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There is a totally emotionless barber named Ed Crane. It's 1949 and a bald man, Creighton Tolliver, has some sales pitch about "Dry Cleaning". Ed's wife, Doris, is having an affair with her boss, "Big" Dave Brewster. Ed decides to blackmail the pair to pay for a silent partnership. When Mr. Tolliver asks Mr. Brewster for the same amount of money for which he was being blackmailed, Mr. Brewster finds Mr. Tolliver and beats the whole story out of him. From there, things spiral out of control.

A Film Noir from infamous oddballs The Coen Brothers played so straight that James M. Cain could have written it without any changes.

This film provides examples of:

  • Alien Abduction: According to his wife Big Dave was abducted, she thinks he was killed by The Government to cover it up
  • Big Eater: Freddy Reidenschnieder
  • Blackmail
  • Contemplate Our Navels: "The hair. It keeps growing... It's part of us. And we cut it off."
  • Chewbacca Defense: Freddy Riedenschnieder's defense of Doris Crane involves a truly baffling spiel about the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.
    • Subverted, obviously.
    • and from the second trial: "He told them to look, not at the facts, but at the meaning of the facts. Then he said the facts had no meaning."
  • Did Not Do the Research: While the film takes place in northern California, it should be noted that the state of California has never used the electric chair as a method of execution. Ed would have been gassed instead. Though it is possible that the Coen Brothers knew this and simply chose the electric chair for artistic reasons.
    • It did allow for a nice parallel scene between shaving the condemned man's legs to attach the electrode, and the earlier shaving of his wife's legs in her bathtub.
  • Downer Ending
  • DVD Commentary: The only one The Coen Brothers have done.
  • Deliberately Monochrome
  • Driven to Suicide: Doris, because her affair with Big Dave will become public when her pregnancy is revealed.
  • Dull Surprise: Ed Crane, the character, has no emotions.
  • Film Noir: Played straight to the point it snaps.
  • Flamboyant Gay: Jon Polito as Creighton Tolliver. Perhaps he only seems flamboyant next to Ed though.
    • He made a pass at Ed by sitting back on his bed and loosening his necktie. Most people today would consider that "relaxing," but apparently in 1940s America it was a blatant come-on. You couldn't be too flamboyant without getting arrested.
  • Hey, It's That Guy!: Karl Childers blackmails Tony Soprano for sleeping with the cop from Fargo and has to hire attorney Adrian Monk.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: Category 2, in a way. While Ed, Doris, and Riedenschneider are brainstorming Doris's defense, Ed states that he killed Big Dave. Riedenschneider doesn't notice (or doesn't care) that he just confessed to the crime, and mulls over how well accusing Ed of murdering Big Dave in a jealous rage would hold up in court. He rules it out for being too implausible.
  • I Should Write a Book About This: Just before his execution Ed writes his life story for publication in a pulp men's magazine. He apologizes to the audience for the unnecessary digressions in the story we have just heard narrated, explaining he was paid by the word.
  • It Will Never Catch On: "Dry" Cleaning. Subverted in that it doesn't, instead the salesman is murdered!
  • Narrator: Ed Crane. Oddly enough, the least smart ass person in the world.
  • Shout-Out: A notable one to The Night of the Hunter.
  • Smoking Is Cool:
  • The Stoic: Ed Crane.
  • Throw It In: the actor portraying the piano teacher, Adam Alexi-Malle, plays the opening of the Piano Concerto #1 by Franz Liszt while talking to Ed about Birdie. This was spontaneously done as the Coens were unaware that Adam was in fact an accomplished concert pianist. This is all the more impressive when you consider that the Coens are among the most perfectionist directors out there this side of Kubrick.
  • Twice-Told Tale: The similarities to Albert Camus' L'Étranger are undeniable.
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