Skip to main content

Some clown just tried to kill me!

Married to the Mob
(1988)

(SPOILERS) With The Silence of the Lambs, Jonathan Demme became a bona fide mainstream director, and I don't think it really suited him. Apparently, he'd been courting Tom Cruise for Married to the Mob, so I guess he was gradually shifting towards "Hollywood player" territory anyway, but I can't imagine the picture being nearly as loose and fun as it is with the then biggest star in the world attached. Because Married to the Mob is shambolic and freewheeling, disinterested in anything you'd call classically Hollywood, even by comedy standards. And its enormously, infectiously uplifting. 


AngelaGod, you people work just like the mob! There's no difference.
Regional Director FranklinOh, there's a big difference, Mrs De Marco. The mob is run by murdering, thieving, lying, cheating psychopaths. We work for the President of the United States of America.

There has been no shortage of mob comedies over the years, but it's a genre that has proven surprisingly difficult to get right, the limp offerings (Wise GuysMy Blue HeavenThe Whole Nine Yards) more common than the successes (Get Shorty, and, yes really, Oscar and Mickey Blue Eyes). Married to the Mob was generally liked, but suffered from comparisons to Demme's previous critical darling Something Wild, celebrated as a sharp zeitgeisty piece. Geoff Andrew in Time Out labelled it "relentlessly shallow", when he might have been better to compliment it for how light and breezy it is (he did admit to its "fizzy vitality") while Markus Natten in Film Year Book Vol 8 judged it insubstantial by comparing it to movies it had no desire to equal tonally (Into the NightAfter Hours, and yes, Something Wild). In the same volume, James Park also brought up the spectre of Wild and pronounced "the film ends in gimmickry and jokiness where the previous picture culminated in violent passion". Those observations are accurate, but again, it seems unfair to slight a film for intentionally operating differently in the genre. Married to the Mob is blessed with bubble-gum brio; it doesn't want to hit you for six the way Wild does when it takes a resounding left turn into the psychotic. Sometimes it's enough that a movie simply puts you in a good mood.


As is the common thread of the mob comedy, this one finds its protagonist attempting to leave the life behind yet beset by impediments preventing her from doing so. Angela de Marco (Michelle Pfeiffer) gets out with her young son after her husband, Frank "The Cucumber" de Marco (Alec Baldwin) is iced, unbeknownst to her, by Dean Stockwell's Tony "The Tiger" Russo, who has caught him bedding his mistress (Nancy Travis). But Tony has unreciprocated designs on Angela, and Tony's wife Connie (Mercedes Ruehl) can smell that something is up. The FBI meanwhile, in the form of Agents Mike Downey (Matthew Modine) and Ed Benitez (Oliver Platt) think Angela might have been in on the hit, so put her under surveillance.


The key to a picture like this is the casting, and Demme doesn’t put a foot wrong. The Cruise factor (he demanded six rewrites, then went off and made Cocktail instead) would have resulted in something very different (Knight and Day comes to mind), and while Jessica Lange was considered, Pfeiffer brings a particular vulnerability beneath Angela's Brooklyn brass that allows the picture to work on an emotional level; everyone else here is playing broad, but she knows there needs to be a grounding element at the centre if you're going to buy into the romance or care about her rebuilding her life (she moves into a tatty hovel with a bath in the middle of the kitchen, finds a job at Rita's (Sister Carol) hair salon (Hello Gorgeous). Not that Pfeiffer isn't funny in the picture (and adorable, particularly in a Sergeant Pepper jacket, one she ends up wearing after an interview with Tracey Walter's peeping tom Chicken Lickin' manager), but she's mostly the straight man (she sets up "I can’t remember the last time a man touched me below the waist" but Modine's reaction gets the laugh).


ConnieWhose husband are you, dog face?
Mike:I don't know, whose husband are you looking for?

Modine took the Cruise role (he'd be second banana, or fourth or fifth banana, again a few years later with Cutthroat Island) and reputedly didn't think there was anything funny about the script at first. He was in a funk for most of the shoot, post Full Metal Jacket, so it's ironic that he gives possibly the funniest performance in the picture, relentlessly upbeat and goofily charming, whether it's climbing onto the roof of a bus, not missing a beat when Connie bursts in on him and Angela (above) or showing a complete lack of respect towards Tony ("Yeah, a regular menace to society"; this line is repeated to great effect in a later rollcall succession of "disguises", including janitor, flight captain and Hawaiian t-shirt holiday gear,  as Tony realises who Mike actually is, culminating in the image of him as a police officer with truncheon). 


NickTony, meet Mike Smith, a lonely guy from Dubuque. A great guy. A one-man party in search of the right crowd.

One of his best moments is palling around as a "guest" of Tony’s heavies, just before the grand climax. When it occurs, he's full of bravado ("You're all under arrest. If you've got about fourteen hours, I'll read you the charges") despite being on the backfoot, but the shootout includes an unexpected moment of pathos, as hitting Nick "The Snake" (Frank Gio) the latter goes down protesting "Gee, Mike, you didn't have to do that". Most importantly, he and Pfeiffer have an easy chemistry. Strangely, after Full Metal Jacket and this, Modine has rarely been tapped for his wittier side, which is a loss.


FrankI loved you like a father.
TonyYou disappointed the shit out of me.

Then there's Dean Stockwell, who stayed in character for most of the shoot, even off the set (he would show up in restaurants acting the Tiger). He'd had a variable few years, even quitting acting to sell real estate in 1983 (although, to look at his CV, you wouldn't be able to see any significant gaps), but his relationship with David Lynch had just reaped dividends in a widely-lauded Blue Velvet cameo (I wonder if Lynch saw Mob, as the coffin scene with Leland Palmer feels like a direct lift). The upturn would be cemented by Quantum Leap's arrival in 1989. 


Tony is dangerous and charming, sleazy and stylish. He indulges the terrible pianist's introduction ("Tony the phoney baloney it’s Tony the Tiger") because it’s worshipful and respectful. He doesn't need to be a big guy, because diminutive as he is, he's believably intimidating (cue Joe Pesci). But he's also very funny. His "Rub-a-dub-dub" when Frank arrives, socked and feeling extra dirty, is a hoot, but his personal highlight is the shootout set piece at Burger World, during which he is attacked by an unknown rival gang, including Chris Isaak wearing a distinctive outfit. Asked what happened by his stooges, he retorts with the classic line "Some clown just tried to kill me!" (there can be no prizes for guessing the line came first, Isaak in clown costume second).


ConnieTony, if I'd have found you hitting that broad, I'd have hunted you down like an animal. It would have been slow and painful. You would have begged me for mercy, baby.

Formidable as Frank is, however, and running thematically with Demme making what is essentially a women's picture, the only thing he's frightened of is his wife, so much so that his nightmare emasculation at the climax ("Kiss it goodbye!") finds him relieved to be banged up rather than outside and subject to Connie's mood swings (such is the nature of the picture, even the mob boss gets a happy ending). Ruehl is simply unstoppable in Mob, a vision of big hair and hideous fashion sense, and an unstoppable one-woman ballbreaker (Angela eventually does stop her, but it's an unnecessary acquiescence to convention). Her unhinged confrontation with Angela in a supermarket, crushing cartons of eggs in her hands as she gives voice to her intentions ("If ever I catch you two together…") is marvellous, and she can't deliver a line without it being as bold, brawny and brash as fits only a mob wife ("That bitch. She thinks her shit don't stink").


MikeMaybe Frank was indiscreet. They didn't call him the cucumber for nothing.

There are numerous other notables here, likely with much more to do in the initial cut since you can see numerous deleted scenes over the end credits that didn't make it – alas, without a soundtrack; I don't know if they ever saw the light of day on DVD, but someone should make it so – not least Baldwin making the most of Frank de Marco; his single scene with Angela is all you need to register their complete disconnect. He wants her to schmooze with other wives to get ahead, she wants to get out as "Everything is blood money". His response ("I don't have to listen to this garbage!") is an enormously effective turn on a pin, not only announcing an explosive capacity for violence (he's laughing again a moment later) but establishing her mistake in trying to talk to him like he's a considerate, understanding husband and not a psychopathic killer. Baldwin was right on the cusp here, the downside to his graduation to leading man status with The Hunt for Red October being that his string of supporting turns in this Beetlejuice,Working GirlTalk Radio and Great Balls of Fire! were much more interesting than most of his '90s work.


Also showing up: Charles Napier, of course, in possibly his unlikeliest Demme role as Angela's hair stylist (how upset is he at the thought she mightn't like her terrible big do), Joan Cusack as one of the wives, Al Lewis as Uncle Joe Russo and Oliver Platt in his movie debut. His Platt supporting schtick is fully formed (he'd also appear in Working Girl that year) and particularly winning is his look of concentration as he attempts to follow Mike telling Joey about where humans would lie in relation to dinosaurs if the 24-hour clock represented the history of the Earth.


Like Something Wild, the soundtrack is intrinsic to Married to the Mob's success, from the introduction with Rosemary Clooney singing Mambo Italiano segueing into New Order's Bizarre Love Triangle, to the great score interludes courtesy of David Byrne. It's nothing if not eclectic. 


Kitsch comes up a lot in describing the movie, which it certainly is in respect of the mob tastes, but it also paints an idealised, inclusive multi-cultural vision of '80s urban communities (or as Natten put it "uncategorisable homages to ethnicity, blue-collar immigrant kitsch"). Demme said of the Married to the Mob, "It's an escapist film, not a film about organised crime", and sure, it may be too frivolous for some, but even as a frivolous movie it carries a message that's both appealing ("Let yourself off the hook. Everyone deserves a second chance") and structurally neat (where it's Mike telling her this the first time, it's Angela who decides to the second, after giving Mike a particularly frenzied shampoo). Demme was largely lost to big Hollywood movies after this, and despite a couple of contenders for that looser, more improvised style in his last few years (Rachel Getting MarriedRicki and the Flash), this is probably the last time you could revel in something from him being unapologetically upbeat.




Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a nourish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

Well, it seems our Mr Steed is not such an efficient watchdog after all.

The Avengers 2.7: The Decapod
A title suggesting some variety of monstrous aquatic threat for Steed and Julie Stevens’ Venus Smith. Alas, the reality is much more mundane. The Decapod refers to a Mongo-esque masked wrestler, one who doesn’t even announce “I will destroy you!” at the top of his lungs. Still, there’s always Philip “Solon” Madoc looking very shifty to pass the time.

Madoc is Stepan, a Republic of the Balkans embassy official and the brother-in-law of President Yakob Borb (Paul Stassino). There’s no love lost between him and his ladies’ man bro, and dark deeds are taking place with the embassy confines, but who is responsible proves elusive. Steed is called in, or rather calls Venus in as a replacement, when Borb’s private secretary is murdered by Mongo. Steed isn’t buying that she slipped and broke her neck in the shower; “I shouldn’t like a similar accident to happen to you” he informs the President.

The trail leads to wrestling bouts at the public baths, where the Butcher…

You can’t keep the whole world in the dark about what’s going on. Once they know that a five-mile hunk of rock is going to hit the world at 30,000 miles per hour, the people will want to know what the hell we intend to do about it.

Meteor (1979)
(SPOILERS) In which we find Sean Connery – or his agent, whom he got rid of subsequent to this and Cuba – showing how completely out of touch he was by the late 1970s. Hence hitching his cart to the moribund disaster movie genre just as movie entertainment was being rewritten and stolen from under him. He wasn’t alone, of course – pal Michael Caine would appear in both The Swarm and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure during this period – but Meteor’s lack of commercial appeal was only accentuated by how functional and charmless its star is in it. Some have cited Meteor as the worst movie of his career (Christopher Bray in his book on the actor), but its sin is not one of being outright terrible, rather of being terminally dull.

It always seems a bit abstract, doesn’t it? Other people dying.

Game of Thrones Season Six
(SPOILERS) The most distracting thing about Season Six of Game of Thrones (and I’ve begun writing this at the end of the seventh episode, The Broken Man) is how breakneck its pace is, and how worryingly – only relatively, mind – upbeat it’s become. Suddenly, characters are meeting and joining forces, not necessarily mired in pits of despair but actually moving towards positive, attainable goals, even if those goals are ultimately doomed (depending on the party concerned). It feels, in a sense, that liberated from George R R Martin’s text, producers are going full-throttle, and you half-wonder if they’re using up too much plot and revelation too quickly, and will run out before the next two seasons are up. Then, I’m naturally wary of these things, well remembering how Babylon 5 suffered from packing all its goods into Season Four and was then given an ultimately wasted final season reprieve.

I’ve started this paragraph at the end of the eighth episode, No One (t…

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.

Genuine eccentrics are a dying breed.

The Avengers 3.11: Build a Better Mousetrap
This really oughtn’t to work, seeing as it finds The Avengers flirting with youth culture, well outside its comfort zone, and more precisely with a carefree biker gang who just want to have a good time and dance to funky music in a barn all night long. Not like the squares. Not like John Steed… who promptly brings them on side and sends them off on a treasure hunt! Add a into the mix couple of dotty old dears in a windmill– maybe witches – up to who knows what, and you have very much the shape of the eccentric settings and scenarios to come.

Cynthia (Athene Seyler) and Ermyntrude (Nora Nicholson) are introduced as a butter-wouldn’t sisters who, concerned over the young bikers riding nearby, threaten that “We’ll put a spell on you”. But this amounts to misdirection in an episode that is remarkably effective in wrong-footing the audience (abetted to by Harold Goodwin’s landlord Harris: “Witches, that’s what they are. Witches”). We might have caus…