Crocodile Dundee: 'Mind over matter'
En route to crocodile country, reporter Sue Charlton (Linda Kozlowski) asks Mick Dundee (Paul Hogan) about his age and background. Mick’s business partner Wally (John Meillon) tries to embroider the legend but Mick sets her straight, suggesting a rough childhood and an inability to sustain a marriage. Mick demonstrates his mental powers over a recalcitrant buffalo. Summary by Paul Byrnes
Crocodile Dundee received an Oscar nomination for Best Writing (Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen) in 1986 (screenplay by Paul Hogan, Ken Shadie, John Cornell; story by Paul Hogan).
One of the film’s most appealing attributes is its playful, self-mocking humour. This scene is both self-aware and unselfconsciously honest. Wally sees the reporter as a publicity tool, an effective means of getting more tourists to the travel company he runs with Mick. He takes every opportunity to build Mick’s legend, which underestimates her intelligence. Dundee positions himself as a more honest source of information. In the process he reveals a glimpse of an unhappy childhood, and a failed relationship – 'a sort of’ marriage. His power over the water buffalo suggests he is more at home with animals than women.
Crocodile Dundee synopsis
A glamorous American reporter, Sue Charlton (Linda Kozlowski), goes to the Northern Territory to interview a man who survived a crocodile attack. Michael J 'Crocodile’ Dundee (Paul Hogan) charms her with his bushman’s humour and toughness. He is both more complex and more mysterious than she expects. She invites him to New York, a city that expands his horizons and tests his survival skills.
Crocodile Dundee Curator's notes
Crocodile Dundee is not just the most commercially successful Australian film ever made, it is one of the most successful non-Hollywood films of all time. The reasons for its success are complex. Paul Hogan was already a well-established star of television comedy in Australia, but he was also becoming well-known in the US, because of an extraordinarily successful tourism campaign in 1984.
For most Americans, before the movie came out, Hogan was that funny Aussie bloke who told them he’d 'put another shrimp on the barbie’ if they visited Australia. In a sense the movie is a continuation of the campaign. The first half of the movie showcases both the beauty of the Northern Territory and the cultural quaintness of the Territorians. John Meillon’s character, Wally, acts as Sue Charlton’s guide to this odd, but friendly, masculine world. Wally knows about the rest of the world and tries to spin her the kind of yarn he thinks she wants, for her news magazine. Mick Dundee, though less worldly, is also more truthful, capable of telling tall stories himself, which often turn out to be true.
The film both constructs and deconstructs an idea of Australian masculinity. That is one of the main preoccupations of Australian cinema, going back to the silent era – but few films have done it so cleverly, or with so many layers. Mick Dundee is all things to all people – self-made man, tough guy, bush philosopher, romantic lead, old-fashioned knight, defender of women, tamer of wild animals, and wandering free spirit. As a pioneer frontiersman, he appeals specifically to the foundation mythologies of both Americans and Australians – but he goes further, as a fully initiated member of an Aboriginal clan. Indeed, he’s 'blacker’ than some other members of his clan, notably his mate Neville (David Gulpilil), who’s described as a real city boy who finds his cultural obligations 'a drag’.
The film’s attitudes to colour and Aboriginality are central to its meaning and preoccupations. Far from being 'unpolitical’, Mick has firm views about the question of land rights, as 'two fleas fighting over the same dog’. In New York, his reactions to and interactions with people of colour are a clue to the film’s awareness of American unease with issues of race. The film’s most famous joke – 'That’s not a knife’ – is a gesture to mainstream anxiety about both New York and young black men. The fact that Mick is saved from a beating by Gus the chauffeur, another black male, is no accident. The film is constantly creating 'solidarities’ across cultural, or colour, lines.
The cementing of a sense of community between Australians and Americans is what Hogan’s tourism advertisements also set out to do. Crocodile Dundee continued that process, in spectacularly successful and non-threatening fashion. The debate about whether that was an act of cultural assertion, as many Australians believed, or the ultimate demonstration of Australian subservience, is still going on.
Notes by Paul Byrnes
This clip starts approximately 16 minutes into the feature.
Sue Charlton, Mick Dundee and Wally stand around Mick’s truck.
Sue Charlton How old are you?
Mick Dundee long pause Dunno. What year is this?
Sue You don’t know?
Wally Time doesn’t mean much up here you see Miss, you see the Aborigines don’t have calendars, they raised him, they called him Mingirock, which means ah…
Mick Bullshit Wally. The fact is I was handed around the relatives a lot as a kid. Lost track of birthdays and stuff like that. I reckon I must be about 40 Wal.
Sue, Mick and Wally drive along through the wetlands.
Sue and is there a Mrs Crocodile Dundee?
Mick I was sort-of married once. Nice girl, good cook, big _he gestures towards his chest_…
Wally interrupts Mick, gesturing at Sue.
Mick Anyway, I went off on walkabout and when I came back she’d gone.
Sue A walkabout?
Wally That’s an aboriginal habit. It means to wander around and, and discover new places.
Sue How long were you gone?
Mick Awh, a couple of months.
Wally Try 18.
Sue and she didn’t wait? Strange girl.
They come up to a water buffalo and Mick beeps the horn.
Mick Out of the way dopey!
The water buffalo breaths heavily through its nostrils.
Mick beeps again.
Mick walks up to the buffalo and places his fingers near its face whilst making a soft noise.
Sue takes photos.
The water buffalo breaths heavily and drops to its knees.
Sue Jesus. That was amazing.
Wally Mind over matter. Laughs. An old bushman’s trick.
Mick walks back towards the car.