Above: The Title Card for The Brothers O’Toole
The Brothers O’Toole (1973)
John Astin as Michael O’Toole and “Desperate” Ambrose Littleberry
Jesse White as Mayor
Steve Carlson as Timothy O’Toole
Lee Meriwether as Paloma Littleberry
Directed by Richard Erdman
I recall seeing The Brothers O’Toole on Turner Broadcasting (WTBS) one Summer weekday afternoon in the middle 1980s. This was a pleasant memory, based mostly on the bravura performance of John Astin and his character’s humorous eloquence. Years later I sought out the movie on DVD after finding its title on IMDB, and the seeds for this review had begun to germinate.
Molybdenum is a dusty, small, and poor town outside a mine containing…guess…molybdenum, a substance most residents consider worthless. They own mine stock, but think the shares are worthless. The corrupt mayor, whom major corporations pay to keep the true worth of the mine secret, is the only one in town with much money. And “Desperate” Ambrose Littleberry, a bandit, keeps the town poor, as well. But Ambrose is not beyond redemption, as his lady love, Paloma, finds out.
Into this town rides Michael O’Toole, a well-educated and eloquent confidence man who looks very much like “Desperate Ambrose.” So the local authorities, such as they are, arrest him, setting in motion a series of events which change the small town forever.
A few jokes recur in the movie. One is the variety of ways to pronounce the town’s name. Some characters stumble over the syllables, giving up after one try. Others prefer “Molly-Be-Damn,” but the ultra prudish think that “Molly-Be-D” or “Molly-Be-Dern” is appropriate. Another recurring joke is Michael O’Toole’s expansive vocabulary and how it confuses the locals. Toward of the end of the movie the mayor presides over a spitting, belching, and cussing contest. After witnessing his brother Timothy win the belching part of the contest, Michael launches into the following tirade:
I have, in my time, visited three political conventions, four sessions of congress, and two homes for the criminally insane. I have known army generals, steam doctors, vegetarians, prohibitionists, and a female suffragette. But never, even in an Orangeman’s Day parade, have I seen such pure and stainless brainlessness as I now behold in you. The Almighty, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, has given the worm enough sense to turn with, and the barnacle can grasp whatever happens to be standing by. But you are equipped with a mental capacity smaller than you were born with. Here we are, benighted in the middle of a nowhere named Molly-Be-Damn – a dreary little rookery, Timothy, a squalid sty, a festering pustule on the face of the western slope. Bless the town and bless the people! Look at them – the rabble of this cantankerous community! Knaves and fools, louts and lardheads, the least of all God’s creatures, without enough push to pick the fleas off each other, abiding in putrefaction and inertia, curled up comfy in it like hogs in a mud hole! And while I, of all people, fret and sweat for a way to pull these Simple Simons out of the bog, you stand around making flatulent noises for the titillation of the vulgar mob. And while he’s bubbling himself, what are you doing, you pusillanimous pack of popcorn pickers? You clattered clutch of clucks? The town dilapidating around you, coasting downhill in a handcart to Hell while you stand about gaping for flies and going patty-cake with your hands!…All right, all right, all right! Fine! Keep it, and treasure it the way it is! For when all this trash has collapsed into one pile, and the howling wilderness has claimed its own again, I want you hicks to be happy, belching and spitting, laughing and singing, swinging from tree to tree, with your friend Soapy Sam here, the Uriah Heep of the hookworm belt, standing around below waiting to steal anything that falls to the ground. If a nut should drop and fall – leave it lying there. It’s probably my little brother Timothy.
He wins the prize for best cussing.
Below: Michael O’Toole watching the Belching Contest
I recommend this movie highly, with no reservations.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
JUNE 9, 2010 COMMON ERA