H.I. McDunnough - you can call him Hi (Nicolas Cage) - was a career criminal with a habit of robbing convenience stores, although never with a loaded gun as he didn't wish to hurt anyone. This saw him landing in prison quite a few times, and every time he was arrested he would meet Edwina - you can call her Ed (Holly Hunter) - who was employed to take the mugshots of the criminals as they were taken in. He got to know her pretty well over time, and although he had gotten used to his lifestyle Hi felt that there was something more to life, and decided to reform. So he asked Ed to marry him.
The Coen Brothers' first film had been Blood Simple, the mean and moody film noir tribute, so when they followed it up with Raising Arizona people were not sure how to categorise them as in tone this could not have been more different. It was a goofy and frenetic comedy with a lot of heart and playing up the cartoonish nature of their characters made the whole movie look like some kind of spoof, although what its targets might have been was known mainly to the producer-writer-directors. There were those who liked it better than their initial effort, thus setting a pattern of genres where the filmmakers switched from humour to drama over the next few decades, not always with satisfying results but the fact they didn't do what might have been expected of them was always a bonus.
Certainly they coaxed some of the best comedic performances their cast had ever given, with Cage finding the ideal role for his hangdog features, looking as if the world was leaning heavily on his back and only occasionally as if he could contemplate the way his instinctive behaviour had landed him in so much trouble. If Hi stopped and thought about his impulsiveness and how it was damaging him, he might have travelled through life a lot easier, but the manner in which people act in this deems them to be allowing their emotions rule over their intellect. You could accuse the Coens of patronising them if it had not been for the obvious affection they held everyone in, and that included the most obvious baddie, The Lone Rider of the Apocalypse (Randall 'Tex' Cobb).
Why is there a bounty hunter such as he in this film? It's down to the missing baby, Nathan Jr (T.J. Kuhn), at the centre of the plot, and the reason he's missing is that Hi and Ed have kidnapped him. Ed, you see, has found out that she cannot bear children, and her determination to bring up a baby has been foiled yet more by her husband's criminal record which means they are turned down for adopting. As luck would have it, if you could call it luck, a local businessman Nathan Arizona (the great Trey Wilson in one of his last roles) has a wife who has been on fertility treatment and has given birth to quintuplets, so Ed reasons that if they have that many infants then they won't miss one of them, sending Hi over to their mansion to liberate Nathan Jr.
As if that were not complicated enough, two of Hi's prison friends - brothers Gale (John Goodman) and Evelle (William Forsythe) - have just broken out and show up at his trailer home expecting to be welcomed in, though they reckon without Ed. The point to this appears to be that poor Hi is in the thrall of his wife and her hormones, which means that there's nothing he can do when swept away by her tidal wave of desperation: as is too often, he cannot bring in a measure of sense to his life. Thereafter, the implications of being a family man begin to prey on his mind and he wonders if he was not better off before he was hitched, leading to a craving to pack in his new job and return to robbing those stores. There's an inspired chase that results from this, which sees Hi despatched to buy nappies and ends up hounded through the night by various pursuers, some of them actual hounds. But if Raising Arizona is about one man facing up to his responsibilities and limitations, what you'll most recall is the invention and silliness which does exhaust, but doesn't wear out its welcome. Music by Carrter Burwell.