Coen Brothers Fest #3: "Miller's Crossing"

“Miller’s Crossing” is the second and final Coen film that I had not seen prior to my fest. As with all Coen films, I found this one excellent and well worth the watch. Although, this film threw out the convention of having a place be featured. I took the setting to be Prohibition Chicago, but I don’t think this particular city was specifically mentioned. Perhaps it was only intended to be non-descript gangster land.

We were also introduced to three more Coen staples. We had the first appearance of Steve Buscemi as “Mink” (also this is the first appearance of a Buscemi character who is killed in the film; also a common Coen film element). Jon Polito appeared as “Johnny Casper” (you ALWAYS have to have a “Johnny” in a gangster film). Last, we have our first turn from John Turturro as “Bernie Bernbaum.” Oddly enough with the influx of all the new regulars, this film is the last appearance of Barry Sonnenfeld as the cinematographer. He had done both “Blood Simple” and “Raising Arizona” before this. He later went off to direct features of his own such as the “Men in Black” movies and “Get Shorty.”

Although there is no location-character in this film there is a prop-character. The period between WWI and WWII (and even some time after WWII) as a cool time to be a dude, because you always wore a suit and that suit always included a hat. Now it is all baggy pant, wife-beaters, tattoos and piercings…what happened in 50 years? Anyway, this lost art of hat wearing for men is a center point for the film. The movie starts with a scene of a lone hat, Johnny Casper is ever weary of being giving the “high hat,” Tom Reagan is constantly being beaten up, losing his hat in the process and being handed back his hat…which is significant because he makes a comment in the film about how silly it looks for a man to have to chase down his own hat.

At one point Tom Reagan is returning to his apartment and I noticed the name of the building was the “Barton Arms.” I thought that funny since the next film in my fest was going to be “Barton Fink.” So after a little research online and I come to find out that the script for “Barton Fink” was written during a period of writer’s block the Coens were having writing “Miller’s Crossing.” I don’t know if that was on purpose or a weird fluke. But if it was on purpose, where does the “Fink” come from?

Next Episode: “Barton Fink”

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