California Literary Review

The Fourth Wall

A Film and Television Blog

Movie Time Nostalga, Part 3: Raising the Stakes with Raising Arizona

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October 13th, 2010 at 7:41 pm

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Movie Time Nostalgia

For those who came in late, “Movie Time Nostalgia” is an open forum for die-hard movie lovers to look back on the various milestones of a life spent watching. From my previous ruminations on Sleeping Beauty and North by Northwest, I pitch my wandering mind forward a few decades to 1987. This week…

- The Shared Favorite -

An essential part of movie madness is the sharing of your personal favorites with another. Depending on the taste of the recommender, one may be inclined to rush out and see everything they ever mention liking, or may accept their picks grudgingly (at very least with a grain of salt).

My father has seldom, if ever, steered me wrong with one of his favorite films. Would that I could say the same. Frightfully sorry about Wild At Heart, old timer, though now I admit it was a bit of a prank.

It was he who first sat me down in front of a film with the admonition that my education would not be complete without it. Believe it or not, it wasn’t Chinatown, The Godfather, or even Dr. Strangelove – though we came to each of those in due time. The first picture I recall being imposed on me for my own good was Raising Arizona, by the Coen Brothers. One does not soon forget an experience like that.

Raising Arizona - Holly Hunter and Nicolas Cage, with baby

“You kiddin’? We got us a family here!”

I sang the praises of this movie several weeks back, while taking stock of Nicolas Cage and his up-and-down career. My appreciation of Raising Arizona is as much sentimental as aesthetic. But don’t be fooled. It is a great, great piece of work.

The tagline of the film is “A Comedy Beyond Belief.” What a great way to put it! Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter star as H.I. (“Hi”) and Edwina (“Ed”) McDunnough, a devoted but decidedly odd Arizona couple – he a compulsive petty criminal, she a police officer. They long for a child to share their cozy little trailer with, but are sadly unable to conceive.

When the wife of a prominent local man (furniture magnate Nathan Arizona) gives birth to quintuplets, Hi and Ed cook up a scheme to steal one of the babies and raise it as their own. The next hour and a half complicates their plan with bounty hunters, escaped convicts, ferocious dogs, car chases, and several more hilarious disasters.

Hi is a thoughtful, erudite soul in the guise of a slow-talking yokel. Cage’s tousled hairstyle alone is award-worthy, and his oddball performance is an all-in-one career maker. Holly Hunter shines as Ed, a strong woman in the merciless grip of an even stronger biological clock. A crowd of madcap supporting players rounds out the bizarre Coen vision of down-home desert dystopia.

Raising Arizona - John Goodman and William Forsythe

“Y’all hear that? We’re using code names!”

Chief among these are John Goodman and William Forsythe as the Snopes brothers, two chicken-fried fugitives who impose on the hospitality of their old pal Hi at just the wrong time. Goodman is a perennial Coen player, perhaps their most faithful, while Forsythe seems to turn up in cruddy action and horror movies a lot. It’s a little sad that his most interesting role outside Arizona might be as the scummy lawman in The Devil’s Rejects. Eesh. In any case, here the two actors play a flawless comedy duet.

The tone of this film is nearly impossible to describe, but what I learned from it was that movies don’t have to have rules. In less capable hands, this is a dangerous attitude toward moviemaking. When properly applied, the principle allows the creation of fiercely unique and original films. It has served the Coens well for many years.

Raising Arizona - Nathan Junior hits the road

Nathan Arizona, Junior, hits the road.

Notable landmarks in the movie include the furious yodeling banjo stylings of Slim Whitman, a combination grocery mart holdup/police chase/dog chase revolving around stolen diapers, and the most hysterical bank robbery you ever saw, complete with a kidnapped infant in tow. You’ve just got to see it.

What is the first film someone insisted that you see, not to keep you quiet and occupied for two hours but because it was important to them that you see and enjoy it?

  • http://calitreview.com Julia R

    It was my dad who showed me Raising Arizona, too. I still adore it. I keep thinking in passing that I should score myself a copy or at least re-watch soon. I had completely forgotten William Forsythe was in it! I loved The Devil’s Rejects, though…and I do think that’s probably his most interesting role outside Raising Arizona.

    Awesome article, anyway. This is one of my favorite Coen movies, and apparently a dad fave across the country!

  • http://www.fieldspointpictures.com Dan Fields

    Hooray for fond memories. That’s what this series is all about! Thanks, Julia.

    I go back and forth on The Devil’s Rejects, which I recall enjoying against my better judgment. I certainly think Rob Zombie may never make a more interesting film. And I must tip my hat to WF; it’s no small feat to play the “villain” of a movie like that. The gap between these two roles is what disappoints me most, though it just occurs to me that he also played Flat-Top to Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy.

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