(director/writer: Joel Coen; screenwriter: Ethan Coen; cinematographer: Barry Sonnenfeld; editor: Roderick Jaynes; cast: John Getz (Ray), Frances McDormand (Abby), Dan Hedaya (Marty), M. Emmet Walsh (Privare Detective Visser), Deborah Neumann (Debra), Samm-Art Williams (Maurice); Runtime: 97; Universal/October Films; 1984)

“Made on a shoestring budget, the film sparkles because its characters are lively and quirky.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An auspicious debut for director Joel Coen and for the Coen brothers as a writer and director team of this delightful film noir.

Texas bar-owner Marty (Hedaya) hires a seedy private detective, Visser (Walsh), to snoop on his unfaithful wife Abby (McDormand-the wife of the director). He brings back photos of her in bed with one of his bartenders, Ray (Getz).

Marty is fueled by a quiet anger from within and arranges with the unscrupulous private eye to murder the two lovers, as the private eye agrees to bend the rules for $10,000. But the private eye decides to do it his way, and after he collects his fee the twists in the plot lead to a series of misunderstandings, guilt, and a double-cross. The misunderstandings result in a burial of someone still alive, a gruesome shooting where the victim is also pounded to death by a car battery, and an impalement of a hand caught on a window sill which leads to the victim being shot to death when mistaken for someone else. The double-cross comes about when the hired killer doesn’t kill the one he is supposed to.

Blood Simple is highlighted by an absolutely wondrous performance that is both sleazy and diabolical by M. Emmet Walsh. It also has some pretty funny dialogue, as one bartender (Williams) complains that someone came into the bar and asked for a discount for alcoholics. When the private eye tells his client the bad news about his wife’s affair, he also tells him the good news: “At least she wasn’t having an affair with the colored guy.” Made on a shoestring budget, the film sparkles because its characters are lively and quirky. I saw it on a recently digitally-remastered video version where the director cut off a few minutes of unnecessary dialogue.