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Film / Raising Arizona

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Just your typical American family.

Edwina "Ed" McDunnough: I'm not gonna live this way, Hi! It just ain't family life!
H.I. "Hi" McDunnough: Well... it ain't Ozzie and Harriet.

The Coen Brothers' follow-up to Blood Simple, Raising Arizona (1987) begins with harmless criminal H.I. "Hi" McDunnough (Nicolas Cage) and police officer Edwina "Ed" (Holly Hunter) meeting and falling in love during a series of mug shots. They get married, settle down, and decide they want kids. There's one problem: Ed's infertile. They try adopting, but H.I.'s criminal past prevents this. Then, when all seems hopeless, an opportunity presents itself: Furniture magnate and local celebrity Nathan Arizona (Trey Wilson)'s wife gives birth to quintuplets. An off-handed remark about "having more than they can handle" gives H.I. and Ed the idea to kidnap one of the babies, and raise it as their own. So, H.I. sneaks in, and takes Nathan Jr. (we think), and that's when all hell breaks loose. First, H.I's prison buddies Gale (John Goodman) and Evelle (William Forsythe) break out, and hole up at their place. Then a demonic bounty hunter (Randall "Tex" Cobb) seems to spring from H.I.'s nightmares to pursue him. And then he punches out his boss.

Nathan, Jr. is about to become the most wanted baby in Arizona, for all the worst reasons—while H.I. and Ed, who have grown to genuinely love their stolen child, are forced to decide if love is reason enough to keep him.

This film provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: Leonard Smalls is played by Randall 'Tex' Cobb and wears grenades on his vest. Cobb also played a grenade-wearing character in the movie Uncommon Valor.
  • Adoption Is Not an Option: HI's extremely lengthy criminal past prohibits the couple from adopting even though they argue that Ed's model police record should "even things out."
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Although calling HI truly "bad" is a bit of a stretch.
  • Ambiguously Human: Leonard Smalls seems to have supernatural properties and is frequently associated with fire. He appears to HI in a dream, produces cigars and matches from thin air, materializes in an explosion, and seemingly bleeds gouts of flame. However, he also references being bought on the black market as a baby, and his goal is simply a chunk of money.
  • Apologetic Attacker: HI apologizes twice while fighting Smalls. The first time seems to be out of pure terror and the second time is after pulling the pin out of Small's grenade, killing him.
  • Arc Words: "More than we can handle". Nathan Arizona's facetious quote to the newspapers about his quintuplets, which Ed uses as justification that they should take one of their babies.
  • Artistic License – Law: "It ain't armed robbery if the gun ain't loaded," HI says to Ed. Using an empty/fake weapon could theoretically be a mitigating factor when it comes to sentencing, but hell yes it is still considered armed robbery. As a former cop, Ed should know better.
  • Asshole Victim: Subverted. We initially think Nathan Arizona is this, and his early dialogue suggests a potential Big Bad. When HI and Ed return his son he realises they took him. He refuses to call the cops, genuinely thanks them, and offers them uplifting advice on starting a family of their own. So, earlier in and throughout the movie, Nathan Sr. can qualify as a Hero Antagonist, while Leonard Smalls is the true Big Bad.
  • Babies Ever After: In H.I.'s final dream, he and Ed finally have kids (and grandkids) of their own.
  • Baby Be Mine: Ed is infertile, but she wants to have a baby, so Ed and H.I. decide to steal one of the Arizona babies.
  • Badass Biker: Leonard Smalls, to a supernatural degree.
  • Bad Boss: Glen, HI's supervisor, suggests a wife-swapping engagement with HI, then ultimately tries to blackmail him for Nathan Jr.
  • Beard of Evil: The nefarious Leonard Smalls sports a big, oil-soaked and wooly one.
  • Big Bad: Leonard Smalls, the biker searching for Nathan Junior to either ransom him or sell him on the black market.
  • Big "SHUT UP!" / Distracting Disambiguation: During the bank robbery.
    Gale: All right, ya hayseeds, it's a stick-up. Everybody freeze. Everybody down on the ground!
    [Beat as no one moves]
    Hayseed: Well, which is it, young feller? You want I should freeze or get down on the ground? Mean to say, if'n I freeze, I can't rightly drop. And if'n I drop, I'm a-gonna be in motion. You see...
    Gale: Shut up!
    Hayseed: Okay, then!
  • Bittersweet Ending: After everything is said and done, HI and Ed return Nathan Jr.. Nathan Sr., after learning why they kidnapped him in the first place, decides not to turn them in and gives them advice for their relationship. HI then has a dream where he and Ed are an elderly couple being visited by their children and grandchildren. Nathan Jr. is also a football star, and while he doesn't remember HI or Ed, at least he's happy.
  • Black Comedy: The film is zany and comedic but also deals with baby snatching, crime, and some rather stiff violence.
  • Book Ends: Gale and Evelle escape from prison by tunneling out, emerging outside the walls during a rainstorm and covered with mud. At the end of the film, H.I. dreams that they return on their own, now smeared with dye from the bank robbery and using the same tunnel they dug to escape.
  • Bottomless Magazines: The policeman chasing H.I. after the latter's attempted store-robbery. Conversely, in the same sequence, a store clerk is shown re-loading his double-barrel shotgun... Before firing four more times without stopping to reload again.
  • Call-Back: At the start of the film, H.I. crawls under a bed to retrieve one of the Arizona babies, when another one "ambushes" him by falling on his back. At the end of the film, he crawls under a car to escape from Smalls in the same way.
  • Cannot Tell a Joke: H.I.'s boss, Glen, is always telling Polack jokes that no one thinks are funny. He also bungles one and has to start over again. H.I. notes that it finally gets him in trouble when he tries to crack a Polack joke to a Polish highway patrolman.
  • Catchphrase:
    • "Okay then," the catchphrase of Arizona yokels.
    • HI's boss Glenn always says, "Say, that reminds me..."
    • Ed's "Turn to the right!"
    • Ed's off-screen co-worker: "Don't forget the _______, Ed!"
    • Nathan Arizona's marketing catchphrase is "... or my name ain't Nathan Arizona!"
  • Central Theme: Parenting.
  • Chase Scene: Cops and trigger-happy civilians wildly pursue H.I. and Ed after a bungled robbery.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Land: Rural Arizona is depicted as such.
  • Code Name: Subverted by the Stupid Crooks Gale and Evelle.
    Gale: I told you not to use our names. Can't you try to keep from forgetting that?
    Evelle: Not even our code names?
    Gale: Oh yeah... Right.
    Evelle: Y'all hear that? We's usin' code names!
  • Comically Missing the Point: "Son, you've got a panty on your head!"
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: H.I. does not fare well against Leonard Smalls.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Played with. Leonard Smalls casually tells Nathan Arizona that he was sold to the black market as a baby, but he doesn't seem to have a problem with it, since he subtly brags about his price, and is more than willing to sentence Nathan Jr. to the same fate.
  • Diegetic Soundtrack Usage: A Muzak version of the main theme "Goofing-Off Suite" plays in a supermarket. Ed also sings "Down in Willow Garden" as a lullaby, which is the basis of the film's other recurring leitmotif.
  • Disaster Dominoes: H.I. holding up a convenience store quickly snowballs into a chaotic romp all over the suburbs, with a pack of angry dogs in pursuit and indiscriminate gunfire.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Kicking off the epic Chase Scene, the cops are quick to open fire on H.I., even though all he did was steal Huggies (he left the cash on the counter).
  • Distant Finale: H.I.'s final dream.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Gale and Evelle are essentially birthed from the ground, screaming like newborn children.
  • Donut Mess with a Cop: "You want to find an outlaw, you hire an outlaw. You want to find a Dunkin' Donuts, call a cop."
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: H.I. has nightmares about the Biker, and the epilogue of the film is more pleasant dream. Ed reveals she dreamt of Leonard Smalls, too.
  • Drives Like Crazy: When H.I. is running from the cops, Ed's police training kicks in, and she immediately turns into Bullitt.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: H.I. works for Hudsucker Industries.
  • Einstein Hair: H.I., although it's obvious he's no scientist.
  • Eldritch Abomination: H.I. believes this is what the Biker is. The fact that he roars and bleeds fire when shot seems to hint that Hi may be right.
  • Embarrassing First Name: H.I. reluctantly signs his "Dear John" Letter Herbert.
  • Embarrassing Last Name: Nathan Arizona is apparently embarrassed by his last name— he was born "Nathan Huffheinz", and claims that he changed his name because, "Would you buy furniture from a store called 'Unpainted Huffheinz?'"
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Inverted. Leonard Smalls' tattoo reads "Mama Didn't Love Me," and he describes being sold on the black market as a child. It's part of the general theme of parenting.
  • Evil Is Petty: Leonard Smalls is introduced using a shotgun and hand grenades to slaughter small animals he passes on the side of the road.
  • Exact Words: Nathan Arizona's Catchphrase guarantee is "if you won't find a cheaper price anywhere else, Or My Name Isn't... Nathan Arizona!" Turns out that "Nathan Arizona" isn't his original name. It's Nathan Huffheinz.
  • Family Theme Naming: Hi, Ed, and Jr. all go by two-letter monikers. Evelle even points out that "Junior" can be spelled "Jr".
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: The newspaper H.I. swipes in the prologue features a hilarious little bit of meta-humor in the text beneath the headline:
    The fabled Arizona Quints were released today from the Maricopa County Hospital. They accompanied their mother to Tempe after two months of incubation. Their father is unpainted furniture tycoon Nathan Arizona, who is reportedly pondering a run for Congress in the 4th District. Pete Peterson, Republican incumbent in the 4th, dismissed the birth of the quints as "a cheap publicity stunt" in a news conference Thursday. He characterized Nathan Arizona as an "unprincipled media hog and a loud hectoring nitwit", but conceded that Trey Wilson, the actor portraying him, as a "very nice fellow with a distasteful job to do."
  • Freudian Excuse: The Biker's tattoo reads "Momma didn't love me." He also carries a pair of bronzed baby shoes hanging off his belt, which are seen falling to the earth after he explodes. In his conversation with Arizona, he admits that he was sold on the black market as a baby, but doesn't seem to care much. He is apparently the embodiment of what happens to a child when parenting goes bad.
  • Gender-Blender Name:
    • Gale and Evelle, the two male cons, though "Gail" is the feminine spelling of the former.
    • Ed, short for Edwina. H.I. even claims they named the male baby Ed:
      "Well, as in 'Edward.' We just like that name."
  • Hammerspace: A subtle but cool version of this: As the biker walks through Unpainted Arizona, a cigar appears in one hand, out of nowhere, and a match in his other, which he strikes on a wall, to light the cigar.
  • Hand Cannon: The clerk at the store pulls a huge, nickel-plated revolver.
  • Hate Sink: Hi's boss Glen. He's a boorish, dimwitted racist who laughs at his own jokes, talks with his mouth full, and has a creepy fixation on Ed.
  • Harmful to Minors: Leonard Smalls threatens to sell Nathan Jr. on the black market if he doesn't get his ransom.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard:
    • Telling Polack jokes to a cop named "Kowalski"? Bad idea.
    • Leonard Smalls is blown up by his own grenades.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Ed repeatedly admonishes Hi not to swear in front of the baby, but upon noticing that he's holding up a convenience store repeatedly exclaims, "That son of a bitch!"
  • Ice-Cream Koan: "Well, there's what's right, and there's what's right, and never the twain shall meet."
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: The cops and the grocery store owner sure blow the hell out of a lot of inventory.
  • Implacable Man: Leonard Smalls is portrayed as such, a seemingly undefeatable foe who draws closer and closer to the main couple.
  • Irony: Nathan Arizona keeps assuring people that what he said is true "or my name ain't Nathan Arizona!" Well, turns out, it's not his real name.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Nathan Arizona, Sr. turns out to be a decent guy in the end.
    • Gale and Evelle are opportunistic crooks, but they both fall in love with Nathan Jr. and beg to accompany Hi and Ed when they think the baby is in trouble.
  • Kick the Dog: The Biker's Establishing Character Momenthe shoots a lizard with a shotgun and tosses a grenade at a bunny rabbit. While speeding on his bike.
  • Knight of Cerebus: The film is mostly a comedy, but anytime Leonard Smalls appears, things get deadly serious.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility:
    • "I want a baby, H.I.! They got more than they can handle."
    • Later averted, when the couple learn Nathan and his wife had the same problem and just took fertility pills — and if H.I.'s dream is accurate, they solved their problem.
  • Leitmotif: "Down In The Willow Garden" is constantly played as H.I. and Ed's theme. Ed sings it to Nathan Jr. at one point.
  • Lighter and Softer: The Coen brothers made this movie with the intention of making a film that was the complete opposite of their previous film, the dark thriller Blood Simple. The film has a more light-hearted sense of humor and is generally more optimistic than a lot of their other films.
  • Living MacGuffin: The second half of the film involves a number of parties all jockeying to take possession of Nathan Jr., who gets repeatedly handed off from one to the other. Being a baby, Nathan Jr. has no agency in this.
  • Lock-and-Load Montage: Parodied. H.I. is going back and forth speechifying, putting another small handgun in his pants every time he reappears on screen. Finally, he appears with a shotgun, saying "So let's go, honey! (cocks gun) Let's go get Nathan Jr!"
  • Lyrical Dissonance: One of the main themes of the film is based on the tune of "Down in the Willow Garden" aka "Rose Connelly," a song about a man awaiting execution for murdering a young woman. The lyrics are heard only in one scene, where Ed sings it as a lullaby.
  • Magical Realism: The plot is centered around a fairly mundane love story/kidnapping scheme, but it also involves a bounty hunter who may or may not be supernatural, and Hi seems to have prophetic and/or clairvoyant dreams. The general presentation also has a generally heightened, occasionally surreal nature that makes the film play almost like a fairytale.
  • Maintain the Lie: H.I. and Ed after they "adopt" Nathan Jr.
  • Mama Bear: Ed is ready to throw down with Leonard Smalls over Nathan, despite being unarmed.
  • Missing Child: For all of the comedy that ensues afterwards, Nathan Arizona's reaction at finding out that one of his children has been kidnapped is perfectly understandable.
  • Monochrome Casting: The film is a parody of Southwest redneck culture. Therefore, there are only two nonwhite bit characters, and both of them are in prison.
  • Nerves of Steel: Nathan Arizona Sr. doesn't once flinch during his meeting with the terrifying Smalls.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: The biker gives this to H.I. at the end.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • The biker's expression when he realizes H.I. is holding the pin from one of his grenades.
    • Gale and Evelle have this reaction after finding out they left Junior behind following their botched bank robbery attempt.
    • And the driver of the pickup whose vehicle H.I. sort-of carjacks during the chase scene. And then H.I., when the driver makes it known that he was never told when to stop.
  • One Phone Call: An offscreen voice reminds Ed to give H.I. one.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Hi hesitates before signing his "Dear John" Letter with his Embarrassing First Name, "Herbert."
  • Pineapple Surprise: How Hi defeats Leonard Smalls.
  • Pin-Pulling Teeth: Leonard Smalls pulls the pins on grenades this way when he's on his motorcycle.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse: Ed, played by 5'2" Holly Hunter, is an officer of the law, twice decorated. Her face off against the biker should give some idea of how she achieved that. Also, when she socks H.I. for robbing the convenience store, he looks like he's been punched by someone bigger than him.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: Ode to Joy is both yodeled and played on a banjo, and mashed up with Pete Seeger's "Goofing-Off Suite".
  • Reckless Gun Usage: During the chase sequence, the police and at least two store clerks start blasting away at H.I., no matter how many random civilians might be in range.
  • Running Gag:
    • HI repeatedly identifies the kidnapped baby as, "Nathan Jr... I think." Later, Nathan Arizona says the same thing.
    • Hi and Ed still calling their kidnapped baby Nathan, Jr. When asked by others what the baby's name is, they each give the other partner's name, adding a "Junior" to the end of it. And then after Gale and Evelle take the baby away, they start calling him Gale Jr.
    • Everyone in Arizona says "Okay, then."
    • Glen's obsession with Polack jokes.
    • HI's co-worker always telling the same story about finding a human head on the highway.
    • Whenever Nathan Jr changes hands, the Dr Spock baby guide goes with him. It gets increasingly battered and damaged as the film goes on.
  • Scarily Competent Tracker: Smalls, who boasts that some say he's "part hound dog." We see him tracking Gale and Evelle to Hi's trailer through the scent of their pomade.
  • Scary Black Man: Sometimes he gets the menstrual cramps real hard.
  • Scenery Porn: Lots of gorgeous vistas of the Sonoran Desert. Hi and Ed spend many evenings watching the sundown on lawn chairs. Ed remarks, "That was beautiful!"
  • Shotguns Are Just Better: Leonard Smalls carries a pair of sawed-off, double-barreled shotguns in crossed holsters on his back.
  • Shout-Out:
    • "P.O.E." and "O.P.E." scrawled on a bathroom door is a Shout-Out to Dr. Strangelove.
    • The Biker's real name is "Leonard Smalls." His friends call him "Lenny"... but he ain't got no friends.
    • The tracking shot, supposedly the POV of Leonard Smalls' motorcycle speeding right up into the Arizona family window, is an homage to Sam Raimi's Evil Dead films. The Coen brothers were early collaborators with Raimi.
    • The cell block that H.I. is brought into every time he has been arrested and sent to jail is Cell Block 2, which is in Central Unit at Arizona State Prison Complex-Florence. It is also the same cell block that Skip and Harry are imprisoned at in Stir Crazy.
    • As Hi watches the sun rise on day one with baby Nathan Jr. He says, "Sometimes it's a hard world for the little things". This is a quote of Rachel Cooper's observation in The Night of the Hunter.
  • A Simple Plan: Stealing one of the Arizona quints, since the parents "have more than they can handle."
  • Smug Snake: Glen thinks he's pretty clever in figuring out who HI's baby is and blackmailing him over it.
  • The Sociopath: Leonard Smalls very likely qualifies. He shows almost no emotion or empathy, besides anger, takes pleasure out of killing people and animals, while also having some Blue-and-Orange Morality. The biggest example is when he threatens to sell Nathan Jr. to the black market if he's not paid enough by Nathan Arizona, despite that fact that Smalls was himself sold to the black market as an infant. In other words, he's been through the exact same experience and knows what it feels like, but just doesn't care.
  • Soft-Spoken Sadist: Leonard Smalls is very quiet and very evil, though he does let out some animalistic roars in the climax.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: H.I., and everyone in the film, to some degree. An early example of the Coens' fondness for stylization, but Roger Ebert found it distracting enough to pan the movie over it.
    Evelle: No ma'am, we didn't escape, we released ourselves from prison on our own recognizance.
    Gale: We felt we'd reached the limits of what the institution had to offer us.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: "Down In The Willow Garden" is about someone who is to be hanged for poisoning his fiance for her money.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: Everything in the film's climax... including the biker.
  • Stupid Crooks: H.I. is a terrible crook, getting caught every time he tries to stick up a quickie mart. Evelle and Gale are just as bad, thoroughly bungling their bank robbery and constantly "leaving a man behind."
  • Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion: The Arizona Quints: Harry, Barry, Larry, Garry, and Nathan Junior.
  • Super Fly Reflexes: Leonard Smalls offers to use his tracking skills to locate the kidnapped baby Nathan Jr. In a display of his supernatural prowess, he complains to Nathan Sr about the flies in the latter's office, which Nathan denies. Then Smalls lunges forward and grabs one in front of Nathan.
  • Tattooed Crook: H.I. and Leonard Smalls both sport tattoos, including the same Mr. Horsepower tattoo.
  • Tears of Joy: Ed, after H.I. gets Nathan Jr.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: The famous chase scene, where HI gets shot at by the cops, the convenience store clerk, and a grocery store manager wielding a shotgun.
  • Tomboyish Name: Ed, short for Edwina.
  • Too Many Babies: The Arizona quints. Nathan stating this (and H.I. and Ed taking it literally) leads to the whole plot.
  • Trashy Trailer Home: Hi, a hard-luck ex-con, lives in a dilapidated trailer in the middle of nowhere that is symbolic of his generally poor lot in life.
  • Two Decades Behind: The film establishes that it's taking place in modern times (The 80s) with Hi mentioning President Reagan. But all the fashions, cars, hairstyles, etc. range from the Great Depression to the 70s.
  • The Unreveal: HI and Smalls have the same tattoo. What this means is never explained.
  • Vocal Dissonance: Probably an unintentional example, but Leonard Smalls' single scene of dialogue highlights the fact that Tex Cobb, however burly and terrifying he might look, has a rather high and extremely nasal voice, in part due to the damage his face accumulated during his boxing career. He also never raises his voice, always speaking in a calm, reasonable manner even when describing the brutal lengths to which he'll go to get his man. Somehow, it actually makes him more intimidating.
  • Within Arm's Reach: While Smalls is beating up Hi and throwing him around Hi accidentally grabs the pin from one of the grenades that Smalls keeps on his vest. Smalls has just enough time to realize what happened before the grenade blows up.
  • Word Salad Title: It's not clear until you see the film that "Arizona" is a surname, so "Raising Arizona" means raising a child with the name of Arizona.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Or at least take him and sell him off on the black market. Either way, Leonard Smalls will get money out of finding Nathan Jr.
  • You Can See That, Right?: When Leonard Smalls appears in an explosion on the horizon, H.I. remarks to Ed, "You can see him, too?"
  • You Shall Not Pass!: H.I. attempts this, leading to a beatdown.


Video Example(s):


Panty on Your Head

Hi stops a pickup truck and the driver notices something unusual about him.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (1 votes)

Example of:

Main / StockingMask

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