Blood Simple: The First Coen Brothers Movie

Frances McDormand in Blood Simple. Courtesy of River Road Productions.

Premiering in 1984 and released in theaters in 1985, Blood Simple is the neo-noir crime film that put the Coen Brothers on the map.

The Coens head to Texas for their first feature film. It’s hard to believe that March 2024 will mark the 40th anniversary of Blood Simple’s world premiere. A festival run would follow, including Sundance in January 1985. The film would also launch a number of careers and collaborations. Meanwhile, the script, Barry Sonnenfeld’s cinematography, and Carter Burwell’s score would pave the way for a new generation of film noir.

Ray (John Getz) works as a bartender and is having an affair with Abby (Frances McDormand). Abby just happens to be the wife of Ray’s boss, Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya). It just so happens that a private detective, Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh), is on their tail. Anyway, someone calls their hotel room to let them in on the fact that they are being watched. Abby goes home and picks up a gun and other things but Ray treats business as usual. It probably is not the best idea but maybe that’s a way for Ray to ward off any potential threats from Julian.

The film is rather easy to follow but the Coens take audiences on quite the thrill ride. Nobody is safe from any possible threat in this film. It’s certainly one of their darker films in that there are not really moments of humor. This probably explains why they would follow things up with Raising Arizona.

Barry Sonnenfeld lenses their earlier feature films as the brothers would not start collaborating with Roger Deakins until filming Barton Fink. It would mark the first feature film for the Coens, McDormand, and the first narrative feature for Sonnenfeld. In a feature discussing lighting and such on the film’s Criterion release, Sonnenfeld comments that Blood Simple would not be “any better” if they reshot the film for ten times the amount. Original production cost $1.5 million–later films such as Hail, Caesar! would cost $22 million. For what it’s worth, they would likely use cranes rather than have the filmmakers running around to film the action. Would it make the film any better? Not by much–this is definitely the type of film that gives off a first feature vibe.

The film would be notable for beginning a number of collaborative relationships with the Coens, including composer Carter Burwell and sound editor Skip Lievsay. Both are still regularly working with the Coens to this day. You know what they say–if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Blood Simple not only put the Coens on the map but guaranteed that cinema would never again be the same. Their films have spanned many genres with no shortage of repeat stars–including Frances McDormand and George Clooney–in the last 40 years.

SCREENWRITERS: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
CAST: John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, Samm-Art Williams, and M. Emmet Walsh

Circle Films released Blood Simple in theaters on January , 1985. Grade: 4/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.