There was a time when Nicholas Cage’s career didn’t seem like a joke and the Coen Brothers weren’t really well known.
Raising Arizona pretty much ended the Coen’s anonymity while playing well to Cage’s talents.
The basic plot has career small-time criminal H.I. McDunnough (Cage) fall in love with the woman cop, Ed (played by Holly Hunter), who always takes his mug shot when he’s invariably caught. The two get married but are unable to have a child of their own. Hearing that a local millionaire just had quintuplets, the pair decide to kidnap one to raise as their own.
Obviously complications ensue.
The movie largely plays out like a live-action cartoon. Cage himself looks tired and defeated in many shots, but then can contort his facial features to comedic effect as the scene requires. Take this one below that happens across a quick second or two after Hunter’s Ed, angry at H.I. for attempting to rob a convenience store, slugs him one in the face:
That aforementioned (failed) robbery actually leads to probably the best chase scene I’ve ever seen outside a Roadrunner cartoon. During the course of the chase, Cage is shot at by multiple clerks and trigger-happy cops, chased by every dog in the neighborhood, and dashes through occupied houses while the film’s soundtrack plays for comedic effect. What sort of music is playing? Yodeling of course. About two-thirds through the chase, Cage carjacks an older man in a truck, and some more craziness leads to the two screaming like crazy in a shot that is guaranteed to get a laugh out of me every time I see it.
But the movie isn’t all chases and yodeling. Mixed in are a couple escaped cons who decide to take the baby for themselves, one of whom is played by frequent Coen collaborator John Goodman. There’s also a mysterious, well-armed and rather violent bounty hunter who mostly doesn’t talk. Leonard Smalls lets his hand grenades do the talking for him.
And you know what? This is a highly quotable movie. Yes, more so than Clue, Watson.
“Turn to the right!”
“Well, which one is it, young feller? Do you want us to not move or to get on the ground?”
“Son, you got a panty on your head.”
“Better hurry up. I’m in dutch with the wife.”
“You ate dirt?”
Factor in some rather gorgeous cinematography of the desert, and you have the Coens showing a unique and creative style that would become a hallmark for the two of them…and this was only their second movie.
Today, the Coens are well-known in film circles, a pair of respected filmmakers who even get a good deal of respect for their lesser work. Cage, well, he was Ghost Rider once.