Coen Brothers classic shows no signs of ageing
The world-weary drawl of M Emmet Walsh and the line “The world is full is complainers” heralded the arrival of the most influential double act of modern cinema. It was 1982 and nobody had heard of Joel and Ethan Coen. That was about to change.
The posters for their first feature, Blood Simple, carried the chilling strapline ‘Dead In The Heart Of Texas’. For the new 4k restoration released this week, it’s been changed to ‘Murder’s Hard The First Time. After That It’s Blood Simple.’ Not bad as a summary, but the pith and audacity of the original isn’t quite there. The film itself, however, has lost nothing.
For the uninitiated, the storyline concerns the wealthy but deeply jealous bar owner Marty (Dan Hedaya), who believes his wife Abby (Frances McDormand) has been sleeping with other men. He’s tolerated it, but the last straw is when she takes up with one of his barmen, Ray (John Getz). He employs a sleazy private detective (M Emmet Walsh) to get the proof he needs and, once he’s seen it, there’s only one solution. He pays the investigator to kill them.
The brothers had chosen to launch their directing career with an homage to a favourite genre, film noir. It was one they would return to more than once in their first decade or so, in Miller’s Crossing and Fargo. For Blood Simple, they took the triangle set-up of classics like The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity, and turned it on its head. Instead of the lovers trying to get rid of the husband, it’s the other way around: they’re just trying to escape him. The irony, of course, is that he’s such an unpleasant piece of work that we wouldn’t have shed a tear if the pair had followed noir convention.
It’s a film crammed with memorable sequences. Ray discovers a body and is in such a panic that he tries to clean up all the blood – an impossible task. Despite being completely innocent of the killing, he still thinks he would be suspect number one. The burial in a remote field in the (e-hem) dead of night. The gruesome injury inflicted on the private detective when he goes in search of Abby. There are many more, along with knowing little red herrings scattered here and there. And there’s the music, from the haunting piano riff that sticks in your head for hours afterwards, to the Four Tops’ Same Old Song, with its permanent accompaniment – a pair of cowboy boots strutting their stuff in time to the music on top of the bar.
It’s hard not to be drawn into the murky world of Blood Simple, even if none of the characters are especially likeable. Not only did it establish the Coen Brothers, but it was also the film that made M Emmet Walsh’s name as an actor. His private investigator is a deeply cynical double crosser constantly suffering from the heat: he even plays more than one scene with a fly crawling across his face.
The film may be an homage to noir, but it’s also a deliciously nasty noir in its own right. Which makes it ageless and unmissable.
The 4k restoration of Blood Simple is released in cinemas on Friday, 29 September.