Written by / 4/23/2014 / No comments / , ,

ÉVOCATEUR: THE MORTON DOWNEY JR

2012 rating: **1/2
In the late 1980’s, Morton Downey Jr. entered the daytime talk show circuit as a chain-smoking firebrand screaming at guests, backed by a noisy and adoring audience who insiders nicknamed The Beast. And over a decade after his death, MDJ is subject of this interesting, involving yet distractingly biased documentary about the quick rise and even quicker fall of a television personality whose countenance was that of a bullying bull dog…

The film begins by showing clips of Morton Downey Sr., famous in the 1930s as a singer on stage and screen, and his dancing girl wife. The filmmakers chose to insert the words DADDY and MOMMY when referring to their subject’s parents, so right off the bat Junior’s getting bashed in a subtle way: Which is fine since no one would care about a propaganda piece… And the Downey legacy truly deserves a slap or two... But when a ten minute segment compares him with the modern Neo Cons (including Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity), while ominous music grinds in the background, you get the feeling there’s something deeper here than a retrospective on a – for use of a better word – “groundbreaking” talk show host.

Poster Artwork
In a politically-correct world of the bland yet pioneering Phil Donahue and his more successful upstart, Oprah Winfrey, Downey’s persona was a breath of fresh-hot air. Much like conservative screamer Wally George, Morton would have guests, from lawyers to feminists, that were set up to be thrown off in a vicious manner – the unpredictable element of just when each victim would fall through the floorboards was part of the show’s perpetual anti-charm.

Sporadic cartoons of Downey, usually shown as a hotheaded dragon with glimpses of a disapproving father’s ghost, are scattered throughout the interviews, mostly taken from ex producers and writers of his show, adding to the anti-Downey slant, although these subliminal attacks are sporadically countered by his musician best friend and daughter.

Downey wound up losing ratings, and his show, eventually faking a skinhead attack in a public restroom, something so desperate and pathetic it's the perfect conclusion to a somewhat loaded documentary that, despite the built-in gripe against conservative media... a noisy alternative to a much larger yet more subtle platform... even the stuff that makes Junior look awful is, at times, equally sympathetic. Perhaps the filmmakers are torn like Rodney Dangerfield’s character in BACK TO SCHOOL, confoundedly describing Sam Kinison’s neurotic, screaming history teacher in two sentences: “He really seems to care… About what I have no idea.”
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