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CROCODILE DUNDEE IN LOS ANGELES

CROC OF GOLD
After 13 years away from the screen, Paul Hogan returns. Nick Roddick looks back at the legend and forward to Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles.

Let me start with a small anecdote - you’ll understand why. On a cool autumn evening in April 1986 (April is autumn in the Southern Hemisphere), I went to a preview screening of a new Australian film in the big Hoyts cinema on Melbourne's Bourke Street.

As Editor of Australia’s leading movie magazine, Cinema Papers, I went to lots of previews of Australian films. But this one was different: there was a huge buzz about it and we had already put its star, Paul Hogan, on the cover of our next issue. A couple of weeks later, we would be promoting the issue in Cannes, so I needed to know what the film was about. The film was, of course, ‘Crocodile’ Dundee.

"more than just clever marketing"

Right from that very first aerial shot of a helicopter swooping over the Northern Territory accompanied by Peter Best's pounding score, I was hooked. I knew, of course, that the film had been carefully market-researched. Hoges’ ‘Put another shrimp on the barbie’ campaign promoting Aussie tourism on US television was specifically designed to make him familiar to US audiences before the movie was released. But this was more than just clever marketing. This seemed to be a take on Oz that was romantic enough to appeal to foreigners, but also sufficiently tongue-in-cheek to cut it with a local audience. At the end, the response was rapturous.

"That film," I said to my deputy editor on the way out, "is going to make shit-loads of money." She disagreed: like a lot of right-thinking Australian women, she tended to be dismissive of the Hogan sense of humour. The first-ever review of the film, which appeared in the movie trade paper, Variety, wasn't so great, either. For Variety’s reviewer, the Australian bureau chief Don Groves, this was just another example of parochial Aussie humour that had zero chance of appealing to overseas audiences.

"break box-office records"

By the time I read Groves’ review, however, I had already written the letter that would go out with the Cannes copies. It began: "On the cover is Paul Hogan, whose new film, ‘Crocodile’ Dundee, has just opened to record business down under…" It wasn’t until weeks later I realised I had written and signed off on that statement a full week before ‘Crocodile’ Dundee’s actual Australian public premiere. That's not the sort of gamble I would recommend to other editors, least of all in the movie business.

But I needn’t have worried: Hoges’ film did indeed break box-office records down under. It also went on to take a staggering US$360 million worldwide, ending up the No 1 film of 1987 in most countries (the film didn’t open in the US until the northern-hemisphere autumn of 1986, and not until the spring of 1987 around the world).

"loved the character"

The sequel did slightly less well (US$250 million worldwide), but then Hoges announced he was going to hang up his boots and his that’s-what-I-call-a-knife thereafter, take it easy on his substantial share of the proceeds, and make only the occasional return to the movie screen. It was a decision of which his most famous fictional creation would have approved. "The more the world speeds up," notes Hogan, "the more Mick Dundee slows down."

But it was on one of those occasional returns to the screen - the 1996 movie Flipper - that Hogan met a person every bit as persistent as a Walkabout Creek crocodile: Flipper's executive producer, Lance Hool.

"I kept on bugging him that he should do a third story," says Hool, who started in the business as an actor in 1970’s Soldier Blue and has 21 movies to his credit as a producer. "People loved the character of Mick Dundee, and they missed him."

"a bit more cosmopolitan"

This struck a chord with Hogan who, it turned out, had actually been missing Mick a bit as well. "I wondered what he was doing with himself," he says, with that trademark grin. Hogan also admits that his resolution after ‘Crocodile’ Dundee II was beginning to waver. "For probably the last three years, I’ve been saying that if I woke up with a really good idea, then maybe I might do it," he recalled on the set of the third 'Crocodile' Dundee film, which finally rolled in September 2000. "This time, Mick thinks he’s a bit more cosmopolitan because he’s spent a month in New York" - a couple of weeks in ‘Crocodile' Dundee and a couple in ‘Crocodile' Dundee II - "but of course he’s really still exactly the same."

The idea that brought it all into focus becomes clear as soon as you realise where Hogan is when he's saying this: on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. Hence the title: Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles (purists may like to note that the quote marks round 'Crocodile' seem to have been dropped this time around).

"a strange, unreal sort of place"

Hogan himself has spent his share of time in Tinseltown and, like most people, developed a love-hate relationship with the city. "I lived in Los Angeles for a couple of years," he says, "and I realised what a strange, unreal sort of place it was. Eventually, the penny dropped: this is the place to bring Mick Dundee - because he’s so grounded and, given the unreality of the city, he’s a perfect contrast to it. Also, Mick realises he’s a dying breed, you know? There aren’t crocodile hunters anymore: it’s illegal now. So he’s little more than a tourist guide and a crocodile wrangler. And he’s thinking he might find something more interesting to do."

So, while the new film starts out in the familiar setting of Walkabout Creek, it swiftly moves east (Los Angeles being east of Australia) when Mick's partner, Sue Charlton, played by Hogan's real-life partner, Linda Kozlowski (they met on the first film), is summoned by her newspaper-owning father to run the LA office. Mick follows her, hoping to introduce their son Mikey - played by newcomer Serge Cockburn - to the wonders of Southern California. Before long, however, Mick gets caught up, as only Mick can, in the investigation into the death of Sue's predecessor. And Mikey, too, finds himself more involved in the Southern California dream than your average tourist.

"naïve but plain-spoken"

"This film is a little different from the other two," says veteran Aussie director Simon Wincer (Phar Lap, Free Willy). Wincer describes himself as "the new boy on the block": even though he has been friends with the star for years, this is his first 'Crocodile' Dundee movie (he did, however, direct Hogan in Lightning Jack). "The first film was a romantic comedy," he says, "and the second was kind of an action/adventure/romance. This one is very much a comedy."

More so even than in the first two films, Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles works by setting up the naïve but plain-spoken Mick - remember the scene in the first film where he finally figures out what a bidet does? - as an observer of American urban life. And it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the possibilities provided by the City of Angels are rather greater than those offered by the Big Apple.

"a mythical Australian"

"The whole thing with Mick Dundee is that nothing has changed in his part of the world," says Hogan. "He’s a mythical Australian that we hope is still out there somewhere and you want to run into him in the bush. After I’d taken him to New York, I decided to take him to a city that is a weird world all to itself: Los Angeles. It’s such a strange, hip town that it’s perfect for someone like Mick!"

Kozlowski worked on the screenplay with Hogan, making sure he got the American parts right. "I would say things like, 'I don’t think Sue would say that'," she recalls, "and 'An American woman doesn’t talk like that'. I would put my two cents in: he appreciates that, as an Aussie man, he doesn’t always get it right with Sue."

"a certain Australian easy-going thing"

As for Mick, however, Kozlowski recognises that Hogan is the true expert. "I think the character was born within him," she says. "There’s a certain Australian easy-going thing that is definitely there. But Mick Dundee is more outgoing and Paul’s a little bit more reserved - and, thank goodness, more sophisticated. We don’t have any knives stuck in our walls or possums on our table."

Having started production on Australia's Gold Coast in mid-August, Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles began shooting in California on September 18, using locations in Pasadena, Beverly Hills, Century City, Santa Monica, Venice and in the city's consumer mecca, 2 Rodeo Plaza.

"months of negotiations"

The company also managed to shut down a stretch of the Glendale Freeway for a scene in which Mick and his son stop traffic in the belief that they are rescuing a dog. It took months of negotiations with the LAPD to get permission for the brief shutdown, during which they land three helicopters on the Freeway. But permission was almost refused at the last moment, when the Caltrans Authority stepped in, arguing that the shutdown would disturb the flow of traffic to and from Dodgers Stadium. Location manager David Thornsberry finally won the day by pointing out that, since the Dodgers had been doing so badly all season and didn't stand a chance of reaching the play-offs, there weren't enough fans heading for the Stadium to make much of a difference. Caltrans conceded defeat.

In addition to young Serge Cockburn - whose parents did a video of him, telling him it was a souvenir for his grandparents, then sent it to the casting office - the cast of the third outing includes such regulars as Alec Wilson, playing Mick's mate Jacko. Newcomers include stand-up comedian Paul Rodriguez, who plays Mick's new friend, Diego; Jere Burns as sleazy studio head Arnon Rothman; and Aida Turturro (Tony's sister Janice from The Sopranos) as Sue's street-wise assistant, Jean.

"fruits of his celebrity"

One performer sadly not notching up a hat-trick, however, is Charlie the water buffalo, who Mick memorably faced down in the first movie. Charlie spent the following 15 years enjoying the fruits of his celebrity, standing happily in the shade next to the Adelaide River Inn in McKinlay (the town used as a location for Walkabout Creek), allowing tourists to have their photos taken with him.

Charlie finally went to the great hunting grounds in the sky not long ago. But McKinlay is not about to let him go just yet: thanks to the local taxidermist, Charlie is now back on his old spot. The only difference is that there's no longer any chance he might move and blur your photograph.

Which is more than can be said for Mick Dundee.

Published April 12, 2001

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