Vintage Movies: “Blood Simple”

MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 100 titles—from the ’20s through the ’80s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.

Blood Simple (1984, 96 minutes)

Joel and Ethan Coen, the most consistent movie-making team over the past 25 years, burst upon the scene in 1984 with a neo-noir thriller that left audiences gasping. In retrospect, Blood Simple, with its own brand of psychopathic killer, seems like a prequel to the Coens’ Texas-based masterwork, No Country For Old Men.

The rain is coming down so hard on the road out of town, Ray’s windshield wipers can’t keep up. Abby (Frances McDormand) and Ray (John Getz) are contemplating running away from her husband, Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya). But she’s having second thoughts. “I ain’t a marriage counselor. What do you want to do?” asks Ray who tends bar for Marty. “I don’t know. What do you want to do?” she replies. What they wind up doing is getting a motel room for the night.

The next morning, they’re awakened by the shrill ring of the motel telephone. “Havin’ a good time?” whispers a menacing voice as Ray picks up. “Who is this?” asks Ray. “I don’t know, who’s this?” says the voice and hangs up. “Who was it?” asks a frightened Abby. “Your husband,” says Ray.

In the office of the Neon Boots saloon, a fat man in a rolled-up straw stetson, tosses a manila envelope of 8×10 black-and-white photos onto Marty’s desk. “I know where you can get these framed,” smirks Visser (M. Emmet Walsh), an unscrupulous local private eye. “You knew they were there, why did you take these?” asks Marty, pained at the sight of Abby and Ray in bed. “Just doin’ my job. Call it fringe benefits,” giggles Visser. “How long did you watch ’em?” “Most of the night. They’d rest every few minutes and get started again.”

“You know, in Greece, they would cut off the head of the messenger that brought bad news,” says Marty. “That don’t make much sense,” answers Visser. “No, but it made them feel better,” says Marty, lobbing Visser an envelope full of cash that bounces off the desk onto the floor. “Don’t come around here anymore. If I need you, I’ll know what rock to turn over.” Visser picks up the cash and walks toward the door, laughing maniacally. “Gimme a call whenever you want to cut my head off,” he says. “I can always crawl around without it.”

Ray walks into Marty’s office later that day and finds his boss in a chair with his legs stretched out onto the desk. “Havin’ a good time?” asks Marty. “I don’t like this kinda talk,” says Ray. “What’d you come here for? I don’t particularly want to talk to you,” says Marty. “You owe me for two weeks,” says Ray. “No. This is an expensive piece of ass,” warns Marty. “Come on this property again and I’ll be forced to shoot you. Fair notice.”