Raising Arizona

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Raising Arizona
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Joel Coen
Produced by Ethan Coen
Written by
  • Joel Coen
  • Ethan Coen
Music by Carter Burwell
Cinematography Barry Sonnenfeld
Edited byMichael R. Miller
Circle Films
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date
  • March 6, 1987 (1987-03-06)
Running time
94 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$6 million (estimate)
Box office$29.2 million

Raising Arizona is a 1987 American crime comedy film directed by Joel Coen, produced by Ethan Coen, and written by Joel and Ethan. It stars Nicolas Cage as H.I. "Hi" McDunnough, an ex-convict, and Holly Hunter as Edwina "Ed" McDunnough, a former police officer and Hi's wife. Other members of the cast include Trey Wilson, William Forsythe, John Goodman, Frances McDormand, Sam McMurray, and Randall "Tex" Cobb.

Crime films, in the broadest sense, are a cinematic genre inspired by and analogous to the crime fiction literary genre. Films of this genre generally involve various aspects of crime and its detection. Stylistically, the genre may overlap and combine with many other genres, such as drama or gangster film, but also include comedy, and, in turn, is divided into many sub-genres, such as mystery, suspense or noir.

Comedy is a genre of film in which the main emphasis is on humour. These films are designed to make the audience laugh through amusement and most often work by exaggerating characteristics for humorous effect. Films in this style traditionally have a happy ending. One of the oldest genres in film, some of the very first silent movies were comedies, as slapstick comedy often relies on visual depictions, without requiring sound. When sound films became more prevalent during the 1920s, comedy films took another swing, as laughter could result from burlesque situations but also dialogue.

Coen brothers American filmmakers

Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, collectively referred to as the Coen brothers , are American filmmakers. Their films span many genres and styles, which they frequently subvert or parody. Their most acclaimed works include Miller's Crossing (1990), Barton Fink (1991), Fargo (1996), The Big Lebowski (1998), No Country for Old Men (2007), True Grit (2010), and Inside Llewyn Davis (2013).


The Coen brothers set out to work on the film with the intention of making a film as different from their first feature as possible, with a lighter sense of humor and a faster pace. [1] Raising Arizona received mixed reviews at the time of its release. Some criticized it as too self-conscious, manneristic, and unclear as to whether it was fantasy or realism. Other critics praised the film for its originality. [2]

The film ranks 31st on the American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Laughs list, and 45th on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies" list.

American Film Institute nonprofit educational arts organization devoted to film

The American Film Institute (AFI) is an American film organization that educates filmmakers and honors the heritage of the motion picture arts in the United States. AFI is supported by private funding and public membership fees.

Part of the AFI 100 Years… series, AFI's 100 Years…100 Laughs is a list of the top 100 funniest movies in American cinema. A wide variety of comedies were nominated for the distinction that included slapstick comedy, action comedy, screwball comedy, romantic comedy, satire, black comedy, musical comedy, comedy of manners, and comedy of errors. The list was unveiled by the American Film Institute on June 13, 2000.


Convenience store robber Herbert I. "Hi" McDunnough and police officer Edwina "Ed" meet after she takes the mugshots of the recidivist. During subsequent visits, Hi learns that Ed's fiancé has left her. Hi proposes to her after his latest release from prison, and the two get married. They move into a desert mobile home, and Hi gets a job in a machine shop. They want to have children but Ed is infertile, and they cannot adopt because of Hi's criminal record, even though Ed is a police officer. Devastated, Ed quits her job. The couple learns of the "Arizona Quints," quintuplet sons of locally famous furniture magnate Nathan Arizona; driven by envy, Hi and Ed kidnap one of the babies, whom they believe to be Nathan Junior. Hi and Ed return home and are soon visited by Hi's cellmates, Gale and Evelle Snoats, who have just escaped from prison. Facing ridicule by the Snoats brothers for his new domestic life, Hi is tempted to return to his felonious ways.

Recidivism person repeating an undesirable behavior following punishment

Recidivism is the act of a person repeating an undesirable behavior after they have either experienced negative consequences of that behavior, or have been trained to extinguish that behavior. It is also used to refer to the percentage of former prisoners who are rearrested for a similar offense.

Mobile home prefabricated structure attached to a chassis

A mobile home is a prefabricated structure, built in a factory on a permanently attached chassis before being transported to site. Used as permanent homes, or for holiday or temporary accommodation, they are left often permanently or semi-permanently in one place, but can be moved, and may be required to move from time to time for legal reasons.

Infertility is the inability of a person, animal or plant to reproduce by natural means. It is usually not the natural state of a healthy adult, except notably among certain eusocial species.

The next day, Hi and Ed are visited by Hi's foreman Glen and his family. Glen's wife Dot speaks of her desire to have more children with Glen, while Glen confesses to Hi that he and Dot are swingers, and he proposes exchanging wives. Hi assaults Glen in his wrath and chases him off the property. Glen returns the next day to fire Hi, and reveals that he has inferred Junior's identity because of the newspaper article he read about Junior missing. He threatens to turn Hi in to the police unless Glen and Dot get custody of Junior. Gale and Evelle overhear this conversation and overpower Hi in a wild fight in his home, tying him to a chair and taking Junior for themselves. When Ed comes home, she frees Hi and the two arm themselves and set out together to retrieve the child. Meanwhile, the bounty hunter Leonard Smalls approaches Nathan Arizona Sr. with an offer to find the child for $50,000. Nathan Sr. declines the offer, believing that Smalls himself is the kidnapper. Smalls decides to recover the child anyway to sell on the black market.

Construction foreman worker or tradesman who is in charge of a construction crew

A construction foreman is the worker or skilled tradesperson who is in charge of a construction crew. This role is generally assumed by a senior worker.

Swinging, sometimes called wife swapping, husband swapping or partner swapping, is sexual activity in which both singles and partners in a committed relationship engage in such activities with others as a recreational or social activity. Swinging is a form of non-monogamy and is an open relationship. People may choose a swinging lifestyle for a variety of reasons. Many cite an increased quality and quantity of sex. Some people may engage in swinging to add variety into their otherwise conventional sex lives or due to their curiosity. Some couples see swinging as a healthy outlet and means to strengthen their relationship.

A bounty hunter is a person who captures fugitives or criminals for a bounty. The occupation, also known as bail enforcement agent, bail agent, recovery agent, bail recovery agents, or fugitive recovery agent, has historically existed in many parts of the world. However, today, it is found almost exclusively in most of the United States and its former commonwealth, the Philippines, as the practice is illegal under the laws of most other countries. Illinois, Kentucky, Oregon and Wisconsin have outlawed commercial bail bonds.

Gale and Evelle rob a bank but leave Junior there as they make their getaway. One of the bank's anti-theft dye canisters explodes in their loot sack, blocking the car's windows and incapacitating them. At the bank, Smalls arrives for Junior just ahead of Ed and Hi. Ed grabs the baby and flees; Hi is able to fend Smalls off for a while, but is eventually overwhelmed by Smalls's superior strength, armament and viciousness. As Smalls throws Hi to the ground and prepares to kill him, Hi holds up his hand to reveal that he has pulled the pin from one of the hand grenades on Smalls's vest. Smalls cannot get rid of the grenade in time and is blown to pieces when it explodes and sets off all his weapons. Hi and Ed sneak Junior back into the Arizona home and are confronted by Nathan Sr. After Nathan Sr. learns why they took his son, he sympathizes with their predicament and decides not to turn them in. When Hi and Ed say that they are splitting up, he advises them to sleep on it. Hi and Ed go to sleep in the same bed, and Hi has a dream about Gale and Evelle reforming after returning to prison, realizing they "weren't ready yet to come out into the world"; Glen gets his due from a Polish-American police officer whom he has no luck getting to listen to his "wild tales" about Hi and Ed after he "threw in one Polack joke too many"; and Nathan Jr. gets a football for Christmas from "a kindly couple who wish to remain unknown", later becoming a football star. The dream ends with an elderly couple (implied to be Hi and Ed) together enjoying a holiday visit from a large family of children and grandchildren.

Dye pack

A dye pack is a radio-controlled incendiary device used by banks to foil a bank robbery by causing stolen cash to be permanently marked with dye shortly after a robbery. In most cases, a dye pack is placed in a hollowed-out space within a stack of banknotes, usually $10 or $20 bills. This stack of bills looks and feels similar to a real one, with technology allowing for the manufacturing of flexible dye packs which are difficult to detect by handling the stack.

In the contemporary English language, the nouns Polack or Polak are ethnic slurs and derogatory references to a person of Polish descent. It is an Anglicisation of the Polish masculine noun Polak, which denotes a Polish male or a person of Polish ethnicity and unspecified gender. However, the English loanword is considered now an ethnic slur and therefore considered insulting in nearly all contemporary usages.



Casting and conception

The Coen Brothers started working on Raising Arizona with the idea to make it as different as possible from their previous film, Blood Simple , by having it be far more optimistic and upbeat. [3] The starting point of scriptwriting came from the idea of the character of Hi, who has the desire to live a regular life within the boundaries of the law. [3] To create their characters' dialect, Joel and Ethan created a hybrid of local dialect and the assumed reading material of the characters, namely, magazines and the Bible. [3] In contrast to Blood Simple, the characters in Raising Arizona were written to be very sympathetic. [3] The Coens wrote the character Ed for Holly Hunter. [3] The character of Leonard Smalls was created when the Coen Brothers tried to envision an "evil character" not from their imagination, but one that the character would have thought up. [3] His name is widely thought to be a reference to the character of Lennie Small, from John Steinbeck's novella Of Mice and Men . John Goodman was drawn to characters of "great feeling, [guys] who could explode or start weeping at any moment" [4] and became a frequent collaborator following his performance as Gale Snoats. The script took three and a half months to write. [3]

The film was influenced by the works of director Preston Sturges and writers such as William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor (who was known for her Southern literature). [3] Joel and Ethan showed their completed script to Circle Films, which was their American distributor for Blood Simple. Circle Films agreed to finance the movie. [3] The Coens came to the set with a complete script and storyboard. [3] With a budget of just over five million dollars, Joel Coen noted that "to obtain maximum from that money, the movie has to be meticulously prepared". [3]


Raising Arizona was shot in ten weeks. Many crew members who had worked with Joel and Ethan on Blood Simple returned for Raising Arizona, including cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld, co-producer Mark Silverman, production designer Jane Musky, associate producer and assistant director Deborah Reinisch, and film composer Carter Burwell. [3]

The relationship between actor Nicolas Cage and the Coens was respectful, but turbulent. When he arrived on-set, and at various other points during production, Cage offered suggestions to the Coen brothers, which they ignored. Cage said that "Joel and Ethan have a very strong vision and I've learned how difficult it is to accept another artist's vision. They have an autocratic nature." [5] Randall "Tex" Cobb also gave the Coens difficulty on set, with Joel noting that "he's less an actor than a force of nature ... I don't know if I'd rush headlong into employing him for a future film." [5]

Release and reception

Raising Arizona was initially released in the US, three dates; A New York City premiere on the 6th March 1987, a limited release on the 13th March 1987 and a Nationwide release on the 17th April 1987. The film was also released in Argentina on the 26th March 1987 before it was screened out of competition at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival. [6]

Despite the cult following of their later films, such as The Big Lebowski , Ethan Coen described their second feature as "the last movie [we] made that made any significant amount of money". [7]

David Denby of New York wrote that the film was a "deranged fable of the New West" which turned "sarcasm into a rude yet affectionate mode of comedy". [8] Richard Corliss of Time referred to the film as "exuberantly original". [8] Rita Kempley of The Washington Post gave a positive review, stating that it was "the best kidnapping comedy since last summer's Ruthless People ". [9] On the film review television show Siskel & Ebert & the Movies , critic Gene Siskel said the film was as "good looking as it is funny" and that "despite some slow patches" he recommended the film, giving it a "thumbs up". [10] Writing for The New Yorker , Pauline Kael wrote that "Raising Arizona is no big deal, but it has a rambunctious charm". [11] As of 2014, the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 90% of 50 critics gave the film a positive review. [12] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale. [13]

Negative reviews focused on a "style over substance" view of the film. Variety wrote, "While [Raising Arizona] is filled with many splendid touches and plenty of yocks, it often doesn't hold together as a coherent story." [14] Writing for The New York Times , Vincent Canby wrote, "Like Blood Simple, it's full of technical expertise but has no life of its own ... The direction is without decisive style." [15] Julie Salamon of the Wall Street Journal wrote that the Coen Brothers "have a lot of imagination and sense of funand, most of all, a terrific sense of how to manipulate imagery," but "by the end, the fun feels a little forced." [16] Dave Kehr of the Chicago Tribune wrote that "the overlooked form peels away from the slight, frail content, and the film starts to look like an episode of Hee Haw directed by an amphetamine-crazed Orson Welles". [17] Roger Ebert wrote a negative review, stating the film "stretches out every moment for more than it's worth, until even the moments of inspiration seem forced. Since the basic idea of the movie is a good one and there are talented people in the cast, what we have here is a film shot down by its own forced and mannered style." [18]

Later writings about the film have been generally positive. Both the British film magazine Empire and film database Allmovie gave the film five stars, their highest ratings. [19] [20] Allmovie's Lucia Bozzola wrote, "Complete with carefully modulated over-the-top performances from the entire cast, Raising Arizona confirmed the Coens' place among the most distinctive filmmakers to emerge from the 1980s independent cinema", while Caroline Westbrook of Empire declared it a "hilarious, madcap comedy from the Coen brothers that demonstrates just why they are the kings of quirk". [20] Bilge Ebiri considers Raising Arizona to be "the Coens' masterpiece — their funniest movie, and quite possibly their most poignant as well". [21] The Dutch magazine Vrij Nederland placed its bank robbery scene second on their list of "the 5 best bank robberies in film history", behind a bank robbery scene from the 1995 thriller Heat . [22] Actor Simon Pegg described the film as "a living, breathing Looney Tunes cartoon" during a BFI screening. [23]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute:


Original Motion Picture Soundtracks: Raising Arizona and Blood Simple
Original Motion Picture Soundtracks - Raising Arizona and Blood Simple.gif
Soundtrack album by
Genre Film score
Label Varèse Sarabande
Coen brothers film soundtracks chronology
Original Motion Picture Soundtracks: Raising Arizona and Blood Simple
Miller's Crossing

The score to Raising Arizona is written by Carter Burwell, the second of his collaborations with the Coen brothers. The sounds are a mix of organ, massed choir, banjo, whistling, and yodeling.

Themes are borrowed from the "Goofing Off Suite", originally recorded by Pete Seeger in 1955, which includes an excerpt from the Chorale movement of Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 and "Russian Folk Themes and Yodel". Credited musicians for the film include Ben Freed (banjo), Mieczyslaw Litwinski (Jew's harp and guitar), and John R. Crowder (yodeling). Holly Hunter sings a traditional murder ballad, "Down in the Willow Garden", as an incongruous "lullaby" during the film. [26]

Selections from Burwell's score to Raising Arizona were released on an album in 1987, along with selections from the Coens' sole previous feature film, Blood Simple. The tracks from Raising Arizona constitute the first ten tracks on a 17-track CD that also features selections from the Blood Simple soundtrack.

  1. "Introduction – A Hole in the Ground" – (0:38)
  2. "Way Out There (Main Title)" – (1:55)
  3. "He Was Horrible" – (1:30)
  4. "Just Business" – (1:17)
  5. "The Letter" – (2:27)
  6. "Hail Lenny" – (2:18)
  7. "Raising Ukeleles" – (3:41)
  8. "Dream of the Future" – (2:31)
  9. "Shopping Arizona" – (2:46)
  10. "Return to the Nursery" – (1:35)

AllMusic gave the album a rating of Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar half.svg (4.5 out of 5). [27]

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  4. Levine, Josh (2000). The Coen Brothers: The Story of Two American Filmmakers. Toronto, Canada: ECW PRESS. p. 52.
  5. 1 2 Levine, Josh (2000). The Coen Brothers: The Story of Two American Filmmakers. Toronto, Canada: ECW PRESS. p. 54.
  6. "Festival de Cannes: Raising Arizona". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-07-25.
  7. Levine, Josh (2000). The Coen Brothers: The Story of Two American Filmmakers. Toronto, Canada: ECW PRESS. p. 104.
  8. 1 2 Russell 2001, pp. 44
  9. Kempley, Rita (March 20, 1987). "'Raising Arizona' (PG-13)". Washington Post . Retrieved 2009-06-04.
  10. "At the Movies: Raising Arizona". At the Movies . ABC Domestic Television. 1987. Retrieved 2009-06-04.[ permanent dead link ]
  11. "Manypeeplia Upsidownia". The New Yorker : 81. 20 April 1987. Archived from the original on 1 November 2014. Raising Arizona is no big deal, but it has a rambunctious charm. The sunsets look marvelously ultra-vivid, the pain doesn't seem to be dry – it's like opening day of a miniature golf course.)
  12. Raising Arizona at Rotten Tomatoes. Last accessed: February 14, 2012.
  13. "CinemaScore". cinemascore.com.
  14. "Raising Arizona Review". Variety . 1987. Retrieved 2009-06-04.
  15. "FILM: 'RAISING ARIZONA,' COEN BROTHERS COMEDY". The New York Times : C24. 11 March 1987. Archived from the original on 24 May 2015. Like Blood Simple, it's full of technical expertise but has no life of its own... The direction is without decisive style.)
  16. Wall Street Journal . 26 March 1987. These fraternal film makers have a lot of imagination and sense of fun and, most of all, a terrific sense of how to manipulate imagery... But sometimes they seem to be getting too big a kick out of their own shenanigans. By the end, the fun feels a little forced.)Missing or empty |title= (help)
  17. The Chicago Tribune . 20 March 1987. Quickly and fatally, the overlooked form peels away from the slight, frail content, and the film starts to look like an episode of "Hee Haw" directed by an amphetamine-crazed Orson Welles.)Missing or empty |title= (help)
  18. "Raising Arizona Review". Chicago Sun Times . 1987. Retrieved 2009-06-04.
  19. "Raising Arizona > Review". Allmovie . Retrieved 2009-06-04.
  20. 1 2 "Empire Reviews Central". Empire . Retrieved 2009-06-04.
  21. Ebiri, Bilge (February 5, 2016). "Every Coen Brothers Movie, Ranked From Worst to Best". New York Media. Retrieved December 9, 2016.
  22. Porcelijn, Max (2008-04-26). "The 5 Best Bank Robberies in Film History". Vrij Nederland . pp. 96–97.
  23. "Raising Arizona". BFI. Retrieved 2018-02-18.
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  25. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" (PDF). American Film Institute . Retrieved 2016-08-06.
  26. Rowell, Erica (2007). The brothers Grim: the films of Ethan and Joel Coen. Scarecrow Press. p. 264. ISBN   0-8108-5850-9.
  27. Raising Arizona/Blood Simple (Original Motion Picture Soundtracks) at AllMusic

Further reading