Movies You Might Have Missed: Joel and Ethan Coen's Blood Simple

Darren Richman
M. Emmet Walsh as Private Detective Loren Visser in the Coen brothers' 'Blood Simple' (1984)

The Coen brothers have consistently produced the most innovative, brilliant and intriguing films of the last few decades. Blood Simple (1984), the title a nod to a Dashiell Hammett novel, is one of the greatest debuts in cinema history and, while it was only a modest success at the box office, established the pair as a major new voice in American filmmaking. The director’s cut will screen in UK cinemas next month for the first time and, rather than a self-indulgent exercise in reinserting lost scenes, it is actually three minutes shorter than the original release as a result of tighter editing.

On the advice of their friend Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead), the Coens went door-to-door showing potential investors a two minute trailer for the film they planned to make and ultimately raised $750,000 in a year, enough to begin production. The finished product was rejected by all the major studios in Los Angeles before being shown at the 1984 New York Film Festival and being picked up by Circle Films for an American release after a screening at the Toronto Film Festival.

Shot in just eight weeks, Blood Simple is a startlingly violent neo-noir with moments of pure horror and that streak of bleak fatalism that has become a recurring theme for the filmmakers. Roger Ebert once claimed “no movie featuring either Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmet Walsh in a supporting role can be altogether bad" and the latter is in fine form here as a private detective hired to kill a saloon owner’s wife and her lover. Nothing is ever simple in the world of the Coens and things take an unexpected turn that leads to much bloodshed, double crossing and matters spiralling out of control like some kind of Greek tragedy with a sense of humour.

Frances McDormand, who married Joel Coen in the film’s year of release, is excellent in her big screen debut as a most untypical femme fatale. The brothers, however, are the real stars of the show. Most auteurs take years to hone their craft and eventually produce a masterpiece in which everything comes together perfectly. The Coen brothers are not like other filmmakers and they managed it straight out of the gate with a brooding, unique crime classic that explores themes and preoccupations that remain at the heart of their work. The siblings may have gone back to modify certain things they felt highlighted their lack of experience but they needn’t have worried, minor amendments or it, Blood Simple is the work of masters.

Blood Simple: Director's Cut is returns to cinemas 6th October and will be released on Blu-Ray/DVD on 30th October.