A few years ago I stumbled across a website comically depicting American stereotypes of other countries based on films. It would have a column saying “What Americans think people of Country X are like” with movie characters beneath it, and another column saying “What people from Country X think they’re like” with other movie characters beneath it. I don’t remember most of the comparisons, save that most of the American views were a bit silly and stereotyped, while the Country X self-views were a bit more serious or respectable. At the very bottom of the list was Australia. The picture for “What Americans think Australians are like” was Crocodile Dundee. The picture for “What Australians think Australians are like” was also Crocodile Dundee. I don’t know many Australians, so maybe it’s false, but it amused me — and, to my mind, it seemed to be saying that Australians didn’t take themselves too seriously. As Crocodile Dundee was written by its star, Paul Hogan, it’s apparently true for at least one of them.
Crocodile Dundee is one of those films that I saw as a child but didn’t remember much of, save for the famous knife scene. It’s probably just as well. Even if I had remembered it well, it’s likely I wouldn’t have understood much of the culture-clash gags; it would have just been “Guy with a funny accent acting funny” to grade-schooler me. Then again, that’s kind of what the film is….
The film is essentially a fish-out-of-water comedy with just a touch of romance to it. Hogan plays Michael J. Dundee, known as Mick to his friends and “Crocodile” to people his business partner is trying to impress. He runs a safari outfit in the Australian Outback, where he has lived all his life, raised by Aborigines. He’s a bit of a local legend after surviving a crocodile attack and crawling back to civilization, and it’s this which gains the attention of traveling American journalist Sue Charlton (Linda Kozlowksi). She arrives to interview him and to re-trace his route.
What’s a little different about the film is that it plays it both ways with the “fish out of water” elements. The first half of the film, it’s Sue who is out of her element, trying to survive in the Outback. In the second half, Sue invites Mick to go to New York with her — saying it’ll be the perfect end to her story, seeing how he reacts to the big city — and it’s Mick who finds himself trying to adapt to a different world. The audience goes from seeing Mick poke fun at Sue for her lack of survival skills to seeing Mick cause trouble because of his lack of experience in the city. There are a lot of comic mishaps, and I wouldn’t want to spoil the comedy, but it’s easy to get an idea of the trouble from how he views New York when he first arrives. “Imagine seven million people all wanting to live together. Yeah, New York must be the friendliest place on earth.”
The dialogue is witty, and the timing is sound; it seems Hogan had a comedy show for a few years before making the film, and though this was his first film, his television experience clearly pays off. (Director Peter Faiman had also worked on The Paul Hogan Show). It was also Linda Kozlowski’s first film, but one wouldn’t get any sense of amateur acting from her performance either. The two leads play well off of each other, though it’s definitely Paul Hogan’s role as Mick Dundee that carries the film.
There’s nothing complicated or deep about the plot, but it’s a lot of fun. Fish out of water comedies were nothing new in 1986, but what is? Crocodile Dundee cheerfully hits several comic points as it bounces Mick’s Australian sensibilities against Americans, and scores laughs with all of them.