Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx was adapted from a Gabriel Walsh screenplay and directed by Waris Hussein in 1970. The vast majority of the scenes were filmed in Dublin. It remains one of the most unusual films of the decade, sharing a kindred spirit with the likes of Harold and Maude, Electra Glide In Blue and Brewster McCloud. The anti-hero is Gene Wilder’s Quackser Fortune; a man who makes his living in a most unusual way – by collecting waste and then selling it on.
“Horse manure. Fresh dung!”
Quackser’s family do not share his enthusiasm for crap. His parents (Seamus Forde and May Ollis) want him to take a position in the local foundry while the Minister for Transport has condemned Dublin’s delivery horses as “relics of a dead past” and is anxious for them to be pensioned off. But Quackser soldiers on and happily pushes his wheelbarrow through our city centre (shot with a dingy eye by Gil Taylor). His initial female interest is Betsy Bourke (played by Eileen Colgan of Glenroe and Fair City fame). There’s a bizarre scene that shows the two of them discussing jam, marmalade and tea before stripping off at her kitchen table.
But true love strikes in the form of Zazel Pierce, a flakey exchange student from Connecticut who is
studying at Trinity College. Margot Kidder excels in this role – only her second film performance. She is full of tourist-guide information about the city that she quickly imparts to the Quackser. There’s a fairly instant chemistry between them that culminates in a memorable scene in the local pub where Zazel gives up her shoes to leather-expert Maguire (David Kelly).
Just like Godot, Quackser’s Bronx-based cousin never materialises. There is something intangible about his existence – spoken in reverent tones by the family but far removed from their drudge-filled lives in Ireland. Quackser and Zazel’s romance is also difficult to sustain – an underlying edge being present throughout despite their obvious passion for each other. This sense of doom bears fruit at the Trinity College Boat Club ball where Zazel’s boorish friends humilate the gauche Quackser. A hasty trip to a nearby hotel re-affirms their ultimate incompatability. It seems that Zazel has found herself.
The final quarter of the film centres on Quackser’s reaction to the ending of this brief affair. He liberates the horses from Spencer Dock (now condemned to death as the engine has taken over) and decides to emigrate to New York. But first there’s a pretty grotesque and hallucinatory pub scene. And then the denouement about his Bronx cousin that neatly determines his future career. The non-conformist has learned from experience and found his proper niche.
Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Park works on a number of different levels – as an offbeat romantic comedy and as a quirky portrait of a man that defiantly ploughs his own furrow. The cinematography captures some wonderful images of late 1960s Dublin. The complete film can be watched on YouTube with the first part here. I’ll leave you with the official trailer.