In the late Jonathan Demme’s 71 credits for direction, he was never typecast. He did everything from serious drama (“Philadelphia”) to things a bit more fun (“Swing Shift”). He even directed an episode of TV’s crime drama “Columbo” and he’s probably most recognized for “The Silence of the Lambs” (click here for my review) – in an odd turn he won the Oscar for it but not the Golden Globe. Still, I was delighted to note that he directed the wonderfully offbeat drama “Married to the Mob” with Michelle Pfeiffer. The film has just the right amount of not-taking-itself-seriously that it is a seriously entertaining film. Unfortunately, the only drag on the movie is the world-class jerk Alec Baldwin, but he does an acceptable job here. This one’s easy to find, so revisit it and you won’t be sorry.
‘Married to the Mob’
(1988; 104 minutes; rated R; directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Matthew Modine and Dean Stockwell)
WIVES CAN’T ESCAPE THE MOB EITHER
(NOTE: I added some links to this review on Aug. 1, 2016. I expanded the review with additional opinion and trivia and the updating of links on March 11, 2020.)
“Married to the Mob” is a raucous spin through the world of a group of Long Island mobsters that becomes a nice showcase for the work of Michelle Pfeiffer; Dean Stockwell, who earned an Oscar nomination for it; and especially Mercedes Ruehl, who should have gotten an Oscar for it.
Director Jonathan Demme, who would win an Oscar for “The Silence of the Lambs” three years later, does his usual outstanding work here and makes this one memorable where it would have been all too easy to have left it a heap in Hollywood’s junkyard.
For all its brassy opening credit graphics and feel for the potential of rollicking fun, “Married to the Mob” is a nice little drama that wisely doesn’t take itself too seriously – and so makes itself even better. The serious part of the storyline is always just under the surface and while the actors look like they’re having some fun, their work is as serious as a heart attack.
In “Married to the Mob,” Pfeiffer plays “Angela de Marco” and she’s married to mob soldier “Frank ‘The Cucumber’ de Marco” played by Alec Baldwin. However, she’s at a point where she’s tired of life in the mob and is looking for a divorce. Complicating matters is that at the same time that her husband is a fast-riser in the mob family, she’s become the amorous focus of attention from boss “Antonio ‘Tony the Tiger’ Russo” played with verve by Stockwell, who earned an Oscar nomination for his work here. Despite her lack of interest in Stockwell, she runs afoul of Stockwell’s wife, “Connie Russo” played with gleeful abandon and panache by Ruehl.
Pfeiffer’s problems are only compounded when Baldwin gets killed by Stockwell for sleeping with his mistress and the fact that the whole bunch of them is under surveillance by an FBI team headed by Matthew Modine as “FBI Agent Mike Downey.” Finally, she’s blackmailed into helping the FBI get evidence against Stockwell and it all comes to a head during a trip to Miami with Stockwell and a confrontation not only with the FBI, but also with Ruehl, who has been jealously tracking the supposed couple.
Although somewhat lighthearted at times and not-taking-itself-seriously throughout, the film is truly an “R” effort between the violence and a few short scenes with some nudity. “Married to the Mob” isn’t a typical “R” from the 1980s – it actually deserves it.
- A three-time Oscar nominee (not for this one), Pfeiffer does good work here. She’s got the part of the wise guy’s wife down pat, but also needs to work hard to show how the character is evolving into a new life. Pfeiffer is much better here than she was in her first film “The Hollywood Knights” (click here for my review) or “Grease 2” (click here for my review) or the saccharine “One Fine Day” with George Clooney, but certainly doesn’t match her effort in “Scarface” with Al Pacino. Her nominations came from “Love Field,” “The Fabulous Baker Boys” and “Dangerous Liaisons.” I also liked her effort in 2007’s “Hairspray.”
- Despite Pfeiffer being the headliner, Oscar winner (not for this one) Ruehl is the most energetic and watchable character here. Frankly, they should have focused the film on her and her character. Ruehl is flamboyant and easily shows how a mob boss’ wife can control the wives whose husbands report to him. At the same time, she’s horribly insecure (especially given Pfeiffer’s youth and beauty) and her scene confronting Stockwell over his intention of infidelity at the Miami hotel is tremendous. Ruehl has also been in “The Warriors” (click here for my review) and was excellent as the mother in “Big” with Tom Hanks.” She won her Oscar and a Golden Globe for “The Fisher King.”
- Stockwell nearly matches Ruehl’s performance here. He’s really great as “Tony the Tiger” and plays the mob boss as effectively in this film as Pacino did in “Scarface.” He goes from be almost a little boy with his mannerisms at times to the cold-blooded killer and hood he really is. Most of all, he’s hot for Pfeiffer (well, no surprise at that) and tracks her just like one of his business conquests. Stockwell, who has 204 acting credits spanning an astounding eight decades of work, has also been in “To Live and Die in L.A.” (click here for my review) as well as television work such as “Quantum Leap.” He hasn’t had an acting credit since 2015.
- Lost in this great cast is Golden Globe nominee (not for this one) Modine. His character falls in love with Pfeiffer and is the primary agent standing against Stockwell, but Modine does only a workmanlike job here and doesn’t manage to elevate it despite the large amount of screen time (some of which should have been used for Ruehl). Modine wasn’t as bland in “Vision Quest,” which was his first film, or HBO’s “And the Band Played On” (click here for my review) in which he was nominated for one Globe. He also had a wonderful turn as the star of the iconic Vietnam war film “Full Metal Jacket” (click here for my review).
- As for Baldwin … ah, who’s cares? I don’t.
- Speaking of elevating a role, two-time Oscar nominee Joan Cusack as mob wife “Rose” does a good job with not much in the way of dialogue. Cusack gets her character noticed despite it was in a prime position to easily get lost in the clutter. Cusack was also in “Grosse Point Blank” with her brother John (click her for my review) as well as her nominated films “In & Out” and “Working Girl.”
By the end of the film, Demme has taken you on a roller coaster ride that is prime cinema ticket! I’m sure you saw it years ago, but you should revisit it today. It has held up much better than most films of that era. Oh, Demme passed at 73 in 2017 of cancer and heart disease.
I was surprised to discover that “Married to the Mob” was just the 46th ranked film at the box office in 1988 with $21.4 million, according to Box Office Mojo. It was a minor success with investors with a budget of $10 million, according to Wiki. The No. 1 film was “Rain Man” with $172.8 million. Another top 10 film I really enjoyed that year was “Big” (No. 4 with $114.9 million) and “Cocktail” (No. 9 at $78.2 million – click here for my review), which Tom Cruise did instead of “Married to the Mob.” Here are the other films from 1988 that I’ve reviewed:
- “Betrayed” (solid social drama) – click here for my review
- “Caddyshack II” (sequel that’s crap) – click here for my review
- “Die Hard” (great action) – click here for my review
- “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” (great comedy) – click here for my review
- “Johnny Be Good” (crap) – click here for my review
- “License to Drive” (bad but funny youth flick) – click here for my review
- “Midnight Run” (really good De Niro) – click here for my review
- “Noble House” (great TV mini-series) – click here for my review
- “The Presidio” (excellent drama) – click here for my review
- “They Live” (not very good sci-fi) – click here for my review
- “Twins” (simply terrific Arnie-DeVito comedy) – click here for my review
Assorted cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):
- Al Lewis, who was most famously “Grandpa” on TV’s “The Munsters,” has a small spot here as “Uncle Joe Russo.” It’s always great to see him get work.
- Directly from IMDb.com: “The first Jonathan Demme film to use the Q Lazzarus song, “Goodbye Horses”. The second Demme film to famously use this song was Silence of the Lambs in 1991. Demme has also had a history of having Q Lazzarus songs in his films, including in Something Wild & Philadelphia.”
- Veteran supporting actor Charles Napier was “Ray” in a small part as Pfeiffer’s hair stylist and only has a couple of lines. However, I always enjoy seeing him in a film as such a familiar face in his prolific career of 199 credits over six decades in Hollywood. He died in 2011 at the age of 75. He was also in “The Silence of the Lambs.”
- Directly from IMDb.com: “According to Matthew Modine, he was depressed during the making of this film due to his rough experience while making Full Metal Jacket (1987).”
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