Nov 9, 2014

Gary Daniels: Man-Mountain with Gay Subtexts

During the brawny Old West of the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was squaring off against the Evil Empire and Jerry Falwell was squaring off against the gays, we needed lots of man-mountains:

Buffed shirtless guys who could storm through the jungles of Southeast Asia to rescue kidnapped buddies,  get revenge on murdered wives or girlfriends, or take out entire enemy armies with their bare hands.

Unfortunately, after the first hundred buffed guys with martial arts training hit Hollywood, the market became highly competitive, and besides, 25-year old kickboxer Gary Daniels was British, unlikely to be cast in a movie promoting American Exceptionalism.

So he went to the Philippines instead.  After a buddy-bonding Indiana Jones rip-off, The Secret of King Mahis Island (1988), he was cast as a man-mountain who ignores his wife and gets nude with his buddy prior to taking out the evil Vietnamese army in Final Reprisal (1988).  Some rather explicit gay subtexts.

By the 1990s, Gary had managed to break into American film, playing kickboxer managers, villains, and opponents in the Big Match, fighting to rescue his kidnapped brother (in American Streetfighter), fighting to rescue his buddy (in Firepower), fighting to get revenge on his brother (Hawk's Vengeance).

Gary's characters had little time for women: the target audience of heterosexual male teenagers wanted to see muscles, fights, and explosions, and couldn't care less about a fade-out kiss.  The result was a lot of gay subtexts.

During the 2000s, as Gary got older, he began playing more fully-clothed roles, as attorneys, detectives, and military officers who oversee the punching and kicking, but don't indulge personally.  His most memorable recent role is The Expendables (2010), in which a group of aging man-mountains is hired to take out a Latin American dictator.

Two of them, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jet Li, reveal that they are a gay couple in The Expendables 2 (2012).  Or maybe they're just joking.  Either way, they're acknowledging the homoerotics behind the man-mountain genre.

Peter MacNicol: Not a Teen Idol

Peter MacNicol was not related to Jimmy and Kristy McNichol -- notice the name is spelled differently -- but everyone thought he was.  In fact, everyone at Augustana College went to Dragonslayer in 1981 because they  mistakenly believed that Peter was the buffed 21-year old teen idol.

It wasn't good.  Derivative, heterosexist...and sword-and-sorcery heroes are supposed to be man-mountains, like Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Or Jimmy McNichol.  But Peter was scrawny!

In Sophie's Choice (1982), he plays a young aspiring writer in the 1950s South, who inexplicably starts a romance with an elderly Jewish lady named Sophie (played by Meryl Streep).  She's a concentration camp survivor who had to make a terrible choice -- I'm not going to tell you what it was -- that renders her forever incapable of falling in love.

But we get to see Peter's scrawny physique, and there's a gay subtext with the always flamboyant Kevin Kline.

A couple of dramas followed, which nobody saw, but might have some more gay subtexts -- with Burt Reynolds in Heat (1986) and Tim Guinee in American Blue Note (1989).

Remember in Ghostbusters (1984), Rich Moranis plays a nerd with a crush on Dana, who becomes possessed by the evil spirit?  Ghostbusters II (1989), which nobody saw, had precisely the same plot, with Peter as the nerd with a crush on Dana who's possessed by the evil spirit.

You probably saw him as the nerdy villain Gary Granger, summer camp manager who tried to force Wednesday and Pugsley into conformity in Addams Family Values (1993).

And as Renfield, snively servant of the wisecracking vampire in Mel Brooks' parody Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995).

But he didn't really find his niche until he played John Cage, eccentric co-founder of Allie's law firm in Allie McBeal (1997-2002).  The program was generally heterosexist, and occasionally homophobic, but it did give John a gay-subtext friendship with his best bud Richard Fish (Greg Germann). 

He got into a bit of a controversery in 2001, when John romances a woman played by Anne Heche, who had just announced that she had "become" a lesbian.  Would audiences accept a hetero-romance played by a lesbian?

Apparently it wasn't a problem, and later Heche "turned back" to straight.

Since Allie McBeal, Peter has starred in Numb3rs, 24, and Grey's Anatomy, and done a lot of voice work, notably playing X the Eliminator, gay-vague fanboy and wannabe arch-nemesis of Harvey Birdman on Adult Swim.

See also: Jimmy McNichol and the Gay Coach

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