Hard Boiled and Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead
Today’s movies are from the early 1990s, (1992 and 1991, respectively). Hard Boiled is often cited as the preeminent early John Woo film, a blood-soaked thriller about a badass cop who teams up with a badass undercover cop to take down a badass Triad boss. Did I mention everyone in the film is badass? Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead is, by contrast, about a bunch of people who are not badasses, children, mostly. These waifs must find a way to buck up and get by as they struggle to feed themselves after their babysitter dies and takes all their money with her.
They don’t seem like an ideal match, but they’re interesting to see together. A few thoughts:
- Both films focus on an undercover character who must continually grapple with the dangers of the job (either as a hitman or an executive secretary), must lie to people they like, and must ultimately confess their deception to the boss who has come to love them. In both cases, the boss surprises us by loving the person enough to overlook their dishonesty. In one of the films, the boss then demands that the liar give him an honorable death by shooting him, and in the other the boss offers to help the liar get into Vassar. I won’t ruin it by telling you which is which.
- The early 1990s were a weird time, cinematically. Families were in danger and violence was everywhere. It’s odd but not that strange to think of these two films as representative of the cinematic landscape at the time. Indeed, Hard Boiled fits the genre of shoot-em-up, take-no-prisoners films of the late 80s, essentially being in the same ballpark as Lethal Weapon. DTMTBSD fits the other trope, of the endangered family. Like Mister Mom or Home Alone or Three Men and a Baby, we have juveniles (literal or spiritual) who, when confronted with the responsibility of life, pull themselves up by their bootstraps and make a go of it.
- Both our protagonists are pretty cavalier about stepping on their colleagues to get things done. In DTMTBSD, Sue Ellen relies on a nice co-worker (played by Kimmy Robertson of Twin Peaks) to do the difficult work for her. While she feels bad about it, she doesn’t do much to help her out, either. In Hard Boiled, Inspector Yuen brings his co-workers into insanely dangerous situations and then watches them die around him.
- Improbable and stupid nicknames are the name of the game for these films. Inspector Yuen goes by Tequila, while Sue Ellen answers to Swell. Swell Tequila sounds like an off-market brand of Mexican liquor, while Tequila Swell sounds like either a specific kind of sun-lit water formation or a South-of-the-border strip joint.
A few notes on the films individually:
- I normally dislike John Woo films. A lot. I made a short video in grad school just called “I Hate John Woo.” That said, Hard Boiled wasn’t bad. It was dated, but it had good qualities given its era. I would still much rather watch any number of other movies, even if they rip off aspects of his style. I enjoyed, particularly, the baby-handling scene, in which Tequila must navigate an exploding, villain-filled hospital while carrying an infant. (Though both the recent aptly-named thriller Shoot ‘Em Up and the classic Coen brothers film Raising Arizona do better jobs handling babies in trouble.) When he arrives at the ambulance, oddly, he just hands the baby to the first lady who runs up and says “Is that my baby?”
- Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead doesn’t hold up very well — not nearly as well as, say, Adventures in Babysitting. But it is chalk FULL of people you’ve seen before but forgot were in the film. I already mentioned Kimmy Robertson, but there’s also Joanna Cassidy (the snake charmer in Blade Runner), and John Getz (a character actor you’ll definitely recognize, but who had just appeared the previous year in Men at Work as the corrupt politician) when this film came out. Even more recognizable is David Duchovny as the sleazy boyfriend of Jayne Brook, another actress you’d recognize. In a strange bit of cinematic incest, a teenage Josh Charles plays Brook’s younger brother, but later the two would appear on screen together again, this time with Brook playing a short-lived love interest for Charles on Sports Night. Finally, I’d like to say how annoyed I was that the kids got rid of the babysitter’s body by dumping it at the mortuary. The cover clearly implies they bury her with her legs sticking out of the ground, and that’s what I wanted, dammit.
I didn’t hate either film, but neither film is worth going out of your way to see, for my money.