Swamp Thing 3.11: Interruptus

I suppose I’m just a romantic old fool, really, but I like to see the young people enjoying themselves. They’re standing in a crowded corner of a stifling set in South Carolina, surrounded by nonsensical movie biology and running out of money with every tick of the clock, but right now — just for this moment — Swamp Thing is an appealing movie.

It’s a clever little bit of romcom movie construction, really. Cable meets Alec Holland and Linda Holland, and makes the obvious inference. Then Alec takes Cable out into the swamp, where he offers her orchids and talks about the sex appeal of nature in general, and she shrugs him off.

“Just save the malarkey for your wife, Holland,” she says, and a playful grin spreads across his face.

Then they have a whole bunch of cute moments in the lab together, where he appreciates her intelligence, and she admires his dedication to solving world hunger. Finally, Linda mentions their father, and the penny drops for Cable: Alec and Linda are brother and sister, and Alec’s flirting was legit.

And Cable gets a wonderful moment, standing there among the paraphenalia, where she mentally goes over the events of the day, understands that Alec’s been teasing her, and makes some decisions about what she’s going to do about it. It’s a lovely bit of acting, probably the best moment in the entire film.

I have almost no patience at all for Arcane and his goons and pretty much anything that’s going to happen starting sixty seconds from now, but this moment of regular non-comic-book romantic comedy is the heart of the film — or, at least, it would be, if Ray Wise had been able to play the monster, too.

I don’t know if Wes Craven’s original idea would have worked, even if they’d had more money and development time. The plan was that Ray Wise would play the creature in close-ups and dialogue scenes, and stuntman Dick Durock would do the long shots and stunts. They actually filmed most of the movie with both Wise and Durock in the monster makeup, but their faces looked too different, even under the appliances.

But it doesn’t seem like an insurmountable problem. Movies use stunt doubles all the time for fighting and action scenes. You just need to plan the shots carefully, so the stunt double always has their face hidden or turned away, and you blend those shots with cleverly cropped close-up shots of the lead actor.

The problem is that it’s Swamp Thing, which they’re filming outside in murky acidic swamp water that degrades the suit, and everyone who goes into the water has to scrub themselves with antibiotics so they don’t get swamp scurvy or whatever, and the crew is doing coke in the bathroom. So it didn’t work.

And it’s a real shame, because I think he’s adorable here, and Ray Wise didn’t get a lot more chances to be adorable.

His very first gig was in a 1969 sexploitation film called Dare the Devil which was so obscure that Wikipedia, Rotten Tomatoes and Box Office Mojo have never heard of it. And then he went into soap operas, and never really left them.

From 1970 to 1976, he appeared on the CBS daytime soap Love of Life as Jamie Rawlins, who started out as a radical hippie college student and then became a cub reporter, a garage mechanic and a lawyer in the DA’s office. After that, he kind of drifted through some guest roles on primetime shows and TV-movies, on his way to another soap opera gig with Days of Our Lives, starting in 1982.

So what we’ve got here in 1982 is what I think is Wise’s one chance to be the leading man in a feature film, and he’s only in the first twenty minutes. I guess he doesn’t really have a leading man type face. He’s not unattractive, and I think he’s very cute as Alec, but he looks like what he is, a character actor who gets four romcom scenes and then explodes.

In 1989, Wise got the role that everybody knows him from: grieving father and spoiler alert Leland Palmer, on Twin Peaks. It’s a funny and weird part — he spends the first several episodes doing nothing but crying and pretending to dance with his dead daughter, and he gets even stranger from there.

He’s had a long and prolific career since then, mostly on television. He was the Vice President in one of the seasons on 24, he played the Devil on the CW show Reaper, and he had recurring roles on Fresh Off the Boat and How I Met Your Mother. He was on Mad Men and Agent Carter and Beverly Hills 90210, and he did a couple of years on The Young and the Restless.

But he never got to be the hero that sweeps the leading lady off her feet, and the one time that he tried, he got blown up and replaced with a 6’5″ stuntman in a rubber plant suit. Losing him from the movie is just one of the dozens of unhappy compromises that make up the running time of this film, and I wish he could have stuck around, somehow. Still, we’ll always have our memories of the orchid, and this crappy little corner of the lab.

Tomorrow:
We address the Ferret problem
3.12: The Hostiles

Chapters

— Danny Horn

34 thoughts on “Swamp Thing 3.11: Interruptus

  1. I remember Ray Wise best from Reaper, which was made by two women who’d worked on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Dead Like Me, two other creepy shows. It pays to pay attention to who’s producing stuff you like.

    Wise is much better as a villain. He has a mischievous smile that makes you want to punch him, except he’s having so much fun you have to smile too.

    He recently appeared in a set of ads for Doctor Pepper, set in Fansville, centered around college football.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Having not ever seen Twin Peaks, I also knew Ray Wise best as the Devil on Reaper… another show we created a wiki for, Danny.

    He was a good villain on Agent Carter and, according to Wikipedia, he also played a character called “Guthrie” on the 1990s Swamp Thing TV series.

    Finally, he’s got a prominent role as a Mintakan in my favorite Star Trek episode of all time, “Who Watches The Watchers.”

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I just poked around trying to find the Swamp Thing episode with Ray Wise. It’s not streaming anywhere, but it was released on Shout Factory’s third volume DVD set collecting the series. It’s long out of print, so I guess eBay is the best bet. Couldn’t even find a torrent, unfortunately.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. I thought he looked familiar but I had to look up a more recent photo before I remembered him from Reaper. I’m sure I saw him many times before that since he has 248 acting credits on his IMDb page! Six Degrees of Ray Wise would be a very easy game to play.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. In his recent years on “The Young and the Restless,” Ray Wise portrayed creepy, conniving cult leader Ian Ward. He was such a great villain, because he was obviously enjoying every moment of being evil and manipulative.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Even ignoring the future spectre of Leland Palmer hanging over him, I don’t find Ray Wise (or Alec Holland for that matter) at all appealing. In part because I’m shallow and want my leading actors in films like this to look like Chris Reeve or Chris Evans or Chadwick Boseman.

    As for Alec, when he is flirting with Alice and we think he’s married to Linda, he seems scummy. And even discovering that they’re siblings, that scummy first impression sticks to him like swamp algae.

    I do agree, however, that Adrienne’s acting in these scenes is wonderful.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I get they’re going for the “cute misunderstanding” thing, which has a long and proud history in films, but the problem is that it’s kind of creepy to let the person you’re flirting with think, and go on thinking, that your sister is your spouse. And letting a chance remark from said sister be the way the flirtee finds out at all.

      How long was he going to let this go on? Did he really think Alice and his sister would think it was funny and not creepy?

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Since Christopher Reeve also got his start on Love of Life, it means the first male superhero lead not to get his start on that soap was an animatronic talking duck. (Had there been a talking duck on Love of Life, that show might still be on the air).

    Liked by 6 people

  6. I think Ray Wise is great all the time, but my first association with him is always an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger. He plays a corrupt politician who kidnaps a baby from teen mom Danica McKellar, and it’s all ridiculous, and he’s perfect.

    Liked by 5 people

  7. Can’t go along with you on this one, chief. Cable is friendly and might be showing some signs of attraction to Alec, but she gives him zero invitation for overheated sex talk and the kiss is out and out assault. She laughs it off, and since she’s the lead and he’s a dopey guy who is about to disappear from the movie into a fireball we can frame this whole disgusting interaction as an older girl telling an awkward preteen boy to knock it off. But if Ray Wise had also played Swamp Thing, and if Swamp Thing really were the main character, it would ruin the movie irretrievably.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I think some of that interaction can be blamed on 1) the massive amounts of cocaine deciding what was a good idea, and 2) the fact that this was shot in the eighties, which had truly disturbing levels of not understanding what is a meet cute and what is an assault.

      A lot of science-type characters got their love interest introduced in this way–he’s just a silly nerd who doesn’t get how to be around the nice lady, and she tells him off but isn’t Really Angry–and it was accepted that it was “simply” a misunderstanding that no real heroine was going to be upset over. The trope of the Geek getting away with a lot of handsy bullshit has a long, gross history, unfortunately.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. It is pretty bad. If the movie were in any way serious, you’d have to spend the rest of it thinking about situations like Alice’s, where you’re the victim of a crime that you didn’t, for whatever reason, find particularly upsetting, but that you really ought to report to the authorities.

        In the actually-existing movie, it does make it a lot less distressing to see Alec burst into flames and leap into the swamp, and it helps to create a sense of unease when Swamp Thing emerges. A being with the fantastically overdeveloped powers of a superhero and the disturbingly underdeveloped sense of interpersonal boundaries Alec has shown might be very dangerous indeed.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. At first I misread this as the Greek getting away with a lot of handsy bullshit, and I thought, yeah, Zeus sure did.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. It’s the timeless tale. Boy Meets Girl. Girl delights in boy’s Swamp Science. Boy and Girl are interrupted by goons who cause havoc in Sector Three.

    > “Just save the malarkey for your wife, Holland,” she says, and a playful grin spreads across his face.

    Why doesn’t he correct her misunderstanding right then?

    > But it doesn’t seem like an insurmountable problem.

    Piece of cake today with computer graphics.

    > Dare the Devil

    If the dare was for the devil to make him mega-famous right away, looks like he lost.

    > How I Met Your Mother

    The show that’s 98% meet-cute and missed or misunderstood meet-cute, and 2% framing devices to get them into the next meet-cute.

    > the one time that he tried, he got blown up

    If only he’d FIRST looked for warnings in Sector 3, THEN flirted with the new Swamp Science Babe.

    > he was obviously enjoying every moment of being evil and manipulative.

    Maybe there’s a better alternative universe version of Swamp Thing, where sloshy scintilliating super-swamp-science stuff turns Alec evil, then badass Cable fights him. At the end of the movie, she meets Lois Lane who came to investigate the mysterious swamp explosions. Explosions that, despite the military’s insistence, canNOT be explained away as swamp gas. It’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Danny, with email sorted, I don’t see where to sign up for one of the accounts that all the other cool kids seem to have. You know, the kind that saves you the bother of having to pop my comments out of the queue.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Danny, with email sorted, I don’t see where to sign up for one of the accounts that all the other cool kids seem to have. You know, the kind that saves you the bother of having to pop my comments out of the queue.

      I think Danny has a setting for pre-approving or rejecting all submissions from someone.

      Like

      1. While Danny was going thru the Superman films I had a problem with my email at the time. I got it sorted and comments are going thru’ now, unless I make a typo in the address part of the form.

        Like

  10. Money seems to be a running theme in the first 3 movies Danny’s covered. It’s interesting reading about the compromises both a big-budget movie and a small-budget movie had to make because of budgets. Swamp Thing feels more like a 1950s sci-fi B-movie or a 1970s made for tv movie to me. Not that that is necessarily a problem. Some of those are fun.
    I’m beginning to think behind-the-scenes goings-on might have made for more interesting movies than what we get onscreen in either Superman II or Swamp Thing. I’m also thinking David Mamet’s State and Main is practically a documentary.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. This actor played Commissioner Gordon in a Batman movie once. That movie gets a lot of hate, but it’s actually a good watch if you skip the first few scenes and start watching with the scene where Batman meets with Harvey Bullock at a crime scene.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. At first I thought that surely there must be more than that. For instance, what is the magic formula that makes some movies successful while others aren’t? But that’s really a subset of question one. Still, it can’t be as simple as Success Breeds Success, can it? There must be something allegorical that resonates, something mythological that speaks to the audience, something that fulfills some deep need for Someone who will watch over the world, protect it, right wrongs and fight injustice.
        And then I asked myself why I watch them and the answer is I like the actors…which I guess is a subset of question two.
        So, yeah, you nailed it.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Nah, I don’t care about either of those questions. What I want to know about a superhero movie is whether it purges the soul with pity and terror.

        Liked by 4 people

    1. Every movie production these days is a multimillion dollar startup company. It hires hundreds of people for a few years, to invent and create exactly one original product from scratch. Then it immediately goes out of business.

      If you look at the story behind a movie, it almost always took someone ten years of passionate hustle to get the money. They approach one potential “bankable” source after another, rewriting as they go. They try to include everything that might be wanted by the potential stars, the potential director, the potential funders, the American audience, the Chinese audience, the Academy’s fancy-pants award voters.

      Eventually something clicks into place. The money drops in, the movie is made, then the distributors try to convince people to watch it.

      If anyone pays to watch it, the money comes to the distributors. Who use creative accounting to try to prove there was no profit for the profit-sharing clause. Then they get audited and sued, and some of the money trickles out to the people who had the best negotiators.

      A really fascinating, bizarre industry structure, since before the rest of us had ever heard of a Gig Economy.

      Liked by 3 people

  11. Ray Wise speaks French and Romanian? What’s the story behind that combo, I wonder?

    He certainly knew that An Actor’s Life For Me means that you are fate’s whimsical mercy at all times, has gone along with her capricious ways, and made it work for him.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. He’s also henchman # 1 or baddie # 2 in Robocop!
    Speaking of Robocop, you going to include him eventually?
    I’d say he can pass for a Superhero! Why not? Great film!
    And with your sense of humour, Danny, I know your review will be a hoot!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. A couple of weeks ago I watched Swamp Thing for the first time in probably a quarter century, because I figured if Danny is going to be devoting 50 or so entries into examining this movie it would be useful for me to re-familiarize myself with the movie (might do the same with Supergirl, but I fully expect to steer clear of Howard the Duck). Here’s my thoughts on the Swamp Thing movie…

    Swamp Thing: 40 years later

    I definitely feel that it’s vital for the first 20 minutes to establish that there’s genuine chemistry between Cable and Holland in order for the subsequent relationship between Cable and Swamp Thing to have any credibility, and between Wes Craven’s script and the performances by Adrienne Barbeau and Ray Wise it succeeds on an almost miraculous level.

    It’s odd that Ray Wise’s career subsequently saw him play an assortment of sinister villains and creepy weirdos, because looking at his performance here, you could almost imagine his career going off on a completely different trajectory portraying cute, goofball romantic leading men.

    As for the kiss in the lab, I honestly didn’t even remember that part. I’m sure when I was six years old it just sailed completely by me because 40 years ago it really was a completely different time. As with a great many other material from 1980s movies & television, what came across back then as quirky romance now definitely feels much closer to sexual assault. Should we be holding four decade old movies to modern-day standards? I honestly don’t know. But I’m sure a lot of members of Generation Z would look askance as this type of scene the same way that teenage me in the mid 1990s was disturbed watching old movies where John Wayne would take grown women over his knee and spank them.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Movies are historical artifacts. We will never experience a forty-year-old movie the same way that the original audience did. Ray Wise, who I suspect is a perfectly lovely man since he’s worked so regularly, has the baggage of a later role coloring some viewer’s responses to him in this film. It’s not fair but it’s hard to get around.
      I’ve come across this problem with older movies that are classics or famous because they were innovative technically or ground-breaking for other reasons. I’m almost invariably disappointed because they were generally endlessly copied and seem fairly ordinary to modern eyes. Movies from this time period seem out-of-touch with modern sensibilities. We’re creatures of our time as they are of theirs. Who knows how judgemental our descendants will be of us in the future? All those cars in those Fast and Furious movies emitting so much carbon!

      Liked by 1 person

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