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

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

You look like an angry lizard!

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
(SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.

I am so sick of Scotland!

Outlaw/King (2018)
(SPOILERS) Proof that it isn't enough just to want to make a historical epic, you have to have some level of vision for it as well. Say what you like about Mel's Braveheart – and it isn't a very good film – it's got sensibility in spades. He knew what he was setting out to achieve, and the audience duly responded. What does David Mackenzie want from Outlaw/King (it's shown with a forward slash on the titles, so I'm going with it)? Ostensibly, and unsurprisingly, to restore the stature of Robert the Bruce after it was rather tarnished by Braveheart, but he has singularly failed to do so. More than that, it isn’t an "idea", something you can recognise or get behind even if you don’t care about the guy. You’ll never forget Mel's Wallace, for better or worse, but the most singular aspect of Chris Pine's Bruce hasn’t been his rousing speeches or heroic valour. No, it's been his kingly winky.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

It was one of the most desolate looking places in the world.

They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)
Peter Jackson's They Shall Not Grow Old, broadcast by the BBC on the centenary of Armistice Day, is "sold" on the attraction and curiosity value of restored, colourised and frame rate-enhanced footage. On that level, this World War I documentary, utilising a misquote from Laurence Binyon's poem for its title, is frequently an eye-opener, transforming the stuttering, blurry visuals that have hitherto informed subsequent generations' relationship with the War. However, that's only half the story; the other is the use of archive interviews with veterans to provide a narrative, exerting an effect often more impacting for what isn't said than for what is.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

Believe me, Mr Bond, I could shoot you from Stuttgart und still create ze proper effect.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
(SPOILERS) Some of the reactions to Spectre would have you believe it undoes all the “good” work cementing Daniel Craig’s incarnation of Bond in Skyfall. If you didn’t see that picture as the second coming of the franchise (I didn’t) your response to the latest may not be so harsh, despite its less successful choices (Blofeld among them). And it isn’t as if one step, forward two steps back are anything new in perceptions of the series (or indeed hugely divisive views on what even constitutes a decent Bond movie). After the raves greeting Goldeneye, Pierce Brosnan suffered a decidedly tepid response to his second outing, Tomorrow Never Dies, albeit it was less eviscerated than Craig’s sophomore Quantum of Solace. Tomorrow’s reputation disguises many strong points, although it has to be admitted that a Moore-era style finale and a floundering attempt to package in a halcyon villain aren’t among them.

The Bond series’ flirtations with contemporary relevance have a…

It seemed as if I had missed something.

Room 237 (2012)
Stanley Kubrick’s meticulous, obsessive approach towards filmmaking was renowned, so perhaps it should be no surprise to find comparable traits reflected in a section of his worshippers. Legends about the director have taken root (some of them with a factual basis, others bunkum), while the air of secrecy that enshrouded his life and work has duly fostered a range of conspiracy theories. A few of these are aired in Rodney Ascher’s documentary, which indulges five variably coherent advocates of five variably tenuous theories relating to just what The Shining is really all about. Beyond Jack Nicholson turning the crazy up to 11, that is. Ascher has hit on a fascinating subject, one that exposes our capacity to interpret any given information wildly differently according to our disposition. But his execution, which both underlines and undermines the theses of these devotees, leaves something to be desired.

Part of the problem is simply one of production values. The audio tra…

You stole my car, and you killed my dog!

John Wick (2014)
(SPOILERS) For their directorial debut, ex-stunt guys Chad Stahelski and David Leitch plump for the old reliable “hit man comes out of retirement” plotline, courtesy of screenwriter Derek Kolstad, and throw caution to the wind. The result, John Wick, is one of last year’s geek and critical favourites, a fired up actioner that revels in its genre tropes and captures that elusive lightning in a bottle; a Keanu Reeves movie in which he is perfectly cast.

That said, some of the raves have probably gone slightly overboard. This is effective, silly, and enormous fun in its own hyper-violent way, but Stahelski and Leitch haven’t announced themselves stylistically so much as plastered the screen with ultra-violence and precision choreography. They have a bit of a way to go before they’re masters of their domain, and they most definitely need to stint on their seemingly insatiable appetite for a metalhead soundtrack. This kind of bludgeoning choice serves to undercut the action a…