Married To The Mob
Married To The Mob is an industrial strength dose of happiness which is so joyously alive that it makes most other comedies look decidedly infirm. Although the subject matter isn't original and there isn't the streak of raw terror which made Jonathan Demme's Something Wild a masterpiece, it's still one of the best comedies of the 1980s and a movie which deserves a much wider audience.
Two men stand on a railway platform, soberly dressed and chatting about domestic matters. The train arrives, they board and, when it goes through a tunnel, one of them casually puts a bullet through the head of the passenger in front. This clash between the appearance of respectability and the undercurrent of violence and corruption is the starting point of Married To The Mob. The assassin, mobster Frank "The Cucumber" Di Marco (Baldwin) - so called because of his numerous extra-marital exploits - thinks he's happily married but his wife, Angela (Pfeiffer), has other ideas. She can't get on with the other mob wives, especially Connie (Ruehl) the wife of mob boss Tony "Tiger" Russo (Stockwell), and she wants to raise their son in an atmosphere which isn't heaving with corruption and violence. Her chance to escape comes when Tony discovers that Frank is having it away with the same cocktail waitress as him and decides to off the Cucumber in a fit of pique. Eager to escape the amorous attentions of Tony, not a man to let making a woman a widow get in the way of his chances of shagging her, and even keener to avert the wrath of Connie, Angie decides to make a quick flit to New York and start again. But she is not alone - an FBI agent, Downey (Modine), has seen Tony forcing a kiss on the grieving widow and puts two and two together to make approximately seven hundred and forty six. So Angela is put under 24 hour surveillance in the hope that Tony will put in an appearance and incriminate himself. But the situation becomes complicated when Angela meets Downey and asks him out on a date, not realising that she is playing into the hands of the FBI who are happy to destroy her life if it means getting Tony behind bars.
This is, in essence, a broad farce and Jonathan Demme directs it at a breakneck pace with the brash, bold colours of a comic book. In this he is helped by his crack cinematographer Tak Fujimoto and the superb production designer Kristi Zea who works miracles to develop a look of stylised tack. The interiors of the various restaurants and hotels are just that little bit too cheesy to be real but never so over the top that they are unconvincing. The hindsight with which we view the eighties as a decade which epitomised too much money spent with too little taste seems to have been captured by Zea in this 1988 production and the affectionate comedy of the settings is one of the most pleasurable aspects of the film. It's also important to mention the costumes and hairstyles of the various mob wives, notably Connie whose hair looks at though it might threaten to declare independence from her head at any moment. She sports tight dresses and stiletto heels that even John Waters might consider to be vulgar and looks so terrifying that even the gun-toting mobsters can't quite believe what they're seeing when she goes on the rampage. But somehow, there's no condescension or cruelty here - Demme loves these bizarre women and the way they look and the way they seem to hunt in packs, such as in the supermarket encounter when Connie warns Angela to stay away from Tony. In his first few films, Demme's strength was his ability to get on the wavelength of the strangest people and make us care about them and he never looked down on them, even when they appeared totally deranged. Married To The Mob is the final film in this phase of his career, before he got sidetracked by Silence of the Lambs and declined into mediocre worthiness, and it's recognisably the work of the same director who made Something Wild and Citizen's Band.
Demme adores his mobsters and their wives and his love is shown in his marvellous handling of a dream cast. Mercedes Ruehl made her first big mark in the role of Connie and she's a splendidly funny nightmare of a woman. Upon confronting Angela in New York, where she believes an affair is going on with her husband, her first comment is "Your hair looks shit" and, encountering Downey, she comes out with the immortal line, "And whose husband are you, dork-face ?" Ruehl relishes her lines, particularly the curses, and she almost runs off with her parts of the film. I say almost because she's usually up against the extraordinary Dean Stockwell. An actor whose career seemed to be dead in the water by the early eighties, Stockwell received a new lease of life courtesy of David Lynch's Blue Velvet and he's simply wonderful here. Tony, a man so vain that he pays a pianist to announce his arrival in song, is a comic villain to treasure, largely because Stockwell makes him so endearing. Whether casually eyeing up Angela at her husband's funeral or surreptitiously egging on his son in a fight with a schoolmate, Stockwell is a delight and he fully deserved his Oscar nomination. The look on his face when facing emasculation at the hands of Connie is enough to make the film worth seeing on its own. Demme also gets lovely little moments from the quirky likes of Tracey Walter - as a voyeuristic fast-food restaurant manager - and his favourite actor Charles Napier - irresistibly cast against type as an apparently gay hairdresser. You will also notice Joan Cusack in a small role and Oliver Platt as an FBI man .
But, most of all, Demme is in love with Angela, one of the most appealing heroines to have graced a light comedy. Michelle Pfeiffer is a great actress who can triumph in anything from period drama to Gothic comic-book, and she turns Angela into the kind of character you can cheer for without feeling manipulated. Pfeiffer emphasises Angela's common sense and feelings of self-worth and she never plays for easy sentiment or dumb laughs. Angela may not be the strongest chilli in the pot but she's not stupid either and there are surprisingly touching moments of real depth when she's communicating with her son and, later, when she manages to land herself a job in Sister Carol East's hair salon with nothing but chutzpah and a basic belief in her own decency. It goes without saying that she looks great but it's her ability to bring out the inner beauty of the character that allows her to dominate Married To The Mob.
Paradoxically, it's Pfeiffer's strength that highlights the main weakness of Married To The Mob, which is Matthew Modine. He's not a bad actor at all - in fact he's quite an assured performer - but he doesn't have the presence or ability to make him worthy of a love match with his leading lady. Pfeiffer has had this problem elsewhere and it's only with the likes of Al Pacino and Sean Connery that she's been able to really get into a convincing relationship of equals. It's also true to say that she transforms the film into something deeper and more affecting than a simple screwball farce, and this makes the broad comedy of the climax a little unsatisfying. Yet that is to be a little unfair - Demme's film is exceptionally well made and Pfeiffer gives it a human dimension that you really don't expect. Every scene in this film buzzes with confidence and happiness; it's fizzing and alive in a way that few comedies are. The jokes erupt out of each other and are constantly building, helped by the underlying threat of violence which stops the film from seeming trivial. Some moments - Modine hiding in plain sight among a black scat singing combo, Tony and his henchman happily singing an advertising jingle, Frank's mother trying to be buried along with her son's coffin - are just offbeat enough to give the film a comic flip. If it seems a little conventional after the dizzy heights of Something Wild, that still makes it about twenty times better than most other comedies that see the light of day. Given that Demme has now ended up remaking Stanley Donen's peerless Charade - and doing it with shocking incompetence - I doubt he'll ever do anything like this again, and that's a shame.
Regular readers will be anticipating this next bit so I don't want to disappoint them. Yes, folks, this is another MGM back catalogue release. This time it's an Orion film, which at least makes a change from seeing one of those ever-changing United Artists logos at the start of the film. Otherwise, you can probably predict the contents of the following paragraphs.
However, and this makes a pleasant change, I can report that the transfer is actually rather good. The film is presented in its original 1.85:1 format and the anamorphic picture is generally very pleasing. Some grain here and there and a little bit of artifacting but there are stunning colours throughout and a high level of detail. This makes the film look as good as new and helps to make it a memorable viewing experience.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Surround and appears to be a straight transfer of the original Dolby Stereo SR recording. It's nothing remarkable and much of the dialogue is monophonic but the music spreads out nicely and there are occasional ambient effects which make good use of the left and right channels. I really should put in a word for David Byrne's score here, which is surprisingly sweet and subtle, and the excellent collection of songs on the soundtrack which range from New Order to Rosemary Clooney.
The only extra - and this is as predictable as leaves falling in Autumn - is the original theatrical trailer. Typical of the advertising of the period - brash, loud and too long - and entirely forgettable. There are the usual 16 chapters and a range of subtitles.
Married To The Mob hasn't dated at all, despite the eighties' stylisation of the settings and costumes, and it remains a hugely enjoyable comedy. This DVD isn't distinguished but it offers a good presentation of the film and is thus recommended, especially as it is available online at a considerable discount.