Story: The son of a famous crooner, Morty Downey, Jr. struggled to leave his father’s shadow in the music business, but he would find his venue to stardom outside that industry. Downey would become an icon of talk television and a forerunner of sorts to not just conservative pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Tucker Carlson, but all of trash television in general. After he switched from singing to shouting, Downey shot up the ratings chart and became a hero to right wing viewers, while also becoming the face of hate to those he targeted with his vitriol. This kind of aggressive, shock style would become common in the decades that followed, but Downey was one of the first to walk that row and he relished it, at least until the wheels started to fall off. In Evocateur, the life and career of Morton Downey, Jr. are explored and we’re shown some of his most infamous moments.
Entertainment Value: You couldn’t ask for a much better subject for a gonzo documentary than Morton Downey, Jr. and not just because of his outlandish antics, but to explore how his influence remains and of course, a look behind the character to the real life Downey. Evocateur is well made and gives us a nice overview of Downey, his life before fame and his rocket ride as a pundit, which offers a wealth of avenues to examine. The movie tends to want to hammer down where Downey’s legacy fits into right wing culture, but doesn’t spend too much time on that front. A few scenes look at those who picked up a similar torch and there’s time devoted to potential bridges with the Tea Party folks, but again, these are not the main focus and don’t dominate the duration. There is a good deal of archival footage, from Downey’s shows, his interviews in the press, and news segments, all of which not only bring Downey’s chaos to life well, but also help show how the public reacted to his rants. The pace is great and never slows, while the overall presentation is polished and effective.
I love documentaries that explore larger than life personalities and whether you love or hate him, Morton Downey, Jr. more than qualifies. The filmmakers assemble clips from his shows and interview appearances that capture the manic, explosive persona of Downey, shouting at various people and manufacturing outrage in grand fashion. I think there are obvious paths from Downey to trash television and the rise of far right wing media, but at this time, he seemed to be a lone voice in the field, or perhaps he was just that much louder. The blend of entertainment, politics, and social issues make any of Downey’s talks a potential firestorm, since he is always willing to push topics past the brink, in order to get a reaction or give himself a chance to sound off. You can see from this footage why Downey was able to gain a sizable following and why he was so disliked, especially in the exploration of how his downfall began, with a strange stunt that went sideways. I appreciated this documentary and found it to be insightful and entertaining, so its well recommended.