Over the weekend the missus and I had the occasion to check out Raising Arizona, a picture the missus had never seen in its entirety before, on DVD. And let me first say that this is a video version in dire need of an upgrade—not optimized for 16:9 displays, for heaven's sake, and featuring a booklet that gets Joel and Ethan Coen mixed up. Watching the 1997 1987 picture today with a trained eye, so to speak, it's interesting to note how relatively technically crude it is—not being caught up in the breathlessness and outrageousness of its baby-in-peril visual gags, one can see how various joins are glue-gunned together, as it were. With practice, the fellows have both pared down their technique and honed it to perfection, and in "maturity" their humor has grown more mordant; it might be instructive at some point to compare shot-by-shot breakdowns of Nicolas Cage and Randall "Tex" Cobb's matchup in this to the first and only meeting between George Clooney and Brad Pitt in Burn After Reading. It's also interesting to see the Coens here indulge in film references of such a blatant nature as to get the whole CHUD crowd chanting "Google goggle! Google goggle! One of us!" or "Two of us!" if they were gonna be all accurate about it. As in the above graffiti tags, a homage to I-shouldn't-have-to-tell-you-so-I-won't. It's doubtful they would ever do anything quite so obvious now.
All that aside, Arizona still works like a charm: it really is the ideal hybrid of a vintage Preston Sturges picture and a vintage Looney Tune. The question of whether the Coens "love" or "hate" their characters—a question I always found beside the point, if not poorly put—is largely overwhelmed by the tidal wave of hilarity. The fact that they have the film's object lesson of mercy and kindness delivered by its most ostensibly venal character is a testimony to the essential fluidity of their approach, or maybe their genuinely ironical worldview. In whatever event, it was, as always, bittersweet to see the late great Trey Wilson at work—along with J.T. Walsh, he was one of latter-day Hollywood's very greatest character actors, and he was gone WAY too soon. The post-kidnap police interrogation scene is not only WIlson at his very very boisterous best, it's also a scene that can stand toe-to-toe with any William-Demarest-led Babel-fest in Sullivan's Travels or what have you. Above, of course, putting the pomade to their respective purities of essence, are John Goodman and William Forsythe.