Raising Arizona (Joel & Ethan Coen / U.S., 1987):

The immense joy of this is in the realization that, for all their precision, Joel and Ethan Coen are essentially comic barnstormers rather than frigid ironists -- the comedy that felt grim and gross in Blood Simple is liberated, the earlier film's manic tracking shot on the front lawn is revised as a knockabout gag, zooming into a mother's screaming maw. Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter are the cracked couple, whose courtship over police mug-shots carries a surprising grain of early Lubitsch; life in prison and in Reagan's working-class purgatory are the same to the ex-con, family love keeps despair at bay until the wife discovers that her womb is "a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase." Their decision to filch a toddler from a wealthy family that has "more than they can handle" is an act of class revolt made richly surreal, the deed takes place at a vast playpen squeezed through Barry Sonnenfeld's fisheyed lens. Hunter sobs with happiness at the sight of her new baby, yet some kind of order has been disrupted: John Goodman and William Forsythe rise out of the primordial mud just outside the penitentiary ("We felt the institution no longer had anything to offer us"), an id/Fate figure (Randall "Tex" Cobb) blazes out of Cage's nightmare decked like Bluto in post-apocalyptic leather, a flower bursts into flame as his Harley zips by. Cage's rush for a box of Huggies amid gunshots and snapping dogs encapsulates the absurdism of the Coens' worldview, and is besides a virtuosic comic set piece filmed like a John Woo shootout; their researches into screwball strangeness also have room for Trey Wilson's splenetic furniture salesman, Sam McMurray's would-be wife-swapper, Frances McDormand out-Carol Burnetting Carol Burnett. Humor links the Coens to the characters, they cap Cage's heartfelt concluding vision with a lovely jest that deflates it without robbing it of meaning and feeling -- the world is "hard on the little things," but that is no reason not to luxuriantly delight in it. Music by Carter Burwell.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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