Looking Back at BLOOD SIMPLE as Drive-Away Dolls Hits Theaters

In the lead up to Ethan Coen’s Driveaway Dolls I wanted to set the mood and go through some Coen movies to fill in blindspots or revisit films I hadn’t seen in a while. With Criterion recently releasing a 4KUHD upgrade of Joel and Ethan’s Blood Simple, going back to the beginning just made too much since. I don’t have that 4K release, but the Criterion blu-ray is plenty nice in its own right. What started out as a simple (natch) rewatch turned into four viewings over the last few weeks and I’m currently fighting the urge to fire it up again.

The plot, like many Coen brothers movies, is fairly uncomplicated. Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya) learns his wife, Abby (Frances McDormand) and sleeping with his employee, Ray (John Getz). Add in a skeezy private detective, Visser (M. Emmet Walsh), and we have everything we need for a stew of betrayal and revenge. In the world of the Coens, it’s typically the characters who complicate things, and that’s exactly what happens with Blood Simple. The plot is like a pit of quicksand and every squirm and wriggle from the characters just drags them down further. 

The thing that stands out most to me is how patient Blood Simple is. The Coens have always had a preternatural sense for editing, so it’s not a surprise that Blood Simple has a great pace to it. But for a first film? It’s practically a miracle. Most Coen movies feel like an inexorable death march for most of the characters. Sometimes literally, like when Ray walks slowly across a room to his lover Abby, knowing full well they’re being watched by someone with bad intentions. This is foreshadowed at least once earlier in the film, a conversation in front of a glass door being interrupted by a newspaper hitting the door – SMACK! – with the violence of a gunshot. The Coens are masters of building tension, something I’ve appreciated about most of their films, but I’ve had it in my mind that this was a skill honed over time.


At first that realization made me feel a little silly, but it actually just reminded me, again, why it’s so much fun to revisit movies. You never have the same experience twice.

The more I’ve watched Blood Simple these last few weeks, the more impressive it becomes. Each scene feels like it could stand alone as its own short film. The mix of humor, dread, horror, and violence (or the threat of it) makes the movie fuller and grander than its scant sub-100 minute runtime may imply. There’s a vitality to the film still. It comes across not only in the filmmaking, but in the special features of Criterion’s release. There’s a conversation between the Coens and author Dave Eggers that has the energy of a first time experience rather than a decades-removed remembrance. The same goes for the feature highlighting Carter Burwell’s first-time scoring a film. 

I went into this viewing of Blood Simple with the intention of refreshing my memory of the details I’d long forgotten. I ended up coming away from these numerous rewatches reinvigorated. With the release of Drive-Away Dolls upon us, I’m finding my enthusiasm renewed all over again. 

Blood Simple is available in 4KUHD and Blu-ray from Criterion and Drive-Away Dolls is in theaters now

Previous post DRIVE-AWAY DOLLS: A Mostly Fun Road Trip with a Few Speedbumps
Next post Review: ORION AND THE DARK Brings Anxiety to Animation