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Blood Simple

John W. Pinkerton


A couple of days ago, being desperate to watch something that wasn't just awful on the vast wasteland, I used the search element to try to find the movie Blood Simple; but just as I located it, I was interrupted by an unexpected guest.  The next day while scanning my hundreds of choices, there it was---Blood Simple.  How fortuitous.

I watch a movie once and then after twenty years or so, if I've judge it to be a good movie, I watch it again.  You see, I pay attention the first time.  Twenty years or so have passed, so I watched Blood Simple again.

I'm not writing this to bore you with the minutia of my daily life: I'm writing this to convince you that you must at some point in your life watch this movie.

I recall the first time I viewed this movie and was impressed and excited by it.  I had no idea if anyone else had a similar reaction, but I shortly read in Time Magazine that some official body had commented that it was the best B movie of the year.  “Best B movie” I took as a left handed compliment.  I guessed that it wasn't produced by one of the regular swells of Hollywood thus earning this insult.

Nevertheless it went on to win the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.  Imagine that: winning the approval of Sundance and of John Pinkerton all in the same year.

The movie didn't make it big in theatres, but it picked up speed in other formats---VHS, disc, etcetra.

Talking heads often classify Blood Simple as a neo-noir crime movie which simply means it's more recent than the other noir films made in the 40's and 50's: The Third Man (1949) Orson Welles; (“Pulp novelist Holly Martins travels to shadowy, postwar Vienna, only to find himself investigating the mysterious death of an old friend, Harry Lime.”); The Big Sleep (1946)  Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall (“Private detective Philip Marlowe is hired by a wealthy family. Before the complex case is over, he's seen murder, blackmail, and what might be love.”); Touch of Evil (1958) Orson Welles, Charlston Heston and Janet Leigh: (“A stark, perverse story of murder, kidnapping, and police corruption in a Mexican border town.”).  As you can see, the stories are dark which brings up an interesting fact: one reason the Coen brothers, the writers and directors and producers of Blood Simple, chose the noir format is because they are usually filmed with a lot of darkness and shadows---not elaborate sets---thus filmed at a lower cost.

As wonderful as Blood Simple is, a greater story is that of the Coen brothers.

They were born and reared in Minnesota; developed a love for film; went to school in New York and Texas and said, “Hey, let's make a movie.”   Of course nothing is quite that simple, but you get the picture.  They managed to get their film financed and produced.  As the saying goes, “The rest is history.”

Since 1984 (Blood Simple), they have made about 17 films.  Recognize any of these?  Raising Arizona, Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, No Country for Old Men, and True Grit to name a few.

Back to Blood Simple.  The title is derived from a Dashiell Hammett novel Red Harvest (1929) in which “blood simple” describes the way folks immersed in a violent situation over a period of time devolve into an addled and fearful state of mind.

The primary characters are just regular folks: Ray, bartender; Abby, married lover of Ray; Marty, the bar owner and cuckold husband of Abby; and Lorren Visser, private detective hired by Marty to investigate his wife's infidelity.

The actors and actresses are interesting and very talented: John Getz as Ray;   Dan Hedaya (You remember, Carla's ex on Cheers.) as Julian Marty; Frances McDormand (Starred in many films: you might remember Fargo. She has won an Academy Award, a Tony, and two Emmy Awards; she's married to Joel Coen, and, by the way, Blood Simple was her first full length  commercial movie.) as Abby; and M. Emmet Walsh as Lorren Visser.  Emmet is my favorite in Blood Simple.  He's my favorite character actor having appeared in a bazillion movies many of which were pretty big.  Do you remember the guy on the side of the hill shooting the oil cans in The Jerk?  No?  You've got to see this movie. 

Alright, back to Blood Simple.  Of course Emmet plays the private eye in this film, and he has the best lines of all the characters: Ray: “I got a job for you.”  Lorren: “Uh, well, if the pay's right, and it's legal, I'll do it.”  Ray: “It's not strictly legal.”  Lorren: “Well, if the pay's right, I'll do it.”

We've all known people (That just may be me.) similar to Lorren: big, sloppy, smart, and broken.  I've always wanted to know how the heck Lorren ever came to his lowly state.  Oh, well, that's probably just me.

See the movie.  It won't make you a better person, but it will show you what motion pictures should be.