[box cover]

Blood Simple

It seems that no matter where you go there's a saying about the local weather — if you don't like it, just wait a bit and it'll change. The filmmaking siblings Ethan and Joel Coen are a lot like the weather. Whatever you prefer — gritty crime noir dramas (Miller's Crossing, Fargo), loopy freewheeling comedies (Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski), comedies with shadings of metaphysical exploration (The Hudsucker Proxy, O Brother Where Art Thou?), or however the splendid hell you classify Barton Fink — chances are that there's at least one Coen Brothers movie out there for you. Some are good, some are very good, and a few achieve greatness. All show striking originality even when refurbishing familiar movie conventions.

What served the Brothers well right from the outset was the fact that their first film, 1985's low-budget suspense thriller, Blood Simple, immediately started them off in the "great" category. An indie sleeper hit, this stylish and Coen-quirky catch-the-killer set the tone for the films that continue to follow. It brought deserved attention and acclaim to director Joel and producer Ethan (they both co-wrote), and introduced us to Frances McDormand, whose turn here as would-be murder victim Abby is likewise an auspicious career-maker. While moments of their signature humor are present, Blood Simple is a first cousin to Fargo or Miller's Crossing. It pulls us into a dark, labyrinthine place of elemental greed, lust, brutality, guilt, treachery, survival, and the kind of plot twists that wind you up without feeling contrived or forced. As with all Coen films, Blood Simple is blessed with a strong cast. McDormand's Abby is an unfaithful rural Texas wife having an affair with a bartender (John Getz) employed in the ratty saloon owned by her husband (Dan Hedaya). The husband hires a low-life private eye, Visser (M. Emmet Walsh), to kill the indiscreet couple. Visser, however, has his own scheme — and discovers that when one deviates from the simple plan, the complications pile up, the wrong bodies end up on the floor (and then off it again), and there are times when you just shouldn't place your hand through an open window.

The script is so tight you can feel it screwing into the back of your neck. There's no fluff, nothing extraneous. The cinematography, by future director Barry Sonnenfeld, provides a gritty, shadowy ambiance that disguises the film's limited budget and first-picture place in the Coen Brothers continuum. It's a visceral suspense film for those who want to learn how to make visceral suspense films.

*          *          *

Universal's 2001 DVD edition features the 15th anniversary restored and re-released "director's cut." A smart-ass (and utterly superfluous) introduction tells us that Blood Simple has been "digitally swabbed, the boring parts have been taken out and other things added." In short, the movie's now a little tighter, a bit smoother than the original theatrical cut. Some music cues have been changed as well. For example, Neil Diamond's "I'm a Believer" is replaced by The Four Tops' "It's the Same Old Song." The print and transfer are excellent, bringing Blood Simple to home video for the first time in its original 1.85:1 OAR (anamorphically enhanced). The audio is delivered in solid and clean Dolby 2.0 Surround.

The featured extra is a mocking audio commentary track by "Kenneth Loring," a fictitious artistic director of the equally fictitious "Forever Young Films" — voiced by actor Jim Piddock from a script by the Coens. The track lampoons the self-absorption that dogs so many of these things. Too bad the joke tires quickly, and the b.s. "production facts" — that a car scene was filmed "backwards and upside down," that the dog is animatronic, the sweat on the actors is "movie sweat" gathered from the flanks of Palomino horses, that Fred Astaire and Rosemary Clooney were originally cast in the film, that a fly buzzing about is the product of CGI, and so on — ultimately reduce the whole track to an opportunity pointlessly wasted. However, also here are extensive and revealing production notes, click-through cast and filmmaker bios, and the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.

—Mark Bourne

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