Considering that he collects and sells horse manure for a living, Irishman Quackser Fortune has a bright outlook on life. He makes his own hours, takes a different route every day through the streets of his beloved Dublin, and won’t listen to people who say that horse-drawn delivery carts may soon get replaced by trucks, rendering his profession obsolete. Quackser treats others with affection and respect, expecting nothing but the same in return. Which is why he’s thrown for such a loop when he meets Zazel Pierce, a beautiful but capricious American spending time in Dublin while doing research at Trinity College. Quackser’s instantly attracted to Zazel, and she feels the same way, but their value systems couldn’t be more different. And that’s the beautifully simple premise of Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx, a delightful love story featuring what might be Gene Wilder’s most restrained performance.
Bereft of his usual tics—the bug-eyed reaction shots, the pratfalls, the screaming—Wilder leads with his innate sweetness, and yet he never makes Quackser seem like a rube. Instead, the character comes across as that rarest of animals, a true innocent. Concurrently, Margot Kidder blends sexiness and worldliness to present Zazel as a modern woman who occasionally wants to meet Quackser on his own level, but then loses interest in him whenever something more challenging comes along. In one of the great victories of Gabriel Walsh’s original script, which was rightfully nominated for a WGA Award, Zazel comes across neither as a contrivance or a villain, but rather as a unique person who falls into the orbit of another unique person. This is character work of the best kind.
And if the rest of the movie fails to hit that same high level, no matter. The world surrounding Quackser is a believable grind of factory work, hot-tempered relatives, and provincial attitudes. Similarly, Zazel’s sphere includes obnoxious people who wear their education and wealth like shields protecting them from the unclean touch of the rabble. Yes, the dichotomy is predicated on stereotypes, but Quackser and Zazel are such interesting creations that the broad-strokes backdrop works. Cinematographer Gilbert Taylor and director Waris Hussein make great use of extensive location photography, transforming Dublin into the magical canvas upon which the sort-of love story between Quackser and Zazel is painted. Meanwhile, the leading actors fill that painting with resplendent colors.
Often bittersweet, Quackser Fortune is more of a light drama than an outright comedy, which makes Wilder’s presence even more interesting, since he rarely worked outside the comic realm during his heyday. And though the world is a richer place because of the lunacy Wilder created with Mel Brooks, Richard Pryor, and other collaborators, Quackser Fortune points to another viable path his career could have taken. His performance is as lovely as the film itself.
Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx: RIGHT ON