15 Trivia Tidbits About ‘Raising Arizona’
When you go see a movie like Taken or The Silence of the Lambs, most people aren’t rooting for the kidnapper. Generally speaking, kidnapping is a thing bad guys do, and yet, there is one movie all about kidnapping where the abductors are downright endearing. The 1987 Coen Brothers’ film, Raising Arizona, put the siblings on the map as major filmmakers and helped launch Nicolas Cage’s idiosyncratic acting career.
Cage plays H.I. McDunnough, an ex-con who’s trying to go straight for the good of his police officer wife, Edwina — called “Ed” — played by Holly Hunter. Unfortunately, their dream of having a child is derailed when they can’t get pregnant. So when they see that local celebrity businessman Nathan Arizona has had quintuplets, the couple decides to take one for themselves.
The movie is essentially a live-action cartoon and one of the funniest films in the outstanding Coen Brothers’ library, making it more than worthy of the trivia tidbits below…
It’s the Second Coen Brothers Film
The first was Blood Simple in 1984. When Joel and Ethan Coen set out to make Raising Arizona, they wanted to set it apart from their debut’s bleak vibes, so they made Raising Arizona a fast-paced comedy with an optimistic tone.
A ‘Trailer Park Western’
Composer Carter Burwell had worked with the Coens on Blood Simple and recalled in an interview that when asking him to return for Raising Arizona, the pair described the film as a “Trailer Park Western.”
Cage was ‘A Leading Man in a Character Actor’s Role’
While Cage hadn’t starred as a lead before Raising Arizona, he was a well-known actor and a rising Hollywood star. The Coen Brothers felt he was a good fit for the role of H.I. McDunnough, describing the choice as “casting a leading man in a character actor’s role.”
Cage Found the Coens Difficult to Work With
The Coen Brothers have long held a reputation of being dogmatically adherent to their script and storyboards, having no interest in improvisation from the actors. Cage found this especially frustrating on the set of Raising Arizona, where the Coens consistently dismissed any of his ideas. Even something as simple as Cage “improvising” a look at his watch while H.I. was waiting in a line was unwelcome.
The Only Improvised Moment
For an oral history of Raising Arizona for Insider, actor Sam McMurray, who played H.I.’s boss, said, “They were very particular about the script. In one scene, I take a handful of pistachios or whatever and throw them at a kid. I improvised that when we were rehearsing, and the crew laughed out loud. Joel came over, and I was told, ‘We’re going to keep it. But never do that again.’ I like to brag that I have the only improvised line in the movie.”
Hunting Down Holly Hunter
The Coens cast Hunter for the role of Ed McDunnough after failing to get her to play the lead in Blood Simple due to scheduling conflicts. At Hunt’s recommendation, Blood Simple’s lead role went to Frances McDormand, who would end up marrying Joel Coen.
The First of Many Coen Films with John Goodman
Goodman played the hilarious role of escaped convict Gale Snopes, making it the first time Goodman worked with the Coens. He would rejoin them in Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Inside Llewyn Davis.
The Delayed Opening Credits
Possibly the most memorable sequence of Raising Arizona is the first 11 minutes, which chronicles H.I.’s repeated crimes and prison sentences, his budding romance and marriage to Ed, their struggles with infertility, as well as their hatching a plan to kidnap one of the five Arizona quintuplets. Only after all that does the film’s title appear on screen. As editor Michael Miller recalled, “The key was going at breakneck speed. Something new is always happening — to the point where you’re a couple of minutes in, and you’re not thinking about credits. So, ultimately, when the credits do come up, it’s a surprise.”
A Small Army of Babies
A total of 15 babies were used to play the role of the Arizona quintuplets. In an interview, Joel Coen once said, “A baby is somewhere between an actor and a prop. You can’t talk to it and tell it what you want to do. And you can’t just put it someplace in a shot and reliably predict it’ll stay there.”
A Shared Universe with ‘The Hudsucker Proxy’
In Raising Arizona, H.I.’s work uniform says he works for “Hudsucker Industries,” the same company at the center of 1994’s The Hudsucker Proxy. Although Hudsucker came out seven years after Raising Arizona, it was written by the Coens and Sam Raimi back in 1981.
The ‘Lone Biker of the Apocalypse’ Couldn’t Ride
During the casting process, Tex Cobb — who played the bounty hunter called the “Lone Biker of the Apocalypse” — lied about being able to ride a motorcycle and waited until his first day of filming to inform the Coens. His inexperience led to a crash during filming, resulting in a chronic shoulder injury.
McMurray once described a funny scene when going out to lunch with Cage one day. “This teenage girl came up to him and was like, ‘Are you Nicolas Cage?’ She spent 15 minutes arguing with herself over it. Finally, she goes, ‘Well, okay, would you sign this?’ She hands him a wet cocktail napkin. He wrote down, ‘Tomorrow you will die. Nicolas Cage.’ That’s when I decided I liked him.”
An Inspirational Kidnapping Story
It’s One of the Coens’ Most Financially Successful Films
On a budget of just $5 million, Raising Arizona made $29 million at the box office. Their next three films — Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink and The Hudsucker Proxy — were financial disappointments, and they didn’t have another financial success until 1996 with Fargo.
An Uncomfortably Happy Ending
Especially for a Coen Brothers movie, Raising Arizona has a very happy ending. The baby is returned, H.I. and Ed aren’t charged with anything and H.I. has a series of prophetic dreams about a happy future with Ed, featuring their children and grandchildren. About the ending, Burwell recalled that it was so sweet that it caused Ethan Coen to joke, “I just want to put up a shot of seals being beaten.”