After their first film, Blood Simple (a noir thriller), received overwhelming critical acclaim, the Coen Brothers’ planned a more fun and funny story for their second directorial venture and Raising Arizona was born. The story revolves around the life of Hi McDonough (Nicholas Cage), a criminal in and out of jail, his marriage to the policewoman Ed (Holly Hunter) after repeat encounters over mug shots, their inability to have a baby, or adopt due to Hi’s criminal record, and how they decide to deal with this problem that is driving Ed into depression. The Arizona quintuplets make the news and Hi decides to kidnap one (Nathan Junior) of the five, for Ed. Hi and Ed are visited by Hi’s prison buddies, the Snoat Brothers (John Goodman and William Forsythe), and the Snoats figure out that there is a reward on the baby, and a bank waiting to be robbed. In the meantime, a Mad-Max style bounty hunter Leonard Smalls (Randall “Tex” Cobb) is out to get the baby back for the reward or for further sale on the “market”! The rest is a delicious mix of chaos, violence, and confusion as the baby goes hither and thither between the Snoats, Hi, and Smalls. Everyone except Smalls, who has his own way of carrying the baby around while careening madly on his motorcycle, falls in love with the baby and wants to keep him. The baby gets left on top of cars, on the road and is also taken along for the bank holdup – one of the funniest scenes in the film!
The dialogs are a mix of hokey, and just plain uproariously funny. John Goodman used to be a Coen brothers staple in those days, and he does not disappoint here either. Forsythe as his “slow” brother is a hoot, watch him as he says “but ok to take your ‘code’ name GALE!” with a broad wink! Nick Cage and Holly Hunter play their characters in surprisingly similar ways, with a partly deadpan and partly simply “dead and emotionless” way that is supposed to show deep emotions. The one to mention specifically is Randall Cobb as Smalls the bounty hunter. A combination of Mad Max and caveman, Smalls is a larger than life character that lifts the level of interest in the film as it starts to go into madcap grab the baby territory.
The desert landscape with the mobile homes, trailers, tumbleweed, and flying dust is wonderfully captured by Barry Sonnenfeld. The film was made on a meager budget of 6 million and did modestly well. Later on it grew to cult status, as most Coen Brothers films stayed on the radar due to the continued success of the directorial duo.
A word on films dealing with kidnapping kids – the definitive film on the subject IMHO was Ruthless People. It was hilarious and had tremendous repeat value, a must in a comedy. Raising Arizona is more cerebral in a way, but less simply funny. There is also that Hindi classic, now almost lost from memory. Bada Kabutar was about a KIDnapping that was very much copied in Ruthless People. The film is hard to find but worth a watch, uproariously funny!
Back to Raising Arizona – recommended if you want something to tickle the funnybone with!