Directed by John McNaughton
Written by Richard Price
Starring Robert De Niro, Uma Thurman, Bill Murray, David Caruso, Mike Starr
I’ve always noticed that some actors are particularly good when they’re cast against type. People who started doing a lot of villains, like Telly Savalas and Peter Falk, can play very good heroes when given the chance. Some who are used to playing good guys, like Fred MacMurray, make really great villains (see The Apartment). And when more than one actor is cast against type, the results can be surprisingly good.
Mad Dog and Glory is a case in point.
Wayne “Mad Dog” Dobie (Robert De Niro) is a cop. Not one who pounds a beat, but a timid police photographer who’s never had to draw his gun. One night, he stumbles on a convenience store holdup and scares off the crook just before he can kill Frank Milo (Bill Murray). Milo is grateful. He is also a crime boss and in his gratitude, he send Mad Dog a present: Glory (Uma Thurman), a woman who is in hock to Milo and has to follow his orders. She is Mad Dog’s for one week, to do whatever he wants.
It’s not the best start to a relationship. But Mad Dog and Glory find an affinity and decide they want to be together once the week is over. But Milo is not about to allow that: the deal is for one week, and he’s not the type of person who lets others change the terms of things.
De Niro is quiet and very laid back as Mad Dog,* a nice guy who is a little embarrassed by the whole situation until he gets to know Glory. Murray gets away from the wiseass persona he had adopted around this point in his career, playing Milo as a menacing bully – who also is seeing a shrink** and performing in a comedy club.
Uma Thurman is also a the top of her game. Her Glory is a real person with problems in addition to Milo, and needs to move on to some stability. David Caruso, just before NYPD Blue made him a star,*** is good as Mad Dog’s best friend, while Mike Starr was his usual down-to-Earth self as one of Milo’s henchmen.
The writer, Richard Price, had come to prominence with the script to The Color of Money, and director John McNaughton had made some waves with Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.
But the film didn’t do well at the box office. People found its mood confusing: it starts out with Mad Dog photographing a couple of bloody murders, the veers to comedy, and then romance, then back. The climactic scene with Milo and Mad Dog is funny and also very serious. This is by design – I think both McNaughton and Price knew what they were doing – but audiences weren’t really sure what sort of movie it was.
The film faded from memory as all the actors went on to other things. It’s still a strange and charming comedy that is a mix of humor, romance, and deadly serious situations.
*The nickname is ironic, and, of course, has nothing to do with Mad Dog.
**Shades of Analyize This!
***Actually, Caruso first came to my attention in Hill Street Blues, where he had a recurring role as a young gangleader. Evidently Stephen Bochco had forgotten that when he cast Caruso in NYPD Blue