M. Emmet Walsh as Loren Visser, sleazy private detective
Texas, Fall 1982
Film: Blood Simple
Release Date: January 18, 1985
Director: Joel & Ethan Coen
Costume Designer: Sara Medina-Pape
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Spring is officially here, the season of warmer weather and bright colors… though a tacky yellow leisure suit may not be exactly what you had in mind! On the 86th birthday of prolific character actor M. Emmet Walsh, today’s post explores his eccentric but dangerous private eye in Blood Simple, the directorial debut of brothers Joel and Ethan Coen.
Frances McDormand—who also made her screen debut in Blood Simple as the adulterous wife Abby—recalls that the then-47-year-old Walsh was typically the oldest person involved in the fledgling production as filming commenced over eight weeks in the fall of 1982 on location in the Austin, Texas area. Following a year of post-production and attracting investors, Blood Simple premiered at the New York Film Festival in October 1984, three months before it would be officially released in theaters.
Many of the Coens’ idiosyncratic trademarks are present from the beginning in this taut thriller (including oversized private eyes stuffing themselves into VW Bugs), and the brothers’ original screenplay feels like something that could have been written by Jim Thompson (even more than most actual Thompson adaptations!) Indeed, the Coens cited the influence of noir and pulp fiction in their work, even cribbing the title from Dashiell Hammett’s line “if I don’t get away soon, I’ll be going blood-simple like the natives” from Red Harvest… which would later be one of several Hammett novels loosely adapted for the Coens’ noir-esque Miller’s Crossing (1990).
Written specifically with M. Emmet Walsh in mind, the yellow-suited private eye at the center of Blood Simple‘s action is never actually named beyond the script, though we get an in-universe clue from his personalized Zippo lighter inscribed with a roped “Loren”.
What’d He Wear?
He is settling himself into a chair facing the desk. He is LOREN VISSER, a large unshaven man in a misshapen yellow leisure suit.
Per the Blood Simple screenplay, the Coens had always envisioned the “misshapen yellow leisure suit” as central to Loren Visser, certainly more integral to the character than even his name. Paired with his straw cowboy hat and substantial turquoise ring, the image presents a twisted and tacky Texan alternative to the traditional noir private eye in his suit, trench coat, and fedora.
In a way, the leisure suit was inevitable. The popularization of synthetic fabrics coincided with an increasing distaste for formality throughout the 1970s that gave rise to the leisure suit as we know it. These cheap two-piece outfits found in many a discotheque shared little with their more stylish forebears that had originated as warm-weather wear for wealthy vacationers, particularly catching on in the less formal side of the proverbial pond as Americans in the hot Southwest found comfort in the light-wearing garment. This regional embrace made it a rhinestone-bedazzled favorite of country music stars, though it wasn’t until the disco era that the leisure suit truly gained a foothold in American culture, detailed with the wide-collared jackets and bell-bottomed trousers that all but guaranteed its quick demise as soon as fashion trends shifted with the dawn of the 1980s.
The sleazy Loren Visser is exactly the type of man who would still be wearing a leisure suit in the early ’80s, especially given his propensity for creating chaos among the outer edges of decent society in the beer-soaked honky-tonks of the Lone Star State. A self-styled cowboy, Loren may see his outmoded relic of the previous decade more along the lines of a Nudie suit made for the likes of Roy Rogers, Tex Williams, or Elvis, its fraying edges merely battle scars.
Loren’s fashion choice is made all the more garish by his bright yellow slub-textured polyester fabric selection, not only failing to disguise the suit like a more conservative navy, gray, or brown might, but actually drawing more attention to it.
Like many a leisure suit, the jacket shares little with a traditional suit or sports coat. The long-pointed collar sits like a shirt collar, cut away at the chest where the first of three pearl-effect plastic buttons are spaced down the front, though the rotund Loren wisely elects not to even try buttoning his jacket over the course of Blood Simple. Polyester isn’t particularly breathable, especially in the humid subtropical climate of central Texas, but Loren’s leisure jacket may benefit from being only partially lined in a yellow paisley fabric.
The shoulders are yoked with horizontal seams in the front and a shallow Western-style point in the back, and a straight vertical seam extends down from each side of the back yoke down to the bottom, just within the two short vents cut into the back. These seams mimic a similar pleat-like effect on the front of the jacket, running atop the four patch pockets: one on each side of the chest (with two pens clipped into the left chest pocket) and one on each hip. The jacket’s set-in sleeves are finished at the cuffs with a short tab that extends out from the seam just above the wrist, uniquely shaped on a mitred corner and fastened into place with a single ornamental button.
Already positioned at a leisurely low rise, Loren’s matching yellow polyester trousers are locked in constant battle with his waistline. This conflict isn’t helped by his lack of belt or braces as there appear to be no loops or buttons to support them, just a double hook-and-eye closure meant to be hidden at the fly.
The front pockets are slanted, the back pockets are jetted, and the plain-hemmed bottoms have only a slight flare when compared against some of the more egregious bell-bottoms of the ’70s.
Loren’s aged cotton shirt may be his only piece of clothing made from a natural fabric, its fraying edges suggesting that the only reason may be that he purchased it during an era that pre-dated polyester’s fashionability. Not quite white, the “grayish yellow” ecru cotton tonally coordinates with the overwhelming yellowness of his outfit.
He tends to keep the button-down collar fastened, though the one or two buttons at the top of the wide front placket tend to be worn open as Loren likely lost the ability to comfortably fasten the neck a few sleazy cases ago. The yellow strings dangling from the shirt’s breast pocket suggests that this is where he keeps the bag of tobacco he uses to confuse naïve young women into thinking his hand-rolled cigarettes are marijuana.
Unlike the other characters in Blood Simple, Loren never changes his clothes—not even his tie!—over the days depicted on screen… though it’s not likely he’s changed his clothes much in the last five years anyway.
I have to yield a begrudging respect to Loren Visser for maintaining his commitment to loud clothing, choosing not to ground his outfit with a subdued tie and instead tying on a busy cravat comprised of stone-gray and orange patterns embroidered against a charcoal woven polyester ground. At least the patterns are somewhat organized, following a “downhill” direction with the stone-hued shapes organized in diagonal rows that alternate between three-ringed circles and ornate squares set against four compass-like points. Every three “rows” of stone stripes are separated by a diagonal row of orange-embroidered shapes that appear to be horseshoes with a horse head emerging through the center.
Loren Visser tops his look with a natural straw cowboy hat, detailed with three open-woven rows toward the top of the tall, cattleman’s-style crown that would bring welcome ventilation to keep the top of Loren’s dome cool. A slim band of mixed brown and beige thread surrounds the base of the crown, tied around the left side. The brim is reinforced with tan stitching around the edges, including around the upturned sides.
Though the Texan detective may lean into some cowboy-style affectations, Loren Visser isn’t one for boots, instead exclusively wearing a pair of two-tone apron-toe loafers with beige thin-ribbed socks.
These slip-on shoes are constructed from a black exotic textured leather upper, with a smooth but supple napped light brown “apron” sewn over the vamps. A black leather strap bridges the top of each vamp, detailed with a gold square bit.
Loren dresses his right hand with a large statement ring comprised of two irregularly sized turquoise stones set on a wide sterling silver ring. (He almost always wears this on his right hand, though we do briefly see it on the same finger of his left hand when he’s watching Abby in the bar prior to the finale in her apartment.)
Though it’s also been mined in Egypt and Iran, turquoise has long been associated by Americans with the southwest region of the United States, particularly its indigenous populations. Loren Visser’s turquoise ring works with his cowboy hat—and even, to some extent, his leisure suit—to complete his idealized self-image as a quasi-cowboy private eye.
Loren wears a steel watch with a round black dial fastened to his left wrist on what looks like a dark olive nylon strap with a black stripe through the center.
For the finale, Loren slips on gloves… though no sinister black leather for this assassin! Instead, he dons a pair of pale yellow knitted cotton three-point gloves with navy elasticized ribbing over the wrists.
From Abby’s purse, Loren retrieves an old-fashioned top-break revolver that IMFDB has identified as an Iver Johnson, likely one of the “Safety Automatic” models that the Massachusetts-based manufacturer introduced before the turn of the 20th century. Despite unarguably being a revolver and not a semi-automatic pistol, the Safety Automatic nomenclature refers to the automatic ejection of cartridges upon opening the break-top mechanism.
The year after Iver Johnson debuted the Safety Automatic in 1894, the Safety Automatic Hammerless was developed with no external hammer that could snag on clothing. Both models were continuously produced until 1941 as Iver Johnson halted production of its increasingly outdated revolvers and single-barrel shotguns leading up to American entry into World War II. By then, Iver Johnson revolvers had earned infamy in the hands of political assassins like Leon Czolgosz, who used a .32-caliber Safety Automatic when he shot President McKinley in 1901.
Iver Johnson offered the Safety Automatic in .22, .32, and .38 calibers throughout its production timeline. Abby mentions that her husband gave her “a little pearl-handled .38”, though the nickeled barrel is etched “.32 S&W CTG” and the box of Winchester ammunition she uses to load it clearly reads “.32 Smith & Wesson”… though the label also clearly states that this is blank ammunition rather than the lethal rounds they’re depicted as on screen.
Loren leaves Abby’s revolver at a crime scene, where its eventually recovered by Ray (John Getz) and returned to Abby, who uses it to defend herself during the finale when Loren conducts battle with a pair of his own firearms: first, a barely seen bolt-action rifle used to snipe Ray from across the rooftops before he pulls his own Smith & Wesson Model 39 pistol and uses it to fire through the bathroom wall at Abby.
After a century of success with revolvers, Smith & Wesson expanded into the increasingly competitive realm of semi-automatic pistols in response to the U.S. Army’s service pistol trials of the early 1950s. It wasn’t the venerated manufacturer’s first go at a semi-automatic, as the more compact Model 1913 had made a minor splash earlier in the century with its proprietary .35 S&W ammunition and was one of the few pistols authorized for federal agents to carry during the early years of the FBI.
Following World War II, the Pentagon’s top brass was impressed with the double-action system of the Walther P38 pistol fielded by the Germans and tasked American manufacturers with developing double-action pistols that could replace or supplement the M1911A1 service pistol. Though none would eventually enter widespread service following the 1954 trials, the Model 39 pistol developed by Smith & Wesson became the first mass-produced double-action pistol designed and manufactured in the United States when it was introduced to the market in 1955. Like the P38 and the Luger, the Model 39’s eight-round magazine carried 9x19mm Parabellum ammunition.
Aluminum-framed with a blued carbon steel slide and walnut grips, the Smith & Wesson Model 39 took styling, safety, and operational cues from the Browning Hi-Power and 1911 but created a new class of pistol on its own. Smith & Wesson used the Model 39 as a base for future variants, including the rare Model 52 target pistol in .38 Special and the steel-framed, double-stacked Model 59 that would be the basis for Smith & Wesson’s increasingly popular second- and third-generation semi-automatic pistols.
How to Get the Look
The Coen brothers established their trademark of idiosyncratic characters and villains right from the start, with Blood Simple starring M. Emmet Walsh sweating through a bright yellow polyester leisure suit, straw cowboy hat, chunky turquoise ring, and two-tone loafers. If you’re really striving to crib this look, either make update the fit and the style of suit… or save it for an esoteric Halloween costume!
- Yellow slubby textured-stripe polyester leisure suit:
- Single-breasted 3-button jacket with shirt-style collar, four patch pockets, single-button vertical-tab cuffs, Western-style pointed back yoke, and double side vents
- Flat front low-rise trousers with beltless waistband, slanted front pockets, jetted back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Ecru cotton shirt with button-down collar, front placket, breast pocket, and button cuffs
- Charcoal woven polyester tie with alternating stone-gray and orange circle and square motif
- Black exotic textured leather apron-toe square-bit loafers with napped brown leather apron-style vamps
- Beige thin-ribbed socks
- Natural straw cowboy hat with tall, ventilated cattleman-style crown and brown-and-beige threaded band
- Two-piece turquoise silver ring
- Steel wristwatch with round black dial on olive-and-black striped strap
- Pale yellow knitted cotton three-point gloves with navy elasticized wrists
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
You give me a call whenever you want to cut off my head.