Swamp Thing 3.19: The Unknown Soldiers

A swamp. A tree. Evening.

Estragon:  Where’s Danny?

Vladimir:  Where’s Willie?

Estragon:  Maybe Willie’s with Tyrone.

Vladimir:  Danny shot Tyrone.

Estragon:  Oh, yeah.

I mean, technically the dialogue is more Abbott & Costello than Waiting for Godot, but you have to admit that if it’s possible to have a Theater of the Absurd action sequence that makes you question the existence of God and the fundamental moral nature of modern society, then this swamp stomp is about as absurd as it gets.

This is technically a tense situation loaded with dramatic intensity, what with all the gunfire and cracked necks and everything, but what we’re watching is a murdered biologist reborn as an enormous rubber-suit action hero, rising from the murky deep to karate-chop a bunch of trigger-happy numbskulls, and having a lot of fun doing it.

At the end of act 1, we experienced the alchemical death-by-fire horror catharsis, and then we spent the next four minutes watching these commando creeps dump bodies and try to drown the only living human character that we like. Now the hero of the film is finally here, and to celebrate, he’s saying screw it, let’s kill some of the supporting cast.

There are five merry members of Arcane’s merc army in this scene, and we’re going to lose three of them over the next few minutes. Arcane’s crew has had plenty of time to establish how mean and scary they are, and now Swamp Thing is going to demonstrate that he has combat skills as well. I wouldn’t worry too much about the casualties if I were you; Arcane appears to have an endlessly replenishing supply of douchebag NPCs, that respawn whenever he needs people to wave guns around and generate a plot point.

The funny thing about this sequence is that Swamp Thing is inherently a noisy intrusion of elemental energy that’s built mostly for shock-and-awe frontal attacks, but they act like he’s a sneaky ninja who can appear out of nowhere and coldcock a cast member without anybody else noticing that he’s nearby. The mercs are all splashing through knee-deep swamp mixture, trying to be stealthy but kicking up a hell of a racket with every squashy step. Then Swamp Thing, the mountain of murk, shimmers into existence behind a tree just in time to grab a guy and remove him from the playing field.

This is the one sequence where all the cannon fodder victims get character names, so I want to take a moment to identify everyone. The repellent Ferret is the leader of the squad, and his big bald-headed sidekick is Bruno; those are the two who survive the scene and continue to have a role in the movie.

When the hunt begins, Ferret barks out two more names: “Willie! Tyrone! Shoot the damn thing!” A moment later, Bruno gives instructions: “Willie, go that way! Tyrone, cover that area!” They don’t bother to give instructions to the fifth guy, for reasons that we’ll discover in a moment.

Willie’s the first one to be dealt with. He catches sight of Cable coming back to consciousness in the undergrowth, and raises his gun with a smirk and a death quip: “So long, baby!” Then Swamp Thing grabs him from behind, and hurls him into a better world.

Next at bat is Tyrone, who actually had an earlier scene with Bruno in the wrecked science lab, talking about all the cool stuff he’s been looting from the dead bodies. It’s a curious scene that exists to place Linda’s silver locket in the wreckage, so that Swamp Thing can find it twenty minutes later and have feelings about it, and it requires Bruno to turn inexplicably sentimental about people that he didn’t know and helped to kill. Swamp Thing has a lot of complex emotional layers, or, viewed another way, none at all.

With four lines of dialogue in the looting scene, Tyrone is the most developed of the cannon fodder characters, so it’s a shame that he gets the slapstick kill, getting shot by an enthusiastic colleague while he’s splashing around in the reeds.

When Tyrone falls, Ferret grabs the gun away from the final team member, growling, “What the hell are you doing, Danny?” Then Danny does a big reaction take, clearly expressing the concept “Oy!” This is why Dannys, as a class, tend to be picked last for team sports.

A moment later, Danny gets his due, picked off by Swamp Thing who’s been patiently waiting behind a tree for just this occasion. Then Ferret and Bruno do their “where’s Danny? where’s Willie?” routine, and they scurry away to fight another day.

Now, the thing that I find most interesting about this comedy sketch is that none of these cannon fodder characters are in the credits. Ferret and Bruno are listed because they’re actual characters, but as far as I can tell, the other three aren’t.

I’m curious about this, because there doesn’t seem to be a system for who gets credited and who doesn’t. Bill Erickson is credited as “Young Agent” — that’s the guy who was killed by the pocket snake in the early minutes of the film — but he doesn’t have any lines, while Willie and Tyrone did.

There are actually several people with speaking parts in the film who aren’t credited, including the guy driving the boat at the beginning, and Teddy, the guy on the dock, who had two lines with Charlie.

The real mystery, for me, is the credit for “Commando: DOV GOTTESFELD”, because I don’t know who it refers to. I looked up Dov Gottesfeld on IMDb, but I can’t find a picture. He’s had a few roles in movies and TV shows that I can’t conveniently access at the moment, including a third season Bionic Woman episode that isn’t available for streaming.

Although now that I look at it, the complete Bionic Woman DVD set is only twenty bucks, and am I enough of a nerd to spend twenty bucks just to figure out who Dov Gottesfeld is? And as soon as I pose that question, the answer is yes, obviously I am, so I suppose I’ll get back to you in a few days with a hot Dov Gottesfeld update.

Anyway, the reason why I find all of this interesting is because it draws a dividing line between the Superman films and Swamp Thing that I hadn’t really considered. The Superman movies gave a credit to everyone with a speaking line, because they were all professional actors with agents. In addition to that, most of the uncredited extras have been identified on IMDb, because I assume there are Superman nerds who tracked that information down.

But Swamp Thing was essentially made up on the spot, using local South Carolina actors who were dazzled to be part of a movie shoot, and I guess nobody wrote down their names. The Third Draft script that I have mentions Willie’s name, but not Tyrone’s or Danny’s, and it doesn’t include the Bruno/Tyrone looting scene at all.

Compared to the Superman films, we are currently far out in the wilderness, where life is cheap and nobody buries the bodies. Swamp Thing is an untamed movie, dangerous and free. Who knows what might happen, out here on the far edge of civilization?

Tomorrow:
We try to puzzle out the mystery of Arcane
3.20: Seize the Day


Footnotes:

If you like spotting continuity errors, keep an eye out for the moment when the soaking-wet Ferret is suddenly dry again. Also, check out Ferret’s response just after Danny shoots Tyrone; he mouths a whole sentence before his ADR voiceover says his line.

Tomorrow:
We try to puzzle out the mystery of Arcane
3.20: Seize the Day

Chapters

— Danny Horn

14 thoughts on “Swamp Thing 3.19: The Unknown Soldiers

  1. I like to think that there’s a shadow troupe of actors who drift through the back lots of moviedom and show up when there’s performing to be done. Every so often one will catch the director’s eye and graduate from Mobster #3 to Understudy for Dr. Nelson. Then he goes to Medical Acting School evenings so he can get typecast as the sleazy doctor who digs bullets out of crooks, in hopes of becoming the kind of doctor who tells the protagonists that their child has leukemia.

    Or they wait tables until the next casting call, but that’s not as interesting.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Paul, who runs the Bionic Wiki, says this is Dov Gottesfeld as Sharokah in The Bionic Woman episode “Long Live the King” (3×20)

      Liked by 3 people

      1. If that’s the case, I don’t have the slightest idea who he could be in the movie. I’ll keep an eye out for him, but he doesn’t look familiar. I wonder if he was a Playboy Playmate of the Month as well?

        Liked by 4 people

  2. The scene with the locket made me think that perhaps Bruno was the government informant who let them know Arcane was alive. He didn’t seem to be a totally evil henchman and I expected him to help Cable. But, no, he was a bad guy…until he wasn’t. Or was that the true essence of what he was? Obviously, Bruno is the most complex character in this movie.
    I would have thought the proper response of movie Danny would have been “Doh!” rather than “Oy.”

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I figure that Bruno is basically just a big dumb guy who blindly follows orders. He isn’t malicious or anything, he just fails to think for himself or consider the consequences of his action the majority of the time. That’s in sharp contrast to Ferrett, who’s obviously going all-in on the evil & sadism and who enjoys being a brutal thug way too much. So when Ferret does finally get killed it’s definitely well-deserved, whereas you can’t help feeling at least a little bad for what ends up happening to Bruno.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Well, they warn you at Henchman Academy; it’s a hard life, and one without gratitude. Your corpse will be left for the birds of the air, and your family will mourn at a headstone with no body beneath it.

    But it’s worth it. It’s worth it in order to assist the madman who you know is the only really sane one in this cruel world as he strives to obtain world power and immortality.

    Granted, sometimes those schemes dwindle into “I’m gonna be Swamp Thing Dammit” and their plans get so damn complex and tangled, snarling up like a Puli’s coat–why the hell couldn’t you have grabbed the damn notebooks the first time you were there, playacting as the scientist’s security or cook or whatever? You spent HOURS slaving over that rubber mask and he just tore it up like it was from the Dollar Tree. You can’t remember, at this point, when you didn’t have some horrible rash in a sensitive place from that damn swamp water and you’re covered with snake bites and…

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Sometimes unbilled characters / actors are actually stunt men or stunt women. If they’re not credited with the cast, they might be listed instead in the ‘Stunts’ section of the credits, without a character name.

    Liked by 6 people

  5. …and at the back of your head, there’s the worry that your supervillain boss is going to blame the failure of his nonsense “plan” on you and call you a Bungling Nincompoop and shove you into his piranha tank or alligator pit or scorpion farm or acid bath…

    Liked by 5 people

  6. Henchpeople have the potential to be great characters, if the script only gives them a chance. Who can forget No. 21 and No. 24 from The Venture Bros?

    I also love the whole notion of explaining where villains’ endless supply of henchpeople come from. That’s why I loved Taskmaster in the comics but was disappointed by the character in Black Widow (which we’ll get to in another decade or so).

    Liked by 4 people

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