Recidivism: Raising Arizona

Posted: January 2, 2013 in Joe Giambrone
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A definite cult classic, Raising Arizona (1987) is Nick Cage’s finest hour and one of my favorite movies.  I was glad to read the script.  Maybe I felt guilty over dissing True Grit the other day

This film is stuffed with dramatic material in every scene.  The central argument concerns recidivism, the propensity for criminals to go on returning to the lives they are more comfortable with.  The issues concern crime and punishment, the slippery slopes of committing ever more serious offenses, and the moral and ethical choices we make and which define us.


Spoilers Below

Here’s the plot, with the dramatic questions spelled out…

Opening is of HI being arrested.  Questions arise why, and for how long, and what will happen to him while in jail, or in prison?

Immediately, the woman snapping his photo, “Ed” (Edwina), in the precinct becomes a factor.  Will he hook up with her?  He’s flirting with Ed even as he is processed for jail.  He’s a con, and she’s a cop, two opposites which would lead to natural conflict.  Also, the question of if she’s going to reform him, or he’s going to corrupt her?  Or maybe both.

The way HI talks is a bit delusional, overly positive and optimistic, as when he walks down the hallway toward a large mean convict.  His words suggest the opposite, that it’s a friendly place.  HI’s mental state being unreliable is another question that suggests future problems.

HI says he’s in for writing bad checks, a minor white-collar crime.  No violent record.  Answers the first question about why he was being arrested.

Next scene, meeting with a prison counselor, psychological digging.  Why is HI such a messed up person?  Another convict seems bizarrely crazy, and so this reflects on HI being there in the same group.  Is HI a raving nut too?

Parole hearing, Hi claims he is reformed.  Is he lying?

Question answered, HI robbing a grocery store.  Busted again.  Back with Edwina the jail photographer.

Ed’s fiancé dumped her.  Now she’s available.  HI makes a bravado speech about the sumbitch.  They are more likely to get together, but will they?  Or will the fiancé come and kick HI’s ass, as he’s challenging?

Raising Arizona

HI in his cell, can’t think.  Has trouble thinking clearly.  Will this affect him later in the film?

Released again.  Robs same 7-11.  Back with Ed being photographed at the jailhouse.  Is this film going to repeat endlessly?  Is HI ever going to try something different?

Fingerprinted by Edwina, he slides a ring off his finger and onto hers.  Will they get married?  Will she fall for his silly persona?

HI back in prison.  No change yet.

When he gets out this time, he marches into the jail and proposes to Ed immediately.  Next scene they are married.  Will HI turn his whole life around?  Can love cure the bonehead?  What happens if Ed thinks he’s back to his old ways, her being a peace officer?

New place a trailer in the desert.  HI works a machine shop.  Can this seriously last?

The pay isn’t much.  For an ex-con, that could inspire thoughts of doing better some other way.

Edwina wants a “critter.”  HI is convinced to get on board and start a family, as their lives were so perfect now.  Will they have kids?

So they start trying real hard to make a baby.  No baby.  Try to adopt.  No adoption due to HI’s extensive criminal record.  What are they going to do?

Ed is devastated.  Their happy days might be over.  Ed’s depression takes over, and she quits the force.  Is she going over to the dark side?

HI starts driving past that same 7-11.  Is he slipping back to his criminal ways?

The Arizona quintuplets are born – and suddenly somebody has too many babies all at once.  As the unhappy couple watch the TV news, they have this unspoken connection and devious idea between them.

HI snatches a newspaper from a vending machine, without paying for it.  Is he going to slip all the way back and then some?

The couple finds it unfair that some should have too many babies, when some can’t have any.

Ed drives the car, as HI ties a ladder to the roof of their car.  They are going to snatch one of the Arizona quint babies.  Can such a kidnapping work?  Will they get away with it?  Are they crazy?

Amazingly, the TITLE of the film appears here, after all that story.  This mission to snatch the baby is the central story, and how it plays out is anybody’s guess.

While the Arizonas are downstairs, we find HI upstairs in the nursery trying to bounce a baby to keep it quiet.  If anyone comes up, they are busted.  If anyone goes outside, they’re busted.  Then all the babies conspire to act fussy and cause trouble for HI.

The wife sends Nathan up to check on the fussy babies.

As the babies all scramble in different directions, Hi hears footsteps on the stairs.  The mother, Florence, comes up.  Hi returns the babies to the crib, all sitting, staring back out at Florence in a row, unnaturally.

Hi returns to Edwina in the car, without a baby. Could this be the end of their marriage?  Are the Arizonas going to call the police?  When Ed won’t let him back in the car, is he going to give in and go back for a second try?

Hi returns with a baby, which he thinks is the best one, Nathan Jr.

Finally at home in the trailer, the little happy family, Ed has concern that maybe Hi won’t be up to the challenge over the long haul.  As he pacifies her, thunder rumbles in the distance.

Hi’s two prison buddies escape the joint.  How are they going to impact the story?

Pounding on Hi’s trailer, and a voice yelling, “It’s the police!”  Is this the end for Hi and Ed?

The intruders turn out to be the escaped prisoners.  They start asking some very prying questions, uncovering some hastily thrown together lies about Nathan Jr.

Ed wants to throw the convicts out, but they don’t want to go.  Will Hi side with them, or with Ed?  Hi tries to compromise to let them stay a “day or two,” but as they just kidnapped the baby, it’s the wrong day or two for them to be hanging around.  Will they figure out the kidnapping?


Hi’s vision, premonition of the biker of the apocalypse.

The Arizonas find Nathan Jr. gone, and the ladder left up at the side of the house.  Police have no leads, and Nathan is very upset, thinking how to get the baby back.

Ed has invited guests over, so the two convicts need to take a hike for a while.  Are any of these people going to uncover the stolen baby plot?

The biker of the apocalypse is real, a bounty hunter, and he’s hunting after the two convicts.  Will he uncover the baby plot too?

Hi is devastated, looking at the rotten kids of the visiting couple.  Has he made a great mistake that he wants to undo?  The husband suggests Hi engage in some wife swapping, and Hi punches him, chases them off – but the husband is Hi’s foreman, so will he be fired?

Pulling into a convenience store for diapers, Hi robs the place, but he’s almost shot dead by the clerk, big backslide into crime and recklessness.  Can this end well?  Plus Ed abandons him for the police, is their marriage over?

Hi gets away from the cops because Ed decides to turn around, but maybe it was more to retrieve the diapers than Hi.


In Ed’s rage, she tells the two convicts to leave in the morning, or else.  Will they?

The cons try to convince HI to help rob a bank – will he?

Hi writes Edwina a letter that he’s leaving.  He doesn’t feel worthy enough for Ed and Nathan Jr.  Will Hi overcome his low self-esteem?  Hi also feels the biker of the apocalypse approaching and wants to lead the trouble away from the family.

The biker meets Nathan Arizona to discuss the bounty to retrieve the baby, but is dissatisfied.  Will he take Nathan Jr. and sell him on the black market?

Next morning, Hi’s foreman shows up and he knows that the baby is Nathan Jr.  More so, he announces it so that the two cons hear it also.  What are they going to do?  What is the foreman going to do?  The foreman wants to adopt the baby now, and Hi has one day to decide.

The two cons try and steal the baby, and Hi fights both of them.  They subdue Hi, tie him up and take off with Nathan Jr.  Will Hi and Ed get the baby back?

Ed unties Hi, and he vows to get the baby back, and he vows to be a better person.  Will he do either?

The biker enters Hi’s trailer, tracking.  But they are gone by now.  Will he catch up?  He finds a clue, a picture of the bank that they want to rob.

The cons need diapers for Jr.  They rob a convenience store.  Then they leave the baby on the roof of the car and drive off!  What will happen to Nathan Jr?

So relieved to find the baby in one piece, the two cons vow to raise him themselves and never let him go.

Ed feels suicidal, having lost the baby, and even if they get Nathan Jr. back, she wants a divorce.  Will she change her mind?  She doesn’t feel she deserves Nathan Jr. either, so what will she do if they get him back?

The cons pull the silliest bank heist in history, with the baby in one hand.  Then they leave him behind accidentally again, as a blue paint canister explodes in their car.

Plus Hi and Ed confront the car, guns blazing.  Will the baby be okay?  Who will get him in the end?  Will the police arrest everyone?

Then the biker of the apocalypse arrives, blasting the cop car and snatching the baby from the road.  Can Hi and Ed prevail over this monster?

Massive battle as the biker shoots and blows up their car.  Ed and Hi scramble to try and retrieve the baby from the biker’s handlebars.

Ed snatches the baby back and runs from the biker.

Hi knocks the biker off his motorcycle and fights him so that Ed can escape with Nathan Jr.

Will Hi be killed by the biker?


After being beaten to within an inch of his life, Hi pulls a pin from the biker’s own grenade and he self-destructs.

Ed and Hi return the baby to the Arizonas along with the Dr. Spock baby book.  When Nathan catches them, and he figures out they are the kidnappers – will he call the police?

When Nathan doesn’t call the cops, he gives the two newlyweds some advice to sleep on it before they decide to split up.  That night, Hi has a vision/dream of a future with children and grandchildren.  Will it come to pass?

So – the recidivism – we have the pros and cons.  Hi eventually leaves his life of robbing convenience stores, and babies, and returns the toddler to its rightful parents.  Love changes his attitude and helps him to grow beyond his recidivist proclivities.  There’s an uplifting tone to the ending that makes it a feel good sort of film.  Crazy losers like Hi can grow and become better people.  Heroes even.


  1. Kimberly says:

    The classic question of good versus evil, AKA recidivism. Great title.

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