90 min., dir by Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller, and Jeremy Newberger with Morton Downey Jr., Pat Buchanan, and Chris Elliot
Our airwaves are packed with overbearing, malicious personalities that rile up mobs of rabid fans who believe everything that spout out of their leaders’ mouths: Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and so on. While Morton Downey Jr. certainly wasn’t the first of the breed, he perfected the outraged, ferocious persona and the mindset of turning it into a ratings machine.
Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie does expose the transparent methods behind the men and women who perpetuate lies and false anger for their own good, but it also shines a light on a man who would do anything to be bigger and better than his father — even if it destroyed who he really was.
Morton Downey Sr. was possibly the most popular singer of his time. Breaking out in the ’20s and ’30s, Downey was the man Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin aspired to be. Downey Jr. also aspired to be like his father. At a young age he began his singing career, and while it went well for him, he never could get past people comparing him to his father.
Eventually, Downey Jr. became the host of a fairly popular radio show. When Robert Pittman (the man who created MTV) wanted to bring back a talk show similar to that of “The Joe Pyne Show,” he saw Downey Jr. as the host with the most. In 1987, “The Morton Downey Jr. Show” premiered and quickly became one of the fastest growing shows in TV history. Within a year, it was in syndication — and within two years, it crumpled faster than it grew.
If you’ve never seen the show, the film features plenty of archival footage. There’s footage of Ron Paul fighting with Downey Jr. and the audience about drug policies, and Alan Dershowitz being berated for his views on the death penalty. There are even a few fights between Downey Jr. and the politically incorrect-era Al Sharpton.
Évocateur is not aiming to make you like or dislike Downey Jr., but through interviews with his friends, family, fans, and producers, it is clear that Downey Jr. was a damaged man who needed approval from anyone who would give it to him. If that meant turning into an insufferable prick whose audience members viewed as a god as they prepared to tear into anyone who opposed their views, so be it.
I was eight at the time of Downey Jr.’s height of popularity. Maybe this wasn’t news to others at the time, but for me, now discovering that Downey Jr. and his family were close friends with the Kennedys is a surprise. The fact that Downey Jr. wrote a book of poetry (Quiet Thoughts Make the Loudest Noise) to deal with his grief over RFK’s assassination is just astonishing. For every piece of obvious wretchedness Downey Jr. was guilty of, there was something equally as amazing you would never think came out of him.
Though this movie is about Morton Downey Jr., the sheer fear and sadness that washes over me as it makes me consider where we are today is what hits home the most. Entertainers who want nothing more than to be put on a pedestal will goad their followers into believing any junk that flows out of their mind without any evidence — these are the people who are truly damaging this country.
In a way, the astonishing crash of “The Morton Downey Jr. Show” was brought on by Downey Jr. himself. While I can’t forgive him, even if he did own up to his mistakes, I pray his clones catch on earlier than he did and destroy themselves — soon.