Blood Simple

Blood Simple


John Getz - Ray
Frances McDormand - Abby
Dan Hedaya - Julian Marty
M. Emmet Walsh - Detective
Sam-Art Williams - Meurice
Joel Coen - Director
Ethan Coen - Producer
Joel Coen - Screenwriter
Ethan Coen - Screenwriter
Barry Sonnenfeld - Cinematographer

Hedaya & Walsh Brothers Joel and Ethan Coen first came up with the idea for the offbeat mystery thriller Blood Simple back in the early 1980s, when Joel was working as an assistant film editor on splatter movies and Ethan was a statistical typist at Macy's Department Store. The brothers decided to write something for themselves after they saw Sam Raimi go out and raise the money for one of his movies (the ultra-low-budget 1983 horror film Evil Dead) independently. According to Joel, Raimi "was very generous in showing us how he had done it."

Using Raimi as a kind of model and mentor, the Coens wrote their script and shot a highly stylized trailer for the as-yet-nonexistent movie. It took a year of legwork, but finally the Coens had the money they needed. All of it had come from private investors. Seventy percent of their investors were from the Coens' native Minneapolis. "They were a weird mixture--doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs," Joel related. The Coens' parents, both university professors, also invested a small amount.

Blood Simple was shot in Texas on a $1.5 million budget.The Coens picked Texas because, they said, "it seemed like a good place to have a passion murder." Another reason, probably just as important, was more practical: Texas was a right-to-work state where actors and extras could be hired for below-union wages.

Hedaya & Getz Blood Simple was carefully planned out ahead of time. "We storyboarded the entire movie," Joel explained in a recent interview, "and we had a fairly exhaustive pre-production period that enabled us to maximize the resources we had by minimizing the waste. That's still pretty much the way we work." For a low-cost film, the 48-day shooting schedule was rather luxurious and, says Joel, "a very wise decision. We'd raised enough money in order to be able to do that, and essentially put the money into the length of the shoot, as opposed to . . . paying anyone, for instance [laughs]." Coen felt that the lengthy shooting schedule was important, from the point of view of being able to do what they wanted to do on the movie.

The film's title, according to the Coens, describes a person's state of mind after he has committed a murder. Making a vocal cameo appearance in Blood Simple is Holly Hunter, later the Oscar-nominated star of Broadcast News and The Firm (and an Oscar-winner for The Piano). Hers is the voice leaving the first message on Meurice's (Samm-Art Williams) telephone answering machine. The Coens wrote the part of the private detective specifically for M. Emmet Walsh because he had impressed them with his performance in the 1978 drama Straight Time with Dustin Hoffman.

In one scene, actor John Getz is frantically mopping up a pool of blood. Many critics felt the scene had been "lifted" from Psycho. Ethan and his brother had anticipated that comment. "But what we asked ourselves was: How could we make it different? So, instead of making it an efficient cleanup, like [Psycho] does, we make it inefficient. There's blood everywhere." In that scene, as a counterpoint, the Coens put in a song by The Four Tops.

Frances McDorman Unknown actress Frances McDormand answered an audition call for a low-budget independent film and was cast as the adulterous wife of a vengeful Texas bar owner. "I knew nothing about making movies. All I could do was call on my theatre training." McDormand married Joel Coen the next year, continued to work in her husband's movies, and won her Oscar for their collaboration on Fargo.

"The characters go through so much in this movie, you almost feel a certain amount of sympathy for all of them," explains Joel Coen. "We took a guy who wouldn't commit murder, and put him in a situation where he thinks he has no choice. Then we make all of his options horrible." Also horrible is a scene in which actor Dan Hedaya throws up. (Hedaya reveals that they used tomato soup in the scene.) According to Hedaya, cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld (Men In Black and Get Shorty) literally got sick on every take, and it's Sonnenfeld who is heard gagging on the film's soundtrack.

When Blood Simple received a great reaction at the New York Film Festival, Hedaya (who didn't think it would ever see the light of day) asked himself, "What the hell is going on here?" Blood Simple went on to win independent film awards and make its mark at the box office as well.

--from the widescreen DVD release
of Blood Simple, Universal.

A selection of Blood Simple related films.

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