Paul Hogan brought his distinct Oz-humour to a worldwide audience with Crocodile Dundee, a film which Dan Stephens describes as a perfect fish-out-of-water story. 2016 marks 30 years since it was first released. It still holds up brilliantly today.
Paul Hogan is most recognisable as the sharp-tongued Australian fish-out-of-water. His appearances on television, both in America and the UK, gave international audiences Australian stereotypes to cling to with memorable one-liners “put another shrimp on the barbie” and “struth, there’s a bloke down there with no strides on!” The comedian from “down under” was a popular personality in his homeland, particularly in the 1970s and early 1980s thanks to his comedy sketch programme The Paul Hogan Show. But he rose to worldwide stardom after conceiving Michael J. “Crocodile” Dundee, a true-to-his-roots bushman from a small town in northern Australia who finds his one-with-nature traditions uprooted during a trip to New York City.
The film, released in 1986, stars Hogan alongside Linda Kozlowski’s New York feature writer Sue Charlton. Charlton is in Australia researching new stories when she hears of a man who wrestled and killed a crocodile. Believing she’s found the story she’s been looking for, she travels to Walkabout Creek, a small hamlet in Australia’s Northern Territory, where she finds cocky bushman “Crocodile” Dundee. He agrees to take her to where he killed the “croc”, at the same time introducing her to living “wild” in the Outback. She becomes enamoured with Dundee’s knowledge of the country, its wildlife, and his unconventional approach to life. She requests he return with her to New York City in order to complete the story to which he agrees having never left his homeland before. He quickly finds out city life is far different from Walkabout Creek.
Crocodile Dundee’s adventure, both at home in the Australian Outback and out of his comfort zone in New York City, is a lot of fun. Told effectively in two parts, we see how Charlton struggle to adapt to the Outback while warming to Dundee’s affectionate bushman histrionics. Later, when he arrives in New York City, contemporary technology baffles him (there’s his introduction to an escalator, for example), while a run-in with a drag queen proves educational. There’s the sense that director Peter Faiman and actor Hogan are playing a primitive backwater off against the modern, city of opportunity. But there’s no menace intended, moreover there is a real warmth lavished upon Dundee’s existence with its exotic, enigmatic adventure and a genuine sense of freedom sans life’s materialistic excess. Yet, when he finds life’s mod-cons in New York, his journey is equally adventurous as he discovers this new world.
But the film hinges on the charismatic performance of Paul Hogan who, having developed the character himself, clearly has a lot of love for the creation. It really is a sparkling performance as Hogan brings out Dundee’s lovable open-eyed embrace of contemporary city life alongside the wholesome heroics of his alpha male machismo. Indeed, the film’s stand out moment, and the one everyone remembers, is when he protects Charlton from a New York mugger. The criminal brandishes a short pocket knife to which Charlton rightly says is the reason she should hand over her purse. Dundee disagrees: “That’s not a knife, this is a knife,” he says as he presents his huge Bowie blade.
Crocodile Dundee might lose a few points for overdoing a running joke about Dundee’s penchant for punching people but there’s very little here that doesn’t work. This is fish-out-of-water comedy how it should be done.