, and No Country for Old Men, there's a special blend of straightforward honesty to the proceedings in Blood Simple. If for some reason you're not familiar with the Coen Brothers, then starting at the very beginning would be a great place to kick off a  love affair with their films. If you're an exisiting fan, then go back and see where it all started. There are shades of everything to come from the absurdity of Barton Fink to the double crosses of The Big Lebowski to be found. If you look for them that is, then it all seems to very simple.

Bugg Rating


  1. jervaise brooke hamsterJanuary 28, 2012 at 4:42 PM

    Joel and Ethan Coen are perhaps the most ludicrously over-rated film-makers of all-time, as far as i`m concerned ALL repeat ALL of their films are pretentious unwatchable garbage.

    1. Thank goodness they're not British as well or they'd really be in trouble.


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