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?
We try to puzzle out the mystery of Arcane
3.20: Seize the Day
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.
We try to puzzle out the mystery of Arcane
3.20: Seize the Day
— Danny Horn