In previous editions of Bastards, I’ve gone to great lengths to demonstrate how important villains are. They (should) offer resistance to the hero, and through this conflict, drama, excitement and entertainment is created. But not every film has to have a total clusterbastard like Darth Vader or the Joker to be great. Some films work just as well with just some little bastards, sprinkled here and there. One such film is Crocodile Dundee. Let’s find out why.
If you’ve never seen “Crocodile” Dundee before, you’ve likely either been the victim of a sex predator for the last thirty years, or are actually living the drifter lifestyle of the titular Dundee yourself. In either case, you probably wouldn’t be reading a critical examination of the bad guys from this particular film anyway. So sue me, dickhead.
But for the avoidance of doubt, let’s recap. Hotshot city journalist, Sue Charlton (Linda Kozlowski – Village of the Damned) is Downunder reporting for Newsday. Her editor boyfriend, Richard Mason (Mark Blum – Desperately Seeking Susan), wants her to come home. But she’s got one last story she has to cover – some guy called Michael “Crocodile” Dundee who got his leg bitten off by a croc of all things managed to crawl through the Outback to safety and fame. So off she flies to Walkabout Creek to meet him.
Walkabout Creek is the backend of beyond. It’s Bumfuck Nowhere. It’s literally a one-horse town. Except that the horse died years ago. It got bitten by a spider or a snake or one of the million other evil critters that can kill you in Australia. Sue meets up with local personality and naturist Walter Reilly, who in turn introduces her to Dundee (Paul Hogan – Almost An Angel). It turns out, that his leg wasn’t bitten off, but that hasn’t stopped Dundee or Reilly for milking the tale for all it’s worth.
Dundee isn’t what she expected either. He’s the hard drinking, hard poaching type, with an easy smile and a vicious left cross. He takes her out to the spot where he was “fishing” when he got attacked. Over the course of the next couple of days they walk the trail back to civilization. Of course, Sue makes a total tool of herself and get’s into loads of trouble that only Mick can get her out of. To be fair, we’d all be dead in this environment too, and that’s the point. She learns that Dundee was raised by aborigines, can speak to animals, and is generally a modern-day Tarzan.
On a whim, she invites him back to her jungle – the Big Apple. Now the tables are turned, and it’s the naive country bumpkin who is getting into all sorts of hijinx and misunderstandings. However, his laid back attitude and survival skills endear him to everyone, and his solutions to problems like “how do you spot a transsexual man” are all hilarious. He also finally put’s to bed exactly what constitutes a knife in his neck of the woods too.
But he’s taken a liking to Sue, and decides to go for a “walkabout” when Richard asks her to marry him. Sue realizes she’s chosen the wrong man, and chases after Mick before he can leave forever. It’s still a great ending to this day.
Evidently, there’s no huge evil that Mick has to look over his shoulder for. He doesn’t have a twat of a Father he needs to kill, and Sue isn’t getting kidnapped by drug lords any time soon (we’ll save that for the sequel). But the few key bastards that do feature are all there for a reason. They’re all there to help tell the story (obviously), and develop both Dundee’s character and our sense of the world. Let’s take a closer look.
The film starts with Sue in Sidney. We know she’s in Australia because she’s over-looking that opera house. Yet we don’t really begin to understand how different the country is until she touches down in Walkabout Creek. Even then, it’s not the spiders or snakes or anything that causing trouble, it’s some out-of-town business types on a wild weekend trip to the country.
They’re not mingling with Sue or Walter in the pub, not like Donk and all of the other colourful locals. And when Dundee make’s his entrance, the Glasses-Wearing Bastard of the trio gets all lippy. You can tell they’re out of place, despite the accent. They’re all wearing clean clothes, and hunting gear that doesn’t look worn in or at all functional. They’re playing at hunting. Hell they’re probably not even drinking Fosters.
Clearly on their high-horses, they start poking fun at Dundee for being a “croc-poacher”. In true Australian spirit, he gives them a smile, calls them “shit-for-brains” and chins the gobby idiot. The pub erupts into violence, and the strangers are quickly tossed out.
That isn’t the end of it though. Later, when Sue and Mick are camping in the Outback, they start hearing shots in the dark. The poachers are back, drunk, and gunning down fleeing kangaroos. To Sue, this is barbaric, though Mick is less concerned (he’s probably seen his fair share of Kangaroo’s mess people up in his time). But to make a good impression with the lady, Dundee uses his insane shooting skills and the pelt of a slain marsupial, to scares off the pack of poachers, much to the amusement of Sue.
So what purpose are these pricks serving the story? Simply they’re there to make Mick look good. They’re probably not evil people – just stupid and cruel. Yet, their back-handed comments in the bar allow Dundee to demonstrate that he doesn’t take any crap and isn’t afraid to get down to business at the drop of a cowboy hat. His dominance over them in the comedic, physical and skillful realms reinforce his mystique as a badass, and further attracts Sue.
Plus, it makes us like him all the more. Who doesn’t want to see folk like this get dropped?
Don’t worry, Mick get’s plenty of other chances to prove how slick he is. Yes, he may not have grown up watching TV or movies or having any kind of knowledge of the world at large, but he can sure handle himself. The first half of the film shows how and why he has the skills he has. The second half, when he’s in New York, shows him demonstrate these alien abilities in a world that is much more familiar to us.
One great little scene is where some poor woman in front of him get’s her bag stolen. Calm as a cucumber, Mick picks up a dropped can of corn, and hurls it at the scarpering yob. Nailing him on the back of the head, the thief is stopped and everyone cheers. It’s sort of like that scene in Dirty Harry when Harry shoots Scorpio in the leg from fifty miles away on that playing field. It’s exactly the same, just less gore and more triumph.
Mick is saving the day again. And he’s doing it with a smile. He’s not like the glut of anti-heroes of the next thirty years, moping about doing things because “no one else can”. He’s not like Batman or Vlad, twisted into the service of the unwashed and ungrateful. Mick knows and likes who he is. He’s a simple guy who lives by a code, and has an old-wordy chivalry that’s been otherwise abandoned by modern society. He’s an Australian Samurai. The poor Bag-Stealing Bastard helps demonstrate this. As do the…
It’s not all about making the crowd love you. One night, Mick and Sue are strolling about. A local pack of youths approach them and ask for a light for their cigarettes. Dundee, oblivious, obliges them – after all, he’s a keen smoker of roll-ups (it’s the 80’s, and this was totally cool back then). Sue know’s where this is going, and before you can say “Death to Ming!” a knife is pulled. It’s the classic mugging scene.
Just like back in the Outback, Sue is ready to roll over and die. Mick shows no fear, and explains that “that’s not a knife”. He then shows them his own Croc-sticker, a knife so massive it would make Machete proud. After some flashy slashing, the punks bugger off. With a laugh, he deduces “just kids having some fun”. Again, the day is won in his easy, free-wheeling way. It’s clear that Sue realizes that her boyfriend, Richard, despite his breeding and education, would have wet his silk knickers at such an encounter. Crocodile Dundee isn’t afraid of anything though.
Her swaying away from her smarter, erudite partner, to the rugged outdoorsman is obvious. And we’re with her all the way. I mean, who dreams about being a snot-nosed editor when you can be a badass with a killer animal as a nickname? But we’ll talk about this a little later. Here, the scene solidifies their attraction. It also provided the most quoted line in the entire franchise.
On his first evening in New York, Mick decides to scout the land. Specifically, he’s looking for a drink. After befriending a local taxi driver, Danny (Rik Colitti – Dead Presidents), the pair head to the local boozer.
After several rounds of beers, Mick has the crowd wrapped around his finger. He’s embellishing stories about his prowess, and it’s working. He making friends with the locals, and learning the lingo, kind of like how John Connor teaches the Terminator how to talk.
He’s really making an impression on Gwendoline – a tall lady who is laughing and giving him all the right signals. What he doesn’t realize is that she isn’t all she seems. In fact, she is a he, and everyone else in the bar knows this. In fact, they use some pretty outdated terminology like “fag” and stuff, which really dates the film.
Ironically, Gwendoline is played by a woman (Anne Carlisle – Liquid Sky). But Mick’s solution of confirming her questionable gender is pretty ballsy.
So what’s going on here? Mick isn’t really familiar with the mores of post-modern sexual reality. While we all know it’s not cool to check if a girl is a dude by grabbing his package, it’s funny to see Dundee’s simplistic response to the situation. Plus, it’s not like he flips out and goes crazy or anything. He just learns from the experience, and applies it to the next time he meets a slightly masculine looking woman (who actually is a woman on that occasion).
Dundee has two run-ins with this dude. The first is after his discovery that the lovely Gwendoline isn’t all that lovely. Mick is a bit tanked, and looking for some lady action to sate his disappointed lust. Outside the bar, while waiting for Danny to find his taxi, Dundee catches the eyes of Karla and Simone. As two tarted up ladies of the night, Mick mistakes their attention for affection. He doesn’t realize that they’re working girls, and is confused when they offer him a freebie.
Sadly, before he can become the filling in their NYC subway sandwich, their Pimp (John Snyder – Eraser) turns up causing trouble. Naive old Mick figures it’s just some punk trying to cut in on his action, and urges him to move on. After some harsh language (cut from the TV release), Mick one-bombs the rude bastard with a right hand.
Once again, Mick is defending the chivalry of the weaker sex, and enforcing the sensibilities of a by-gone age in a hilarious and heroic moment. But unlike all of the other poor saps who Mick bests in the course of the film, this Pimp returns for revenge.
After the big party where Richard proposes to Sue, Mick wanders off into New York looking for a good time. With a bottle of scotch in hand, supplied by the great limo driver Gus of the Harlem Warlords (Reginald VelJohnson – Die Hard), Mick spots some local talent and approaches.
The Pimp is waiting for him.
Accompanied by two big goons, the Pimp mouths off again. Dundee doesn’t flee, but lays him out before having a go at the muscle. They quickly get the best of him, and we’re all suddenly scared that Mick is going to become just another statistic of US streetcrime. Thankfully, Gus turns up and saves Mick.
So Mick isn’t really invincible. He can bite off more than he can chew. But he didn’t run away even with the odds against him. Plus, because he’s so damn friendly with everyone, his kindness get’s repaid when he needs it most. That’s another likable quality of Dundee – he doesn’t see people in terms of class (unlike Richard). It doesn’t matter if they’re the help or not – I doubt Gus would be risking his ass for many of his other clients.
Everyone we’ve talked about so far are present to make Mick look good. But the main bastard of this film has got to be Sue’s squeeze, Richard. He’s the main obstacle that stands between Dundee and the woman he’s falling in love with. When Richard get’s in there first, and asks her to marry him, Mick concedes defeat, and decides to bugger off.
This is Dundee’s greatest weakness. He may be able to wrestle crocodiles and be charming and stuff, but he can’t have a God-to-honest talk with a woman. He can’t tell Sue how he feels. So he runs off.
Thankfully, Sue comes to her senses, abandons Richards, and gets to Mick before he can leave town. So, I guess you could say that this is Sue’s story. It’s her who goes on the journey of self discovery, and changes and stuff. Mick just get’s a free trip to NYC.
But look at it from Richard’s point of view. This is everyone’s fear come to life – the love of their life meeting a fearless badass, with a bigger knife and who can disarm dogs with their mind. From Richard’s perspective, the film is about Sue having an extra-pre-marital affair with some messy Aussie crocodile hunter.
Yet we don’t feel sorry about Richard. He’s barely even a consideration. But why?
Right from the beginning, it’s subtly made clear that Richard is a dickhead. Our first proper encounter is at the bar of a posh French restaurant. He’s stood, eyeing up some other babes before Mick and Sue arrive. He’s drinking posh cocktails that God-to-honest men despise, and Sue remarks “you have been here a while”. So he’s a drinker, and probably a shitty drunk – shitty enough for Sue to be annoyed at the prospect of another night with his hands all over her.
Let’s be straight – Mick is a drinker too, and is always looking to climb in the pants of any lady who crosses his path. But Richard is supposed to be in love with Sue. They’re a couple. Mick is charming, not aggressive or sleezy.
Richard is all about the classic creepshow lines like “I’d forgotten how much of a sexy girl you are”. You don’t hear Mick saying stuff like this. Plus, as the proto-typical rich snob, he looks down on Mick. He makes fun of the fact that Dundee won’t have to catch his food for their meal. It’s also implied that he’s brought them there simply to show off and embarrass Mick due his ignorance of French cuisine.
Dundee is aware of this, and is cordial enough. When Richard crosses the line, he gets a sly punch for his troubles. But this put’s him in Sue’s bad books.
She’s obviously conflicted. Richard is the sensible choice. He’s educated, is her boss, and get’s on well with her family. But he’s not Mick. He’s not a gentleman who can protect her when the shit hit’s the fan. He’s not exciting or fun. He’s the boring suit-wearing march into a middle-aged oblivion of kids and settling down. He’s beige. A beige Volvo. Mick is the Outback personified. Simple and rugged, yet deadly – a place where you always have to be on your toes.
Thankfully, she makes the right choice and we’re all happy. We don’t even get a scene showing Richard crying or anything. And we don’t even care. Because he’s a bastard.
This film isn’t about a love triangle. It’s about two disparate strangers falling in love. It’s a fish-out-water story, with two very different fish in two very different ponds. Yet a subtle shift of perspective can alter how you view this film. If you have been the victim of adultery thanks to a dashing Australian, I imagine you probably won’t get much joy out of Crocodile Dundee.
However, for the rest of us, we can live with the fact that Sue cheats on Richard. It doesn’t matter about what he can offer her, as we totally root for Crocodile and Sue from the start. It’s not a factor some guy is going to get his heart broken, as it’s established (albeit subtly) that he isn’t right for her.
So, being a good bastard doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be a homicidal maniac or have visions or world domination. Few people will remember Richard, but they’ll certainly remember the knife guy, or the transsexual, or the bag thief. Even the lowly scumbag is important to the story and to the mythos. The bastards of Crocodile Dundee are a perfect example of this.