Married to the Mob is a Jonathan Demme movie, made when he was really at the height of his career—it’s the one that arrived in between Something Wild and The Silence of the Lambs, the same period when he did his performance films like Stop Making Sense and Swimming to Cambodia with Spalding Gray. At this point Demme had really cemented his idiosyncratic style, which had developed through his time in the Corman stable and was perfected by 1980’s Melvin and Howard. He was like a 1980s Preston Sturgis.
It’s sort of a gangster-film spoof, starring Michelle Pfeiffer as Angela, wife of mobster Frank ‘Cucumber’ DeMarco (Alec Baldwin). They’re unhappily married, and when he gets killed, his former Mob boss Tony ‘the Tiger’ Russo is immediately trying to get in her pants. Meanwhile, the other Mob wives all think she’s into Russo, but in reality she really wants to get out of the Mob life. The FBI are trying to get closer, too, with hip FBI agent Mike Downey (Matthew Modine) surveilling Angela, hoping he can get her to help take down Tony.
It’s a zany, over the-top comedy that has all the hallmarks of Demme’s style, which at that point could be almost compared to Pedro Almodóvar’s. Demme sends up plenty of tropes from the mob-movie genre, and gives Michelle Pfeiffer a chance to show her dramatic range as an actress—before this, she was mainly seen as a pretty face.
The costumes are insane, the most ’80s clothes ever, with huge shoulder pads and all the rest. Modine at that point was mainly known for Full Metal Jacket, which while also funny was a very different performance from what he delivers here. Dean Stockwell is wrong for the part of a Mob boss as could be but he works—he doesn’t look the least bit Italian—so he must have had some box-office cred after Blue Velvet. Married to the Mob also brings together a big cast of great supporting actors, including Chris Isaak in his first film role and one of Mercedes Ruehl’s first big parts as the angry wife of ‘Big Tony.’
The plot’s all over the place, but that’s the point of this kooky film. One thing I especially like is the end credits, which roll over all the scenes they deleted with a score from the songs that feature in the movie. And it’s a fantastic score: New Order’s ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ was the film’s theme song. David Byrne did the soundtrack, there’s a Chris Isaak song and of course the Feelies, plus Q Lazzarus’s ‘Goodbye Horses,’ a weird choice that apparently ended up there because Demme was handed a tape after working on the Sun City video. Demme’s most famous needle-drop would of course be Q Lazzarus’s ‘Goodbye Horses’ when Buffalo Bill tucks their dick in The Silence of the Lambs a few years later.
I can’t imagine they stayed that faithful to whatever the original script was, because this film definitely has the feel of some actor improv, and the screenwriters listed haven’t gone on to great careers. And of course the cinematography is great, done by Tak Fujimoto, who worked frequently with Demme right up through his Manchurian Candidate remake and was always his secret weapon. Fujimoto had shot Badlands for Terrence Malick, and Demme snapped him up straight away.
If you haven’t seen Married to the Mob, it’s a fun movie, well-made by one of the great directors. Demme’s work holds up much better than a lot of stuff from the 1980s. Of his earliest films, Something Wild and Melvin and Howard are well worth seeing, but you should also seek this release out for Married in the Mob, because it’s excellent. The plot may be messy, but it has strong performances—and while Stockwell got an Oscar nomination for it, it should have been Pfeiffer and Ruehl as well.
This is the first UK release from Fun City Editions, a label that has been going in the US for a while with releases of films like Radio On, Smile and Rancho Deluxe. There’s nothing new here that’s not on the US release, but if you don’t have that one, special features include interviews with the screenwriters, Ruehl and Modine; a new audio commentary from ‘I Saw What You Did’ podcasters Danielle Henderson and Millie De Chirico; image gallery, theatrical trailer, and a booklet featuring new essays about the film.