Thursday, March 20, 2008

Movie Review: Quigley Down Under (1990)... John Brown loves westerns...

Quigley Down Under is a decent western. On any other day, it ranks 3 cowboys on my 5 cowboy scale. Today, though, it gets 5. Because sometimes it's nice to remember things like cold nights in warm theaters when you have so much less past than future with Tom Selleck looming 10 feet tall, rolling his own and Laura San Giacomo's breasts heaving.

Quigley Down Under (1990)

I smoked Marlboros in the movie theater with a bottle of Miller High Life in the cup holder of my seat.

It was 1990 and there were only four of us in the place. We knew the girls who made part-time money running the old downtown theater on weeknights. They bought pot from the projectionist, got hammered on Night Train while leaning on the popcorn machine, and didn't give a flying fuck if we smoked during the movie if we were the only ones there.

This wasn't the last time my college roommate and I would spend a few hours watching free flicks with the girls on a Wednesday night, but it was the first. I was 21 years old and the movie was Quigley Down Under.

Quigley Down Under is a smoking movie. I haven't seen it for awhile, but I remember Tom Selleck, playing the title role of Matthew Quigley, rolling his own. I think his co-star, Laura San Giacomo smoked in the movie, too. I smoked in the theater. Silver S patterns drifted up toward an unused balcony.

Smoking was already on its way out. The shopping malls that had recently played host to roving packs of smoking would-be tough guys and puffing high school girls who (sometimes successfully) tried to look a little older and sexier than they were had recently implemented bans. Non-smoking areas were taking up more space in restaurants.

The stand-up ashtrays that once rested at the end of every aisle in discount stores were already historical relics, but every Taco Tico and Burger King still had a stack of gold foil disposable ashtrays at the condiment rack. Slowly, but surely, smoking was drifting up and away like a memory.

I probably smoked a pack during Quigley Down Under. The allure of smoking in one of the true tobacco forbidden zones, the theater, was too great to resist. That's why Quigley Down Under tastes like smoke and ash. That's why this Australia-based western has the smell of a fresh Marlboro. It leaves flecks of dried tobacco on my jeans.

Quigley Down Under feels like breasts. Soft, big, hanging, whiter-than-white-even-in-the-dark breasts. Laura San Giacomo's breasts, attached to a college girl who doesn't even know they aren't her own. It was about halfway through Quigley and a pack of Marlboros that I decided I was going to have sex with Amy. That was Laura San Giacomo's fault. Crazy Cora of Quigley Down Under, sweat-dirty and running around the Australian outback with Tom Selleck, convinced me to call Amy that night.

I've never been a fan of Laura San Giacomo. The eyebrows bother me. Her smile is somehow intimidating, her triangular face has never seemed inviting. When you're slamming Miller High Lifes during Quigley Down Under, however, she is pure inspiration. More specifically, I suppose, her breasts are inspiration. They star with Tom Selleck's mustache and the harsh landscape of the outback. Quigley Down Under, starring Laura San Giacomo's tits. They should've won an Oscar.

I absorbed enough of Matthew Quigley to bed my own Crazy Cora that night. I didn't have Tom Selleck's mustache, height or laconic western star charm, but I did have just enough cowboy hero in me to make things happen. Amy didn't have the hoop skirt or delusions, but she was willing and had Laura San Giacomo's chest (or, at least, a tolerable replica).

Though set in 1870s Australia, Quigley is 1990. It's Alan Rickman playing Hans Gruber from Die Hard, the quintessential movie villain of the era, with a different name. His Elliot Marston is a one-century-before version of the sneering Bruce Willis foe. Rickman would do it again a year later, as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood. He had one helluva bad guy streak going and Quigley is its mid-point.

Quigley Down Under is a traditional western, with a few 90s updates. The story has been moved to the land down under and has been injected with a Hollywood version of a new politically correct sensibility. The Aborigines are heroic and magical in a way Comanche, Sioux and Apache usually aren't.

Tom Selleck isn't Magnum, PI. Laura San Giacomo is one year removed from Sex, Lies and Videotape and is six years away from sit-com semi-stardom. Slobodan Milosevic is the new President of Serbia and people are still driving Yugos around town. We are gearing up for the first Gulf War and Saddam Hussein doesn't seem worried. Tim Berners-Lee is building the tools that would eventually make the Internet work and we have no fucking clue.

Jenny and Diane are drinking Night Train and we are drinking High Life because slumming is funny and old-school crap makes you cool. We are smoking because smoking is cooler than drinking Night Train and High Life. We are all away from moms and dads for the first time.

The boys want to be Matthew Quigley: fierce fighters, deadly shots, rolling our own, killing Gruber/Marston and getting the big-titted woman in the end. I don't know if the girls want to be Crazy Cora, but they probably wouldn't mind a little Tom Selleck in their lives.

Westerns aren't cool in 1990. They aren't that cool now, but they certainly aren't cool in 1990. Maybe we're watching because it's ironic, just like the cheap swill. Maybe we're there because there's nothing else to do on a Wednesday night. I don't remember. I remember Quigley Down Under, though. I see it through whisps of burning tobacco. I watch it with a feeling of anticipation about Amy sharing space with the smoke in my chest.

Now we don't smoke anywhere. Maybe in a strip bar or a casino. Some of both have even banned the practice. The idea of ordering a burrito at Taco Bell with a Winston hanging out of your mouth is almost impossible to hold in your mind. Now we smoke in the designated areas, far away from the hyper-sensitive lungs of others, hopefully out of the range of their critical eyes. No one gives away disposable foil ashtrays.

The girls sell ad space. They litigate multi-million dollar cases in faraway jursidictions. Rehab and rich parents make things happen. Amy probably had a breast reduction surgery, moved to another state and married an architect just like the one in that Gordon Lightfoot song they play every winter. My friend disappeared into a desert, re-emerged, went to the iciest parts of Canada and disappeared again. I'm here. I'm living a relatively normal life that's free of Night Train and very rarely involves Miller High Life. I have a mustache now, but it has nothing to do with Matthew Quigley. I swear. Besides, it's not nearly as impressive as Selleck's. I still want to bang Laura San Giacomo even though I really don't think she's that hot. It's a weird thing.

Before Tom Selleck smoked as Quigley, he was a poster boy for Salem cigarettes. Later, he'd shave the 'stache and the hair to play Kansas' own Dwight D. Eisenhower. He started smoking in earnest to get the part down pat. He didn't like it. Made him sick. In my mind, Tom Selleck was a cigarette smoker. When I learned about his experience playing Ike it made me a little sad. I felt a little cheated.

I've now learned that he is a cigar smoker and that he, like me, wishes we could go back to a time when fast food joints could make their own decisions about who should smoke where. If I had a disposable foil ashtray, I'd write a note on it and send it to him in solidarity. I don't know if we'd agree on anything else, although I suspect we might both have fond regard for his Quigley co-star's twin orbs.

Speaking of which, does Laura San Giacomo smoke? I don't know. There's evidence to suggest she might. An interview with the LA Times and her performance in Quigley Down Under sort of point to "yes". Who knows?

Quigley Down Under has a spectacular score. It's true western movie music and you'll be humming or whistling it against your will. Simon Wincer has an eye for the outback and does his best to duplicate John Ford's gift for making a character out of landscape. Wincer gives us a great tour of the outback and its decidedly harsh beauty.

The plot is sort of clever and deviates just enough from standard expectations to be fun without being challenging. There's enough action to satisfy the bloodlust of the average western watcher and the flick moves along at a just-about-right pace.

Everyone overacts, the Aborigine issue is handled earnestly but with a ham fist and the recapturing of Crazy Cora's sanity is silly but still engaging. Quigley Down Under has a fistful of flaws, but it's still a very likable western.

Quigley Down Under is a decent movie. On any other day, it ranks 3 cowboys on my 5 cowboy scale. Today, though, it gets 5. Because sometimes it's nice to remember things like cold nights in warm theaters when you have so much less past than future with Tom Selleck looming 10 feet tall, rolling his own and Laura San Giacomo's breasts heaving.


(5/5 Singing Cowboys)

Other Quigley stuff...

A few continuity errors...
Lamenting Encore's love of Quigley (with video!)...
The Write Snark can watch Quigley 200 times...
Thai Nights appreciates Quigley's score...
Bobdeloyd digs himself some Quigley!


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  1. "Because sometimes it's nice to remember things like cold nights in warm theaters when you have so much less past than future with Tom Selleck looming 10 feet tall, rolling his own and Laura San Giacomo's breasts heaving."


  2. Hey thanks for this useful information. I guess movies in that time ia having their own charm and you have presented in such a graceful way. Thanks again n keep writing these blogs

  3. Just caught this flick on one of the 400 "we don't spend our money licensing movies" cable channels and thought I'd see what the reviews had to say. Then I found this article, and was impressed enough to feel the need to comment. The great imagery reminded me of days spent trying to build up the courage to drop $2.50 into a cigarette machine and sneak a smoke with another barely pubescent friend, inevitably vomiting when the deed was done. Ah, memories, thank you for that. Unfortunately I'm still not sure if I just read a movie review or not, but really who the hell cares. Cheers!