By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: He learns to adapt.
Quackser (Gene Wilder), a nickname given to him as an infant because he would make noises that sounded like a duck, enjoys his life working an alternative job that has him scooping up horse manure from the streets of Dublin, Ireland and then reselling it as fertilizer. His parents (May Ollis, Seamus Forde), of which he still lives with, feels this is not a suitable long term profession as it will never pay enough for him to live on his own, but Quackser refuses to work at the refinery where everyone else in his neighborhood does. He then meets Zazel (Margot Kidder) an American college student who’s studying abroad. He hopes to start up a relationship with her, but finds this to be a challenge when the milk company replaces all of their horse drawn carriages with trucks, which takes all the horses off of the streets. With no horses there’s no manure forcing Quackser to consider other ways to make an income.
The script, by Gabriel Walsh, has a wonderfully unpretentious quality to it as it tells a story about a simple man living a simple life and on that level it succeeds and even stands out as so many other films seem to feel the need to jazz things up, but this one doesn’t. I particularly liked the on-location shooting done in Dublin that nicely captures Quackser’s humble economic settings and the starkness of his blue collar neighborhood and yet later in the film we see him inside a luxurious hotel, which is also inside the same city. I found this fascinating as it shows how close in physical proximity Quackser is to the more affluent area, but economically, and educational-wise, he was still a long way from ever getting there.
Wilder plays his part quite well if you can get past his thick Irish accent, which is off-putting at first. I liked how he approaches the character as not being this one-dimensional simpleton, but someone who, despite being an overall nice person, can have his angry and even arrogant side to him. Kidder is at her peak of youthful beauty and their quasi-romance allows for an interesting dynamic although I did find it put a strain on the plausibility.
My biggest complaint was that I couldn’t understand why this attractive young woman from a completely different socio-economic background would find this poor, less educated individual so fascinating, or why she’d want to bother to get to know him better. As a quant little friendship it might’ve possibly worked, but as a relationship, even a potential one, it was just too much of a stretch especially with such a drastic 15-year age difference. Sharing a passing kiss during a random moment is as far as this thing would’ve gotten in real-life, but to have her later on go to bed with him, not so much because she loves him, but more as a ‘pity-fuck’ before she leaves, is something that only happens in movieland. It’s also never clear whether she genuinely likes the guy, or has a secret cruel streak and enjoys setting him up for humiliation as there are times when it could easily be seen as going either way.
The twist ending where Quackser inherits a load of money from his cousin in the Bronx, which he uses to buy a bus in order to be a tour guide when he realizes he can no longer collect manure, doesn’t work. For one thing why did this cousin just out-of-the-blue give the money to Quackser not the other family members as well especially since the two shared no special relationship, or correspondence? Having him go to the Bronx like he was initially going to do and maybe get a job recycling trash would’ve been more of a connection to what he had done in the past. Even having him working in the refinery, which he dreaded, but finding it not as bad as he feared, or that he could do some function there different than the others, which would make him feel ‘special’ would’ve been a better ending, but either way it’s still a cute movie perfect for those looking for a working class ‘kitchen-and-sink’ drama without any of the fashionable dressings.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: July 13, 1970
Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes
Director: Waris Hussein
Studio: Universal Marion Corporation
Available: DVD, Amazon Video