Thursday, July 05, 2007

Favorite Movies: Raising Arizona

2. Raising Arizona

This was the Coen Brothers' second movie, and it's a masterpiece. Everything about this movie-- the cast, the script, the cinematography-- and the message-- are flawless.

The main character, H.I. McDunnough, or "Hi" is a career criminal who specializes in sticking up convenience stores. As a criminal, he is a failure. He is, as a parole board member admonishes him, a recidivist-- a repeat offender. He is also the nicest, most gentle character in the movie-- one of the reasons for the failure of his criminal career is his refusal to carry a loaded weapon-- he didn't want to hurt anybody, he points out.

Due to his recidivism, he meets Ed-- "short for Edwina," who takes his mug shot every time he is arrested. He falls in love with her, and when he discovers that she's been dumped by her fiance for a student cosmetologist, he eventually proposes to her.

He finishes his prison term, marries Ed and they begin their lives together in their "starter home" (i.e. mobile home) in the desert, where they try to have a baby. They find, to their dismay, that Edwina cannot concieve-- or, as Hi puts it:

"The doctor told us that her womb was a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase."

The great script and the attention to local dialect (e.g. "I'll be back directly") has come to be a Coen Brothers trademark (this was probably noticed the most in Fargo). If you follow the credits, you'll see that there was a dialect coach on the set. And a "baby wrangler."

The couple try adopting, but Hi's long criminal record makes this impossible. Then a solution presents itself-- the birth of quintuplets to Nathan Arizona and his wife. Hi and Ed decide to kidnap one of the babies and raise it as their own. This sets in motion the plot of the movie.

One of the things I love about this movie are the subtle running jokes that you may not catch until you view it a second (or third or fourth) time:

  • When the parole board meets, there is always a portrait of Senator Barry Goldwater on the wall

  • The female parole board never speaks

  • The dorky prison counselor Dr. Schwartz' visual aids, which include his version of Shel Silverstein's "The Missing Piece."

  • That whoever has Nathan Jr. (this movie's MacGuffin) makes sure to have the "manual"-- a copy of Dr. Spock's book on childrearing

The late Trey Wilson, who died just two years after making this movie (he was also the coach in "Bull Durham") frequently steals the show as Nathan Arizona (formerly Nathan Hufhimes, as we find out), the father of Nathan, Jr., the kidnapped infant.

When asked if his son was wearing anything when he was kidnapped, Arizona angrily tells him "Nobody sleeps naked in this house!." When asked what his son's pajamas looked like, he blusters "I don't know-- they had Yodas and shit on 'em!"

"Why in the hell are you lookin' for my son in the one house in all of Arizona we know he ain't in?!!!

There are so many other priceless lines by other characters:
Ed:"You're a bad influence in this home!"
Evelle Snoats:"Ma'am, we certianly didn't mean to influence anybody. And if we did, we apologize."

Evelle Snoats: "Do these balloons blow up into funny shapes?"
Store Clerk: "Nope, not unless round is funny."

Dr. Schwartz: "Most men your age have jobs and families."
Gale Snoats: "Well, sometimes your career's gotta come before family."

This movie is rich in great character actors: M. Emmet Walsh, William Forsythe, Trey Wilson, Randall "Tex" Cobb, and of course John Goodman, who's become a staple in Coen Brothers movies (Barton Fink, O Brother Where Art Thou, The Big Lebowski). It's also got a great soundtrack, dominated by a bluegrass version of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy."

The overarching theme of this movie is a lovely little message about raising children. To quote that noted child-rearing expert, Teri Garr in "Mr. Mom," "I happen to think that raising children to become healthy, functional adults is an important job." This movie, besides being a very, very funny comedy, is also an examination of families and parenting, arguing that the structure and make-up of a family is not as important as the competency and dedication of the parenting going on. Hi and Ed, despite society's prejudices, would have made wonderful parents. They get it: it's all about the kids. And as the movie ends, with them contemplating splitting, but taking Nathan Arizona's advice to sleep one night on the decision, Hi, in a dream sequence sees a future in which Nathan Jr., now back with his parents, grows up happy and healthy-- as do the children and grandchildren of an elderly couple-- Hi and Ed. And, as Hi says, none of the children or grandchildren are screwed up, having been raised in a mythical world, a future that isn't so clear yet, in which "all parents are strong and wise and capable, and all children are happy and beloved." This line, the point of the movie, never fails to choke me up.


Bubs said...

I think I'm going to Netflix this and watch it again. It's funny seeing this right now, after talking about it just the other night...

Oh, and you forgot to mention another great character, Randall "Tex" Cobb!

Johnny Yen said...

I just corrected that error.

Looking him up on, I saw that he was in an episode of "Frank's Place," a short-lived, wonderful series in the eighties. Tim Reid (Venus Flytrap, from WKRP) played a Boston lawyer whose father, the owner of a New Orleans restaurant, has died. He hadn't seen his father since he was 2. He goes down to sell off the restaurant, and ends up falling for the place. It's one of a handful of movies and series I'm hopeful will eventually come out on DVD someday.

Splotchy said...

This and The Big Lebowski are by far my favorite Coen Brothers movies.

The "Yodas and shit" line never fails to crack me up.

Another one of my favorite moments -- Hi and the bounty hunter sharing a silent moment when they realize they have the same tattoo.

Johnny Yen said...

I agree-- I have to watch both of those movies at least twice a year:

"Goddmmit Donnie, this isn't 'nam; this is bowling. We have rules here!"

I think that scene in Raising Arizona, where they realize that they have the same tatoo, is a key scene of the movie. There's a parity-- both men are essentially career criminals and orphans-- I think that there's the insinuation that they may even be brothers-- but Hi has somehow turned out to be gentle, loving and highly moral, and the "Lone Biker of the Apocalypse" is an amoral, sadistic brute. Somewhere their paths diverged, and Hi got what he needed to become an empathetic, loving human being, despite all his other flaws.

I think that when Hi apologizes to the bounty hunter for his imminent death (when he realizes he's inadvertently pulled the pin on one of his grenades) is one of the most touching scenes ever in a movie, seriously. He can't even purposely hurt someone who was about to kill him.

"It's a hard world-- especially on the little things."

kim said...

Charm goes really far in this film.

MacGuffin said...

Great movie. The Big Lebowski as well. The Coen brothers are easily among my fav movie makers. I heard their latest one is really good.

deadspot said...

I love the scene where Hi punches Glen and then has to walk all the way over to where he landed.

Erik Donald France said...

Absolutely Fab. Love it! Sorry to learn that Trey Wilson died soon after, though.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I loved this film too, and it cemented my admiration for the Coens.

Phil said...

I think a major subject of the film is duality. Made plain by the twin tatoo's. I think you could argue that that HI and the Biker are the same person. Metaphorically.

And that line you quoted, "Life sure is hard..." is taken from "Night of the Hunter" A film that also deals with duality. Check it out.

Mob said...

I always laugh at the "Son, you've got a panty on your head" line...

Great film, and one I haven't seen in awhile, maybe time to drag this one out.

Beth said...

I never tire of Raising Arizona; it's still my fave by the Brothers Coen. The line I always find myself repeating is "I preminisced no return of the salad days."

Johnny Yen said...

It's got both charm and substance-- a rare combination.

They are great. Nearly every time, they've fired on all cylinders. Miller's Crossing, Fargo, O Brother...

I've heard that Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers weren't up to par, but I'm certain they'll be back on track.

The actor who played Glen was great. The only other movie I can remember seeing him in was one of the worst I ever saw, Predator 2.

Yeah, he was great. I love that scene in Bull Durham where he screams at the players in the lockerroom, calling them "Lollygaggers."

This was the first Coen Brothers film I really liked. As much as I tried, I couldn't get into Blood Simple, their attempt at film noir.

Absolutely. I think that the Nathan Arizona character alone was a study in duality. He comes across, initially as a gruff bastard, but in the end, is a pretty good guy.

That's usually the first line that comes to mind when I think of the movie.

That's another of the many great lines in Raising Arizona. I also love the little asides: "Ed lost all interest in law enforcement... and housework."

vikkitikkitavi said...

"The doctor told us that Ed's insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no perches."

I love that movie.

BeckEye said...

Definitely a classic. For some reason, my favorite line was always when John Goodman says, "I loooooove to drive." Probably because I also love to drive...but my car is no more. Had to give it up for the big city. :(

GETkristiLOVE said...

I was living in Phoenix when this movie came out - in fact, our local film critic - Bill Rosz had a cameo in the movie as the newscaster that reported the jailbreak.

He died about 10 years ago from Lou Gherig's disease.

This movie is definitely in my top ten. You can't beat the "Huggies" scenes. Ever.

yournamehere said...

Trey Wilson was great. It's a shame he died so young. He was only thirty-nine when he died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage. He seemed so much older than that on screen.