Movie Name: Blood Simple
Studio: River Road Productions
Release Date(s): September 7, 1984 (Toronto International Film Festival)/January 18, 1985 (US)
MPAA Rating: R
Hiring a private investigator named Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh), Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya) learns that his wife Abby (Frances McDormand) is sleeping with one of his employees named Ray (John Getz)…and Marty cannot have this. As Ray and Abby plan to run off together despite Ray’s misgivings, Marty has his own plan. Hiring Visser to kill Ray and Abby, Marty thinks he’s found a way to deal with his two-timing wife…but Visser has his own plans for Abby, Ray, and Marty.
Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, Blood Simple is a dramatic thriller. The first film of the Coen Brothers, Blood Simple was released to critical acclaim but a weak box office return. The movie gained a cult following and received a Criterion release (Criterion #834).
The Coen Brothers are generally solid and their first outing shows why they were solid. A simple story of affairs and stuff of pulp novels gets a gritty, dark, and thoughtful presentation. Blood Simple holds up as a great neo-noir thriller.
The story for the movie is classic but with a twist. You have a jilted (and jerky) husband, a cheating wife, and a guy who’s even second guessing himself. The wild card comes with the introduction of a private eye who has his own plans. The crafting of the movie has all parties not communicating with each other and everyone doubting each other’s motives. It ends in a grizzly showdown that still gets me a bit squeamish.
The Coens were working with a rather limited budget and their actors reflected it. The cast is mostly made up of character actors (at the time it was made), but they get great performances out of them. M. Emmet Walsh had been around for a long time, but his plotting P.I. is one of his most memorable roles. Dan Hedaya is good as the husband who despite being not a nice guy seems to really care about his wife. John Getz is the weakest of the batch but still good and Frances McDormand premiered in this film and married Joel Coen in 1984 (her roommate and future Coen Bros. actress Holly Hunter has a voice role in the movie).
What makes Blood Simple excel is that it looks great. It takes the best of noir films and applies to a dusty Texas town. The film makes great use of lights and lightning. The final showdown with Visser and the bloody stabbed hand still hurts and is quite gross.
Blood Simple is a simple movie that was made great by skillful filmmaking. The movie is a classic in its own sense and that is impressive since it was the start of a career that has a number of classics in it. The Coen Brothers directorial follow-up to Blood Simple was Raising Arizona in 1987 which was even better received.