Talking Movies

October 31, 2021

Kingpin and the Comedy of Amputation

It took 25 years for me to finally watch Kingpin, and I nearly stopped at the point which had been the reason I had been avoiding it for quarter of a century.

I had always been wary of a dumb comedy that treated losing a hand as a comic plot point. But the actual sequence was beyond anything I could have imagined. It put me in mind of another film I only recently caught, 1981’s slasher The Burning. The prank that leaves Cropsey hideously scarred and bent on revenge is not a million miles away from the punishment meted out to Woody Harrelson’s bowler in Kingpin, with two differences – in one this maiming is obviously a motive for obsessive revenge, and in the other it is a deliberate act of staggering sadistic malice. Paul Newman gets his fingers broken in The Hustler, not chopped off. That Woody’s bowler has his bowling hand fed into the machine and the directors cut to a woodchipper …

I paused the movie, for about two hours. And then we returned to Woody smashing an alarm clock with his hook hand. His hook hand is played for laughs over and over again. And then lo and behold it turns out that Woody can bowl just fine with his rubber hand, which has also been played for laughs. I could only think of Angel, where Wolfram & Hart lawyer Lindsay is written out with an episode devoted to his new evil hand, a mystical transplant for the one Angel cut off in the gruesome season 1 finale. And so we see Lindsay, with his stump where his hand used to be. Looking at the guitar, which he can no longer play because Angel cut his hand off. And pulling one of a number of pre-knotted ties off his rack, because he can no longer knot a tie because Angel cut his hand off. Not quite the approach of the Brothers Farrelly to a bowler having his bowling hand ripped to ribbons.

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