Raising Arizona: Coens Go For Humor in Second Film

Holly Hunter and Nicolas Cage in Raising Arizona. Courtesy of 20th Century Studios.

The Coen brothers did not suffer from the sophomore slump as their second film, Raising Arizona, is a complete 180 from their first.

My rewatch of Raising Arizona over the past weekend was my first viewing in just over 15 years. I went back to my original notes from the 2009 viewing in which I wrote that it was funnier than Fargo. To be fair, the AFI 100 Years, 100 Laughs list has this film ranked 31st while Fargo is in the 90s. Generally speaking, crime comedies are funnier than black comedies. They allow for more laughs. The humor in black comedies tend to be darker although the situations in a film like Dr. Strangelove can lead to numerous laughs. But of course, it really depends on one’s sense of humor.

H.I. “Hi” McDunnough (Nicolas Cage) is an ex-convict. He meets police officer Edwina “Ed” McDunnough (Holly Hunter) when she takes his photos during one of many prison sentences. Hi eventually proposes to her and she accepts. Cage narrates the films opening, which runs at least 11 minutes before the credits begin. Anyway, an ex-convict marrying a police officer would be a humorous situation in and of itself. The Coens take things up a notch by having Ed spark the idea of kidnapping one of the Arizona Quints. For context, Ed is unable to have children and Hi’s criminal record complicates matters with adopting a child. After kidnapping Nathan Jr., just about anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

Shortly thereafter, Hi’s former cellmates, Gale (John Goodman) and Evelle Snoats (William Forsythe), escape prison and make themselves comfortable at the McDunnough household. They are no doubt a bad influence on Hi and Ed wants them out of there ASAP. Meanwhile, Glen (Sam McMurray) and Dot (Frances McDormand) visit the new family–Glen works as Hi’s foreman. They offer their advice but Hi is having none of Glen’s suggestion to switch lives, which will almost certainly force Hi to look for a new job. If all this isn’t enough, Hi previously dreamed of bounty hunter Leonard Smalls (Randall “Tex” Cobb). The bounty hunter offers his services to Nathan Arizona (Trey Wilson) but is rejected. Hi and Ed do the right thing after their ordeal by returning Nathan Jr. to his family.

The Coens had more money to play with for their sophomore feature. Their $5 million budget allowed them to get name actors in Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, and John Goodman, to name a few. Goodman would be among the actors to work with them again.

Two features into their career, Raising Arizona shows that the Coens are as effective with comedies as they were with neo-noir.

SCREENWRITERS: Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
CAST: Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, Trey Wilson, John Goodman, William Forsythe, Sam McMurray, Frances McDormand, and Randall “Tex” Cobb

20th Century Fox released Raising Arizona in theaters on March 13, 1987. 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.