Russell Mulcahy

Russell Mulcahy was arguably the first of that detestable phenomenon: the music vide director turned feature film director. His work was awash in style and bathos, the perfect visual companion to the musical stylings of Duran Duran, to whom he may have been called house director.

His most famous effort is still Highlander, that epic tale of immortal buffoonery, starring – inexplicably – Christopher Lambert as a Scot and – more inexplicably – Sean Connery as a Spaniard. It will forever retain a place in my heart for the sheer thrill ride of fun that it is. A perfectly cast Clancy Brown as the baddest badass in the history of badassery makes for half the movie; skillfully edited segues, gorgeous backdrops, stylish beheadings and THAT Queen song accompanying the death of Connor’s wife make up for the rest; the plot isn’t the sturdiest, but it’s a small complaint overall. The movie is so much fun that even the atrocious sequel couldn’t really mar it. Mulcahy left the franchise after that, secure in the knowledge that his two efforts had scaled both the highest and plumbed the lowest. None of the other sequels have come over as anything but middling when faced with Mulcahy’s efforts.

Highlander was, however, not his debut: that honor goes to Derek and Clive Get the Horn _ with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. I haven’t seen it, so I’ll not comment. His second feature was _Razorback, a horror movie about a wild killer boar in the Australian outback. Not a classic, but it’s done with an amount of panache and a visual sense that aids the low budget, not to mention a tongue planted very firmly in cheek – to be more entertaining that it has any reason to be.

He has commanded actor such as Denzel Washington, John Lithgow, Michael Caine, Kim Basinger and Geoffrey Rush.

He made the unloved, though possibly maligned, The Shadow, which took a critical pounding and tanked at the box office. Having no knowledge of “The Shadow” beyond the fact that it was some sort of pulp series and that Howard Chaykin (I think – I can’t be bothered to look it up) resurrected in the late 80s, I enjoyed Mulcahy’s movie version to no end. I admit it’s no classic, but it’s a guilty pleasure all the same.

As a matter of fact, I have seen most of Mulcahy’s movies, and have a simple admission: I like him. He has one bona fide classic – a genre classic, granted, but a classic nonetheless, at least one bona fide stinker, and several good and some middling. His name will never be mentioned in the hushed breath of a Kubrick or Spielberg, but he’s a good craftsman and a good entertainer. many of his movies are uninspired – see such efforts as Resurrection, clearly a rip-off of 7even, though entertaining enough to slip into the “homage” category.

I was moved to jot all this down after seeing his 2003 effort Swimming Upstream, the biopic of Australian swimmer Tony Fingleton. Geoffrey Rush stole the show, as he often does, and there were perhaps a few too many split screens (Time Out pointed out one almost expected Steve McQueen to stride onscreen), but the rest of the cast turn in solid performances also – and Mulcahy’s direction has much to do with that. I have also learned he directed a TV version of Stanley Kramer’s On the Beach which some feel surpasses the original. (Of course, chopping an hour or so would to the job as nicely)

I’m not convinced Mulcahy has a true classic in him, but all the same, he will have a spot in my movie heart as one of “those guys” – the ones whose work I always enjoy on a gut level, if not intellectual, and who, at the end of the day, I think it would be fun to have a beer with.