Here in Oz there’s a cringe factor around Crocodile Dundee, despite it being a worldwide phenomenon that took well over three hundred mil at the box office. Perhaps it’s disliked in hipster circles because it was such a runaway success.
After all, the titular character is a rough hewn, leg-pulling pub-dweller, the sort of guy who’ll grab a ladyboy’s nuts to make sure of what he’s dealing with.
Mick Dundee is not an educated man. He’s ignorant of hot button liberal topics and has no worldview whatsoever. When the visiting American reporter Sue Charlton tells this apparent throwback it’s important to have a voice on such matters, he merely shrugs and indicates the vast wilderness. “Who’d hear it out here?”
It does not take long before Mick’s innate sexism is on display. “It’s only an hour to the river, but you being a sheila it’ll probably take two.” When she imagines being on her own in such a place, he can’t hide his incredulousness. “You? Out here alone? That’s a joke. You wouldn’t last five minutes, luv. This is man’s country.”
Walkabout Creek’s other residents are shown in much the same light. They’re essentially a goodhearted bunch, but uncultivated and a bit thick. When a handful of city dwellers turn up they’re nothing more than obnoxious, kangaroo-killing drunks.
Plenty of real-life Aussies rankle at this ocker projection, especially those who like to see themselves as sophisticated, accepting and at ease in a wide range of social situations. They worry overseas viewers might think Mick Dundee and his outdated ilk are representative.
And you know what I say?
Don’t they understand Crocodile Dundee is a fish out of water pic? That Mick is not a retarded macho dick but someone who has lived a cloistered existence in the far reaches of the Northern Territory? He simply hasn’t had any exposure to diversity. Why wouldn’t he be confused by a man in a dress? Why wouldn’t he ask a black chauffeur what tribe he’s from? As he tells Sue, he’s never been to a city or got on a plane. Escalators confuse him, let alone a bidet.
Movies need conflict to work. Where would the laughs come from if Mick didn’t bat an eyelid at the vast array of people and their funny little ways in the Big Apple?
The hipsters don’t want to hear such points. They also ignore the fact Mick is an accepting type. He might be initially confused by those not like himself, but he lacks malice and is more than happy to chat to and hang out with blacks, prostitutes, vagrants, drivers, cleaners and doormen.
He treats everyone the same.
Yes, he’s prone to what we’d term today as sexual assault, grabbing two ladyboys by their shameful secret. (After the second exploratory grope, Sue says to the shocked recipient: “It’s OK. He’s Australian.”) And yes, he’s handy with his fists, but at least he only chooses to punch those who are being unpleasant, aggressive or sneering.
Still, I doubt my defense is good enough for the hipsters.
These joyless, sniffy bastards prefer to roll their eyes than revel in this movie’s abundant charms. And that needs underlining: Crocodile Dundee has charm in spades. Such a delightful quality is a very difficult thing to pull off in the movies. Too often it disintegrates into saccharine bullshit, but Dundee sits nicely alongside those other 80s charmers, Arthur and Splash.
And why is it charming? Well, there’s the fantastic Northern Territory scenery for a start. Good grief, if this pic doesn’t make you want to jump on a plane and head straight Down Under, I don’t know what will.
Then there’s Paul Hogan’s total inhabitation of the main character. This was his moment, as shown by the 1988 sequel going stale within ten minutes and a series of subsequent box office flops attempting to establish similar knockabout characters.
But what a moment!
Hogan nails it from the second he strolls into the Walkabout Creek pub holding a stuffed croc under his arm. With his weathered face and laid back manner, he’s a natural fit for this straight-talking larrikin. Dundee remains a nicely paced, gently amusing pic filled with terrific scenes, such as Mick’s encounter with three NYC muggers (“That’s not a knife”) and the head-trodding finale in the subway.
I’d argue there’s no stronger, more memorable character in Australian movies than Michael J. ‘Crocodile’ Dundee.
And if that annoys the hipsters, then great.
Dave Franklin’s politically incorrect debut novel was called Looking for Sarah Jane Smith.