Blood Simple. was the Coen Brothers’ debut film, and of the many debuts from young directors in the ‘80s who we now love, it was one of the most fully realized, and is still impressive. The Coens were always born filmmakers, but it wasn’t till Joel Coen was working as assistant editor on Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead that they really figured out how to make an independent feature themselves. They made a fake trailer to interest investors, and soon they were off making their debut.
Most of the Coen brothers’ films are a crime story of some kind, partly due to their love of pulp writers and crime films. They were fans of horror films as well, but didn’t really want to make one, so they decided to write and direct a low-budget crime film that was influenced by the novels of James M. Cain, who wrote scandalous tales of murder and infidelity. They were also avid readers of True Crime books, so they took bits of true stories they heard about crimes in Texas, where the film is set, and incorporated these.
The plot is a fairly standard tale of a jealous man who hires a private detective to kill his unfaithful wife and her lover. However, things don’t turn out that easy for all those involved. It’s full of the gallows humour you expect from the Coens, with a legendary 13-minute long body disposal scene that is the closest they ever have come to directing a horror sequence in their career. It also takes some visual cues from The Evil Dead, especially their use of the self-described “Raimi cam,” which was a super-low-budget alternative to a SteadyCam.
The Coens always perfectly cast their films, and even working on a shoestring budget they pulled together a cast to kill for. They wrote the role of the detective for M. Emmet Walsh, because they were fans of his performance in the woefully underrated and underseen Straight Time. He was also enough of a jobbing actor that it was plausible he would do this little indie film, and he speaks the hardboiled dialogue they wrote for him perfectly. The real discovery was Frances McDormand as Abby, who would of course go on to be one of the Coens’ main collaborators and Joel’s wife. Dan Hedaya, who was a seasoned character actor already, brings a lot to his role as Abby’s husband, who puts the hit on her. His part in Blood Simple has led to lots of interesting roles for Hedaya since then.
Blood Simple. is one of the Coen’s leanest films, and for filmmakers who only occasionally have ever gone over the two-hour mark that’s quite an achievement. It may come down to the fact that they edit all their films too. It’s a remarkably assured debut from probably the most consistently brilliant American filmmakers of the last 35 years. It also contains the best use of The Four Tops’ “It’s The Same Old Song” ever on film, and it’s one of the few films that gets away using a song twice. StudioCanal has compiled a strong selection of interviews with the Coens and the cast, and the package also includes the original trailer, which features Bruce Campbell.