Created by Ethan Coen
“The world is full of complainers. But the fact is, nothing comes with a guarantee. I don’t care if you’re the Pope of Rome, President of the United States, or even Man of the Year—something can always go wrong. And go ahead, complain, tell your problems to your neighbor, ask for help—watch him fly. Now in Russia, they got it mapped out so that everyone pulls for everyone else—that’s the theory, anyway. But what I know about is Texas… down here, you’re on your own.”
— Loren Visser in voiceover as the film begins
Nope, Blood Simple is not a private eye movie, per se. But it does feature a private eye as one of its four main characters, and that performance is one of the most memorable of the 1980’s. And the film itself, the Coen Brothers film debut, is a true triumph of independent film-making.
The private eye is LOREN VISSER, and he’s one slimy sumbitch, an amoral bottom-feeder who’s hired by sleazy Texas roadhouse owner Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya) to follow his wife, Abby (Frances McDormand in her first film appearance), who he suspects of cheating on him. Turns out Marty’s suspicions are well-founded, so he decides to hire anything-for-a-buck Visser to kill the two lovers. But Visser has a few tricks up his own sleeve, and so is set in play a twisting, turning tale full of deceit and betrayal, as people not too smart to begin with find new depths of stupidity to sink to, even as the body count grows (the “blood simple” of the title, is taken from a quote by Raymond Chandler) .
Not that Visser is some criminal mastermind or anything, but in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. And Visser wears the crown here, for sure. After all, Visser doesn’t have to be all that sharp to be the sharpest knife in the drawer — just sharper than everyone else. Nobody here is going anywhere, and nobody’s learning from their mistakes — they’re all just spinning their wheels. As the Four Tops keep reminding us on the soundtrack, it’s the “Same Old Song.”
Visser, meanwhile, may be pure scum, but damn — he’s fun to watch. And there’s plenty of deliciously black humour to keep things moving. It’s James M. Cain taken to Jim Thompson extremes, a “grisly comic noir that marries the feverish toughness of pulp thrillers with the ghoulishness of even pulpier horror,” according to Amazon.
The cinematography by Barry Sonnenfeld (before he became a big shot Hollywood director himself) is amazing, the performances tight and right, and the wit and verve of the script by Ethan Coen are all brought home, under brother Joel’s sure-handed direction.
No stranger to crime fiction or film sub-genres, the brothers went on to write/direct and produce such films as Miller’s Crossing, Raising Arizona, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, The Man Who Wasn’t There, Hail, Caesar!, True Grit(the good one) and No Country for Old Men, all the while busily looting and pillaging, mixing and matching genres. Also, not to be missed, Ethan Coen’s Gates of Eden (1988), a collection of short stories, some of which feature his own peculiar takes on private eyes and other denizens of the pulps.
- BLOOD SIMPLE | Buy on DVD | Buy on Blu-Ray | Watch it now!
(1985, Foxton Entertainment/River Road)
Screenplay by Ethan Coen
Directed by Joel Coen
Cinematography by Barry Sonnenfeld
Produced by Ethan Coen
Associate producer: Mark Silverman
Executive producer: Daniel F. Bacaner
Starring John Getz as Ray
Frances McDormand as Abby
Dan Hedaya as Julian Marty
and M. Emmet Walsh as LOREN VISSER
Also starring Samm-Art Williams, Deborah Neumann, Raquel Gavia, Van Brooks, Senor Marco, William Creamer, Loren Bivens, Bob McAdams, Shannon Sedwick, Nancy Ginger, William Preston Robertson, Holly Hunter (voice)
ALSO OF INTEREST
- “Blood Simple”
A great little essay tucked away in the January 2018 issue of Criminal, Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips’ ongoing crime anthology comic book.
- These Eyes Keep Themselves in Trouble
Bad, Bad Eyes
- Just Passing Through…
Memorable Eyes in Non-P.I. Flicks
- Gates of Eden by Ethan Coen
The Thrilling Detective review by Christopher Friesen.
- Ethan Coen’s Eyes
Short profiles of private eyes featured in Coen’s Gates of Eden.
- “We Simply Declared Ourselves Filmmakers”
Barry Sonnenfeld on making Blood Simple with the Coen Brothers, from his book, Call Your Mother (2020).