Blood Simple distinguishes itself from the other two films most obviously by being shot in color. The film opens with a shot of a blown out tire on an asphalt road followed by a sequence of desolate industrial shots and an abandoned drive-in theatre. Coen paints the dark ideas of Noir with these images. It may not be the standard black and white Noir, but the variation works in setting the dark context and locale. What adds to this is the voice over referring to Texas and “... down here, you’re on your own.” In the end Francis McDormand is on her own as the only one alive.
Shortly after the Marty is shot the boyfriend arrives. He doesn’t know who did, but has his suspicion that it was his lover and takes Marty to the country to bury him and cover up the crime. The boyfriend visits his lover thinking she killed her husband. A seed of mistrust is planted here that will lead to the couple believing the other killed the husband. To make it worse the hit man is paranoid and coming for them. Suspense is ever present in Blood Simple and manifests on more levels than in Breathless or The Lady From Shanghai. A coworker confronting the boyfriend about stolen money, the hit man on the trail and the confusion in both the wife and the boyfriend. This is great craftsmanship by the Coen’s. Every scene is tight and necessary.
One can argue that the Femme Fatale is the hero in Blood Simple. Her lover is killed and it is up to her to defeat the hit-man or be killed herself. The violence in the hit-mans final scenes is much more graphic and intense than anything in either The Lady From Shanghai or Breathless. Flesh on broken glass, a bloody corpse on the floor, the hit-mans hand stapled to the window sill by a knife and the sinister dialogue and laughter of the dying hit-man bleeding out on the bathroom floor. When McDormand says “I’m not afraid of you Marty” the dying hit-mans laughs before delivering his last words “Well, ma’am if I see him, I’ll sure give him the message.”
There are similarities between all three films, but a clear evolution taking place from one picture to the next. Breathless for example is a dark tale yet the scenes are often lit flat or use available light moving away from the sculpted lighting designs and long shadows used in The Lady From Shanghai. Michelle is in love with his Femme Fatale, yet the evolution is his Noir character is that he is not the poor soul falling for the wrong girl. He is a guy who gets what he deserves by falling for the wrong girl. The evolution is also in part due to time period. One can’t imagine Hayworth ending her romance with Orson Welles by stating “I’ve slept with a lot of guys” like Jean tells Michelle in Breathless shortly after mentioning she has informed the police about him. Finally Michelle is shot and killed and the Femme Fatale Jean has the last word “What a scumbag.”
Blood Simple takes it a step further with the use of color and blends the best of suspense, style and plot twists found in the earlier Noir stories. The evolution is topped off in modern characters, realistic violence and new camera techniques. Our Femme Fatale is tough. When Marty attacks his cheating wife she fights back with success. While she is beautiful her look isn’t refined like Hayworth. She isn’t wearing high heels and dresses. She is a woman of the 80’s who wears a T-shirt to bed instead of a boudoir. Camera movement has evolved. Coen employs camera moves not present in either of the other two films. In one scene the camera zips in on Marty who is pulling his wife out of the house and onto the front lawn adding energy and suspense. Frances McDormand connects a strategic kick. Marty vomits and staggers to his car.
Smoking in Blood Simple is present, but treated differently. In one scene the Hero’s coworker pulls the cigarette out of the hero’s mouth before he can light it saying “these fucking things are nothing but coffin nails.”. At first glance one might think this shows a different attitude to cigarettes in the 1980’s, but at the end of the scene he lights a cigarette himself before screeching off in his car. Smoking remains present only acknowledged in a different way.
Welles, Godard and Coen told unique stories with unique styles and while visual look and overall style of Noir has evolved the themes and symbols are similar only treated differently. Noir staples are fresh in each of their films. The varied camera styles, unique use of the character archetypes work. Each film is reflective of the respective times in which they were made, as all the stories are told in that time periods present day. They are still not only enjoyable today, but will influence future Film Noir offerings yet to come. The thread that ties them all together amongst these variations is the high price of falling in love with a Femme Fatale. Orson makes it out alive, but he still has to live with a broken heart. The other fellas pay with their lives.