Great Character: Michael J. “Crocodile” Dundee (“Crocodile Dundee”)

August 23rd, 2013 by

This month’s theme: Fish Out Of Water. Today: Michael J. “Crocodile” Dundee from the 1986 comedy Crocodile Dundee, screenplay by John Cornell, Paul Hogan, and Ken Shadie, story by Paul Hogan.

How did Australian actor Paul Hogan not become the next 1980s The Expendables-worthy action guy after Crocodile Dundee earned an inflated financial fortune as the 2nd highest grossing movie of 1986 with $174,803,506 domestically, less than two million below Top Gun? Was his portrayal of Michael J “Crocodile” Dundee, the rugged rogue of the Outback with universal charm, so strong that he was unfortunately type-casted? The truth is: most likely. Hogan did return to his gator skin garb for the successful sequel Crocodile Dundee II in 1988 and the not-so-much three-peat Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles in 2001.

But with the critically respected original Crocodile Dundee, Paul Hogan gained North American stardom, a Golden Globe win for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical, an Academy Award nomination for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, story credit and shared screenwriting attention with John Cornell and Ken Shadie from his Australian comedy TV series The Paul Hogan Show, as is director Peter Faiman. Another fair question that comes to mind is how often does an adventure comedy with zero Hollywood A-List actors released in the end of September with an imported leading man become a bonafide blockbuster of summer tent-pole proportions? The answer would be the day after never – but Michael J “Crocodile” Dundee is one Fish-Out-Of-Water character that was not designed to drown.

Crocodile Dundee plot summary from IMDB:

An American reporter goes to the Australian outback to meet an eccentric crocodile poacher and invites him to New York City.

Like most great Fish-Out-Of-Water protagonists, we learn about exactly who “Crocodile” Dundee is through the environment that he distinctively doesn’t belong in (New York City) and through the reactions to his behavior by confused acquaintances. This observer role is filled by Dundee’s American journalist love interest Sue Charleton played by actress Linda Kozlowski, who has coincidently been Paul Hogan’s real life wife since 1990. But when it comes to “Crocodile” Dundee’s marital behavior in the movie, that sacred bond is incredibly less sacred.

MICHAEL J “CROCODILE” DUNDEE: I went walkabout, and when I came back, she’d gone.
SUE CHARLTON: How long were you gone?
MICHAEL J “CROCODILE” DUNDEE: Couple of months.
WALTER REILLY: Try eighteen.
SUE CHARLTON: And she didn’t wait? Humph – strange girl!
MICHAEL J “CROCODILE” DUNDEE: Yeah!

“Crocodile” Dundee’s live-off-the-land charisma has casted such a strong magnetic pull over Sue Charlton that even his care-free shrugged shoulders confession of his evaporated marriage is not enough to rule him out as a compatible mate within her more pampered big city social status.

Dundee’s spiritual bushman mystique, fearlessness against gators, snakes and water buffalos, his lack of political opinions and his nature-over-nurture bond with Mother Earth keeps creating new opportunities to challenge Sue’s limited definition of her perfect man – especially in opposition to the city-slicker news editor boyfriend awaiting for her return to New York City.

MICHAEL J “CROCODILE” DUNDEE: Well, you see, Aborigines don’t own the land. They belong to it. It’s like their mother. See those rocks? Been standing there for 600 million years. Still be there when you and I are gone. So arguing over who owns them is like two fleas arguing over who owns the dog they live on.

Sue Charlton may have been the befuddled Mermaid-Out-Of-Water in Australia, but once she convinces Michael J “Crocodile” Dundee to follow her back to the home of the Statue of Liberty, Dundee’s wilderness warrior ethos threatens to be overwhelmed by traffic jams, upper class capitalism and prostitutes.

MICHAEL J “CROCODILE” DUNDEE: That’s incredible. Imagine seven million people all wanting to live together. Yeah, New York must be the friendliest place on earth.

Mr. Crocodile’s New York City vacation creates plenty of “echo” moments in the screenplay – actions that were planted early on in the Australia scenes that return with comedic payoffs to up the ante in NYC. We’ve witnessed Michael J throw his knockout blows at burly barroom brawlers back home. Now we aren’t surprised when NYC pimps get that same five-finger “sleeping pill.” If Dundee will save the lives of innocent kangaroos from gun-toting Aussies, Dundee can surely return the favor to New York purse snatching victims. Also, we’ve watched Dundee manually poke crocodiles into an aquatic

Even with his unapologetically rustic wardrobe in socialite territory and his harsh uncouth crotch-grab exam to ensure that women are really women, somehow Dundee manages to not alienate himself and still make friends everywhere he ends up. Even without the comforts of water from “down under” this fish is swimming from street corner to subway without sinking. He actually turns New Yorkers into fishes-out-of-water in their own pond by sticking to his embedded “the great outdoors” conditioning.

Crocodile Dundee is actually among the most successful of the long cinematic tradition of dropping eccentric virgins of the urban experience into the middle of the “City That Never Sleeps” to watch them fend for themselves:

For his genuine charm and people personality, his one-with-the-Earth connection to nature and his survival-savvy in both the wild jungles of Australia and the concrete jungles of New York City – Michael J “Crocodile Dundee is one engagingly GREAT CHARACTER.

Another great 80’s high concept comedy. Join us in comments to discuss Crocodile Dundee.

Thanks again, Jason, for another Great Character post!

One thought on “Great Character: Michael J. “Crocodile” Dundee (“Crocodile Dundee”)

  1. Bryan Colley says:

    It’s the double fish-out-of-water stories that makes this movie work so well. Most movies would settle for the hick in the city story or the New Yorker in the Outback story, but in combination the contrasts are complete.

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