If I hadn’t known any better I’d have said that Quackser Fortune was a simple-minded man. But I do know better; he’s not so much simple-minded as he is optimistic. Sure, he can’t read or write, and he might know very little about his hometown of Dublin, Ireland, but that doesn’t stop him from trying. Above all else, he wants to be happy. Even the prospect of falling in and out of love doesn’t do him much devastation.
Quackser’s played by Gene Wilder, in a role that suggests he might have been drugged with strong sedatives. There is none of the manic energy Wilder usually brings to his characters. He doesn’t scream. He doesn’t widen his eyes and mess up his hair. He is a down-to-earth everyday man, with a not so everyday job, and a family who couldn’t care for him more.
What’s his job? Get this. He’s the guy who runs after horses on the streets and collects their manure. He then sells it to household gardeners for a very small fee. Amidst all the hysteria of life, this is where he is most comfortable. He wakes up for work every morning with an inexplicable zest; he sprints out of the house, wheeling his manure cart. He jogs after horse-drawn delivery trucks and mounted police officers. He strikes up conversations with his clients (in some instances, he even sleeps with them). His life is set. It must feel kind of liberating to not yearn for anything more out of life.
I never knew such jobs existed. And neither does Zazel, the cute American exchange student who almost runs Quackser over with her smoking convertible and later tries to make amends by befriending him. She’s played by a pre-Superman Margot Kidder, and she’s got a smile that could melt any man’s heart. She succeeds in melting Quackser’s by first taking an interest in his unusual job and then later accepting it. Let’s just say it takes a real woman to sit in a cart full of horse poop. Where the story puts on some weight is in the opposite intention of both these characters. Quackser is the local. A very attractive girl has just fallen into his arms. To him, she’s the one. Zazel on the other hand is the foreigner. Ireland is but a fling. She already has a boyfriend — a rather obnoxious git — and plays Quackser out of sympathy.
This relationship is a strong one. It’s strong for the movie. Several times I had to second guess Zazel’s motives. She’s never forthcoming with her feelings, nor does she really talk to Quackser about the possibilities — or impossibilities — of their union. If you feel like she’s a cunning bitch who doesn’t deserve the innocent heart of Mr. Fortune, you might be on the right track. When her time in Ireland is over, the local pub becomes the only sanctuary for Quackser.
And what of this mysterious cousin in the Bronx? We never see him. All we know is that he’s rich, and Quackser often suggests that he move there to live a cleaner, more fruitful life. There’s a sweet little revelation at the end that thwarts this idea. But it leads to a better one. It leads to an idea that seems to point at the indelible mark Zazel leaves on Quackser. Remember how the heartbreak of love proves to be of little consequence to him? This final idea seals the envelope with a 200 Pound kiss.
Best Moment | Quackser destroying his manure cart.
Worst Moment | Nope.