Morton Downey Jr. shone bright, but burned out quickly as ‘Evocateur’

Morton Downey Jr. unleashes unchecked outrage in the documentary profile "Evocateur" Credit: Magnolia Pictures
Morton Downey Jr. unleashes unchecked outrage in the documentary “Evocateur.”
Credit: Magnolia Pictures

‘Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie’
Directors: Seth Miller, Daniel A. Miller and Jeremy Newberger
Genre: Documentary
Rating: R
4 (out of 5) Globes

It was almost too good (or bad) to be true: For a comically short time (i.e., less than two years), “The Morton Downey Jr. Show” burned bright as the most controversial program on late ‘80s television. Its host, a pursed-lip gargoyle who plowed through four packs a day, brought classy guests onto his skuzzy, low-rent show. There he stirred up chaos among his audience of rowdy, emasculated Jersey boys by hurling obscenities, invective and all-too-real-seeming outrage. Through his reign he drove the normally collected Ron Paul into a tizzy, recklessly inflamed the Tawana Brawley incident and swapped flirty put-downs with Gloria Allred.

Today, he’s almost forgotten — but he shouldn’t be. “Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie” holds his work up as a predecessor to both the trash talk show detritus of the ‘90s and the easily riled hysteria of Fox News and the Tea Party. Unlike the recent Andrew Breitbart documentary, “Evocateur” is no hagiography. It’s in awe of the man’s passion if not necessarily his message, and does some digging to find the person underneath the blowhard.

Born Sean, his father was, of course, Morton Downey, known as the Irish Nightingale, one of the biggest singers of the 1930s and ‘40s. His aunt was the great Hollywood actress Joan Bennett. MDJ hated his father, but borrowed his name anyway when he tried to become a singer himself. (Happily he had enough tiny success that footage exists of him crooning a torch song in an early music film.) If the image of MDJ as a pleasant pretty boy runs hilariously up against his traditional fire-breathing sociopath image wasn’t enough, the filmmakers also drum up photos of him hanging happily with Ted Kennedy in the 1960s, a future object of his ire.

No one can stay turned-up-to-11 pissed for very long, and “Evocateur” depicts his very brief mega-fame as a kind of possession: a mid-life crisis that made him finally more famous than his father, but took him back to where he started. Lung cancer ravaged his body, and finally, this outrage machine who yelled at anyone with the tiniest bit of authority and jetted around the world while pretending to be a working class hero was reduced to pleading with people not to be a miserable nicotine addict like him. Without taking his side, “Evocateur” makes us feel genuinely terrible for him.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Brooklyn man charged in roommate's stabbing death

A Brooklyn man accused of violently stabbing his roommate to death on Monday is in police custody and faces murder charges.

International

Dinosaurs could have survived asteroid strike

It turns out there is a good and a bad time for the planet to be hit by a meteor, and dinosaurs were just unlucky.…

National

OkCupid admits to Facebook-style experimenting on customers

By Sarah McBrideSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - OkCupid, a top U.S. matchmaking website, intentionally mismatched users to test its technology, the IAC/InterActive Corp service said on…

Local

MTA fares still increasing 4 percent in newly…

The agency said the 4 percent increases, previously announced in December, will remain steady even as the MTA deals with increasing labor costs.

Movies

Interview: Brendan Gleeson on the way 'Calvary' depicts…

Brendan Gleeson talks about how his new film "Calvary" began over drinks and how his character here is the opposite of the lead in "The Guard."

Movies

'Get on Up' producer Mick Jagger on the…

Mick Jagger, a producer on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," talks about the time had to tell the singer some bad news and his favorite JB record.

Television

'Glee' star Lea Michele to appear on 'Sons…

"Glee" star Lea Michele has been confirmed as a guest star in the final season of "Sons of Anarchy."

Television

TV watch list, Monday, July 28: 'The Bachelorette'…

See Andi Dorfman make her big choice on tonight's 'Bachelorette' finale.

MLB

Angelo Cataldi: Ryan Howard deserves better from Phillies

Just last week, Ryan Howard endured the embarrassment of a benching that was inevitable, and yet still shocking.

NFL

Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.

NFL

Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

Travel

Glasgow: Hey, hey, the gangs aren't here

This European city has done a good job getting rid of its more violent residents and revitalizing with artists.

Education

Babson College tops list of best colleges for…

Money magazine has just released its inaugural list of "The Best Colleges for Your Money" -- and the answers have surprised many. Babson College, which…

Education

NYC teens learn how to develop apps during…

Through a program sponsored by CampInteractive, the high schoolers designed their own community-focused apps.

Tech

The Ministry of Silly Walks app is both…

Monty Python have dug into their back catalogue for cash-ins once more, but with the Ministry of Silly Walks app, they've made something that's fun too.