Hidden classics – Raising Arizona

Beatrice Priest 19 March 2013

Raising Arizona (Joel and Ethan Coen, USA,1987)

Raising Arizona is a comedy about a Hawaiian shirt-wearing outlaw, ‘Hi’ McDunnough (Nicholas Cage), who marries a severe policewoman, ‘Ed’ (Holly Hunter), whom he has met upon returning to jail for recidivism. The unconventional couple decide to settle down and make a family. Biological and social reasons prevent them from having a child; she is infertile, and the agencies won’t let him adopt with a criminal record. Pushed to desperation, they resolve to steal a child from a couple who have conceived quintuplets in later life with the aid of medical science.

As soon as Hi and Ed welcome home their new son, three different parties take interest in acquiring the child. Hi’s former jail-mates, the brothers Gale and Evelle, appear on their doorstep having escaped from jail and emerging through a sewer in a rainy and muddy birth-like scene. The swinging couple Glen and his wife try to bribe Hi for the baby, while the bounty hunter and embodiment of the child’s mother’s wrath, Leonard Smalls, sets out on Hi’s trail on his Harley Davidson. While all these characters want to love and parent the child, comically the baby is witness to numerous robberies, car chases, shootouts, and the unlikely hold up of a Farmer’s and Mechanic’s bank in the desert.

This film, which has achieved cult status, is replete with symbolism, eccentric characters and a witty script. No mean feat, Raising Arizona is a romantic comedy based on the themes of infertility and child abduction in a Western setting, with a cop movie undercurrent. A perfect introduction to the Coen brothers.

Beatrice Priest