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For, Friday, Sept. 30, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Coen brothers’ ‘Blood Simple,’ their first film, is a respected film noir that announced some important new talent to watch for, years before ‘Raising Arizona,’ ‘Fargo’ and ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ ‘Blood Simple’ made a splash at Park City’s United States Film Festival (now the Sundance Film Festival) in January 1985, winning the Grand Prize, and came to theaters around the country three months later. Now it's getting a Blu-ray upgrade from the boutique label Criterion Collection. Here’s my review, published in the April 26, 1985, Deseret News.

How in the world can a review be written about “Blood Simple” without giving away something that will reduce the experience?

First off, understand that the R rating is deserved, as this is a violent film — the blood flows freely. It is also a funny film, though the humor is decidedly black.

But mostly it is a tension-filled film. If you like suspenseful thrillers, meaning the James M. Cain or Alfred Hitchcock variety, this little independent picture is going to knock your socks off.

“Blood Simple” is highly original, yet rooted in the popular film noir style of the ’40s (most successful recently in “Body Heat”). It is also extremely stylistic in a visual sense, and the directing debut of Joel Coen is something to remember as it holds great promise for the future. That is, not just for a first film or low-budget feature, but probably as polished and fascinating as any film direction we will see this year from anyone.

The story is not only too precious to reveal in detail, it is too wild to adequately relate. The description sounds too weird, too silly perhaps, but on film it works. And that, of course, is the ultimate test.


                Frances McDormand, 'Blood Simple'

Ray (John Getz) and Abby (Frances McDormand) are lovers. Her husband Marty (Dan Hedaya, a regular on both “Hill Street Blues” and “Cheers”) is a wealthy bar-owner, and Ray’s former boss.

Marty hires a seedy detective (M. Emmet Walsh) to kill them, but it doesn’t work out that way. What follows are mistaken motivations, misunderstandings, missed opportunities and crazy plot twists, with an overriding idea that murder isn’t so easy after all … you’d better be sure the victim is really dead.

Coen (who co-scripted with his brother Ethan) directs the film as a high-tension comedy, with black-comic relief happening during moments of extreme suspense. That can only work when real talent is applying it, and such is definitely the case here.

Though “Blood Simple” is a low-budget movie ($1.5 million — the average in Hollywood being $12 million), none of the usual low-budget trappings show. No frayed edges, no grainy film, no unintentionally odd lighting, no choppy editing. This is a glossy, quirky, incredibly well-structured thriller-satire that will leave the audience feeling wildly entertained, as well as a bit out of breath.


      Dan Hedaya, left, M. Emmet Walsh, 'Blood Simple'

The performances are all appropriately dark (Walsh is the knockout actor in this ensemble), the characters bleak, the spare piano music excellent and the cinematography superb.

And you’re in for a barrel of unexpected surprises.

Rated R for violence and profanity, “Blood Simple” was the big winner in January’s United States Film Festival in Park City, and it’s easy to see why. Most major-studio, big-budget movies don’t come near achieving what this picture does.