Raising Arizona (1987)

raising arizona

“I’ll be taking these Huggies, and uh, whatever cash you got.”

The Scoop: 1987 PG-13, directed by Joel & Ethan Coen and starring Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, and John Goodman.

Tagline: A comedy beyond belief.

Summary Capsule: A former thief marries a police officer. When it turns out they can’t conceive, his job skills prove more useful than hers.

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Drew’s rating: If the Coen Brothers ever fought the Wachowski Brothers, my money’s on the Coens in 3 rounds.

Drew’s review: Let me ask you a question: just what would you be willing to do for a healthy baby boy… and once you had him, what lengths would you go to in protecting him?

That’s the dilemma faced by Hi (Nicholas Cage) and Ed (Holly Hunter), newlyweds eager to start their own family. The two are devastated to learn that Ed is as barren as the Arizona desert on which they live, and that Hi’s former career as a professional convenience store robber makes adoption impossible. So when the news breaks that furniture magnate Nathan Arizona’s wife has just given birth to quintuplets… well, they reason that five babies is too much for any family to handle, so helping themselves to one is really just balancing the scales. But no sooner has Hi abducted one of the little tykes when his jailbird buddies Gale (John Goodman) and Evelle (William Forsythe) drop by to lay low and plan a new crime spree. And when a vicious bounty hunter decides to retrieve Nathan Jr. for the reward, and to throw in some collateral damage to the perpetrator to boot… well, let’s just say surrogate motherhood is sounding better and better.

The Coen Brothers have a reputation for movies that are slightly, ah, “off the beaten path,” and Raising Arizona is no exception. All of their standbys are in effect: characters speaking in words and phrases far beyond their level of education, creative camera angles, and weird folk music. You know it! The film carries a pervading sense of surreality, an illusory quality that makes you feel like you’re half in a dream the whole way through. Despite his status as a small-time robber, Hi turns out to be a remarkably insightful, eloquent narrator, portrayed extremely well by Cage. In fact, all of the actors turn in strong performances, and considering that 90% of the cast are felons by the time the movie’s over, you’ll be surprised by how much you end up liking them.

That being said, some people may be thrown by the film’s style of humor, which can best be described as “drier than dry.” It IS a funny movie — very funny, really — but those expecting the more obvious physical humor of some of the Coen Brothers’ later efforts will be disappointed. With a couple of exceptions (notably Hi’s attempt to procure diapers for Junior), the laughs in Raising Arizona are far more subdued, coming mostly from the actors’ deadpan deliveries and the bizarre nature of the situations in which they find themselves. Also, the ending amps up the dreamlike tone of the movie even further and may throw people off… I know it did me the first time I watched it. (Utah?)

You still have to see it, of course — it’s a cult classic, no getting around that. And it will reward those viewers who have a taste for ephemeral treatments of reality and mindsets that are somewhat left of center. Just go in knowing that… well, it’s strange. I think in a good way, but a number of people complain about just not getting it, and that’s cool too. Why not take a chance and see which category you fall into?

Regular knife throwers? Pansies. Real men throw knives while riding motorcycles with infants.

Intermission!

  • The character of Ed(wina) was written specifically with Holly Hunter in mind.
  • The babies’ names are Harry, Barry, Larry, Garry, and Nathan Jr.
  • The lullaby that Ed sings to Junior is a folk song about a man sentenced to death for murdering his fiancée. Nice.
  • The Lone Biker of the Apocalypse is oddly reminiscent of Ghost Rider, who Nicholas Cage would portray nearly 20 years later.
  • The Coen Brothers are friends of Sam Raimi, and the Evil Dead cam makes an appearance.
  • The name of the Lone Biker is Leonard Smalls, a reference to the character Lenny from Of Mice and Men.
  • Smalls manages to track Gale and Evelle by the smell of their pomade, just as George Clooney is tracked in Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, another Coen Brothers film.
  • This may be the first time in history an infant has been an accessory to armed robbery.
  • That’s why *I* don’t wear grenades strapped to my chest. Anymore.
  • The connection between Hi and the Lone Biker – suggested by their identical tattoos of Mr. Horsepower, an auto shop mascot often mistaken for Woody Woodpecker – is never explained. Some fans have theorized that the Biker represents Hi’s dark side, noting that his name, Leonard Smalls (suggesting “small” or “short”), may be an intentional contrast with that of Hi (implying “high” or “big”).

Groovy Quotes

Parole board chairman: They’ve got a name for people like you, Hi. That name is called “recidivism.”
Parole board member: Repeat offender!
Parole board chairman: Not a pretty name, is it, Hi?
Hi: No, sir. That’s one bonehead name, but that ain’t me anymore.
Parole board chairman: You’re not just telling us what we want to hear?
Hi: No, sir, no way.
Parole board member: ‘Cause we just want to hear the truth.
Hi: Well, then I guess I am telling you what you want to hear.
Parole board chairman: Boy, didn’t we just tell you not to do that?
Hi: Yes, sir.
Parole board chairman: Okay, then.

Hi: These were the happy days, the salad days as they say, and Ed felt that havin’ a critter was the next logical step. It was all she thought about. Her point was that there was too much love and beauty for just the two of us, and every day we kept a child out of the world was a day he might later regret having missed.

Hi: Now y’all without sin can cast the first stone, but we thought it was unfair that some should have so many while others should have so few. With the benefit of hindsight, maybe it wasn’t such a hot idea. But at the time, Ed’s little plan seemed like the solution to all our problems, and the answer to all our prayers.
Ed: Ohhh… he’s beautiful.
Hi: Yep, he’s awful damn good. I think I got the best one.

Ed: We are doin’ the right thing, aren’t we, Hi? I mean, they had more than they could handle.
Hi: Well now, honey, we’ve been over this and over this. Now there’s what’s right and there’s what’s right, and never the t’wain shall meet.

Hi: This here’s the TV – 2 hours a day maximum, either educational or football, so as, y’know, you don’t ruin your appreciation of the finer things.

Ed: You mean you… busted outta jail.
Evelle: No ma’am, uh, we released ourselves on our own recognizance.
Gale: What Evelle here is tryin’ to say is that we felt the institution no longer had anything to offer us.

Cop: Do you have any disgruntled employees?
Nathan: Hell, they’re all disgruntled!

Gale: Why ain’t you breastfeeding? You appear to be capable.

Hi: I’ll be taking these Huggies, and uh, whatever cash you got.

Hi: As a matter of fact, I did lose my job today.
Evelle: Well Hi, you’re young and you got your health… what you want with a job?

Gale: I know you’re partial to convenience stores, but dammit, H.I., the sun don’t rise and set on the corner grocery!

Ed: Gimme that baby, you warthog from hell!

If You Liked This Movie, Try These

  • The Big Lebowski
  • Fargo
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou?

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