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How Mustaches Change the Face of Film

By Staff | Apr 23, 2008

It’s become satirical nowadays to masquerade socially with a mustache. Let’s face it, if you aren’t an older guy who’s had one for quite some time, coming to work one day and mysteriously shaving your beard in exchange for the fuzzy lip caterpillar is strange, really strange. Even when stars gear up for a mustachioed role, there is a little hesitation. In the parlance of our times, a mustache is “gross,” but in a period piece or character nuance, the mustache can stand for an entire kaleidoscope of thoughts, feelings or levels of significance/hilarity.

Recently, the mustache has crept its way into some great films. Daniel Day-Lewis in “There Will Be Blood” and Josh Brolin in “No Country For Old Men” deliver eerily brilliant performances, and it bares the question, “Is it them or the ‘stache?” When Clark Gable peered into the camera lens in “Gone With The Wind,” was it truly his acting or did the mustache ooze sophistication the likes America was barely ready for? Did we cringe when we saw Robert Goulet’s mustache or has he become a cult hero because of it? Did Burt Reynolds’ chase in “Smokey & The Bandit” elicit a sense of danger and rectitude or was it his infamous ‘stache that made him an icon? For the sake of brevity, I’ll kill the suspense …

Of course it’s the ‘stache.

It adds something extra, something extraordinary. It adds setting, character and wisdom. The mustache has followed film throughout the ages like a faithful labrador, willing to jump into the fray when beckoned but remarkably able to hang back when not called upon. It has loyalty and its willingness to unapologetically flash its importance on the silver screen is a testament to its place in cinematic history. Don’t believe me? Well, allow me to present my case.

Exhibit A: The Comedy

Like I have previously stated, the mustache can be used for many purposes and a popular one is for humor. It’s just funny. Seeing a character fall down the stairs or deliver a joke with a mustache is like ordering a steak with a side of steak. No, it’s like ordering a steak with a side of a billion dollars. Ben Stiller (regardless of what you think of him) is funnier in “Dodgeball” because of his mustache. Fact. Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat” donned the mustache and we all know how that turned out (international success for the U.S. of A.). But if you will allow me to go old school for a bit, there would be no humor in the mustache if it weren’t for the legendary Peter Sellers. Famous for his role as Inspector Jacques Clouseau in the “Pink Panther” series, Peter Sellers reinvented physical comedy as the bubbling detective and became an icon for comedians to come.

Exhibit B: The Wisdom

Mustaches are of a different breed. When used properly, they can exude an almost alien feeling of well-deserved self-righteousness. The best example of course is Sam Elliot’s mustache and character in “The Big Lebowski.” Narrating the film and a sprinkled bookend, Sam Elliot appears on screen as a demi-god more than another character. He seems wise yet not so much that he’s out of touch. His legendary mustache, jutting down the corners of his mouth like a soft paintbrush, establishes a feeling of supreme importance; a voice of reason. His character, not unlike the person of Sam Elliot, is incomplete without it.

Exhibit C: The Loyalty

Anthony Edwards, Danny Glover and Samuel L. Jackson. What do these names have in common? If you rocked this hypothesis you would have guessed that these three actors played key partner-ish roles in “Top Gun,” “Lethal Weapon,” and “Pulp Fiction” (respectfully). Goose (Edwards) was loyal to his demise, a golden sheen in his mustache like his memory. Sergeant Roger Murtaugh (Glover) shaved his beard in the beginning of “Lethal Weapon,” I guess to signify his commitment to being a badass. Jules Winnfield (Jackson) … well, to place a mustache on Samuel L. Jackson, like they did in “Pulp Fiction,” surely created a tear in the fabric of space and time because such amazing awesome awesomeness could not possibly be contained within an un-awesome space like regular Earth. Awesome.

While every great mustache and film history could not possibly be contained within an article like this one, these popular archetypes are used throughout films all the time. From Owen Wilson in “The Royal Tenenbaums” in The Loyalty role to Chia Hui Lui in “Kill Bill: Vo. 2” in The Wisdom role, any mustachioed character has a place in the top three categories. I’d like to think if I donned some whiskers I’d be grouped with Sam Elliot, even though I know I’d belong with Sellers.


Contact Ben at bspanner@graffitiwv.com