"I'm prepared to scour the Earth for that m***********. If Butch goes to Indo-China, I want a ****** hiding in a bowl of rice waiting to pop a cap in his ass". Ah, just another day at the office for Marsellus Wallace: kingpin of the LA underworld, and the terrifying heart of Pulp Fiction. You don't have to be mad here, but it helps! – especially in Tarantino's spaghetti junction of pastiche, homage and ODs. It is 26-years-old today. It still stands up. And more importantly, this bossman still stands out – a crime lord firmly canonised within the grand tradition of mafia villains, and yet totally above it. Marsellus Wallace is, for one, much, much cooler.
Dumpy Tudor-like megalomaniac, he is not. Played by Ving Rhames, Wallace is at ease, relaxed, as tranquil as the Hollywood Hills swimming pool that serves as his de facto HQ. Well, until he isn't. But prior to that stomach-churningly questionable scene in which Bruce Willis's Butch is granted clemency, Pulp Fiction's puppet master is easily the best-dressed man in one of cinema's most stylish films (Uma Thurman's vaudevillian cokehead takes top prize, but she's in a category all by herself to be perfectly honest).
In Pulp Fiction, Wallace takes the blueprint of tyrants past – roll-necks, razor-sharp suits, speckles of gold jewellery – but colours outside the lines. Instead of moody New York navy, there's the finest shade of Sunny D; no Wayfarers, but Dr Robotnik roundies; boxy tailoring, but looser, less rigid. The best bit, however: a tangerine shirt, asymmetrically buttoned, and fastened down the front like the imagined chef whites (or oranges) of a Hare Krishna kitchen. Yes, it's very Nineties. But it's not Nineties Nineties. The dad jeans and bomber jackets and tucked-in white T-shirts belong to his target-turned-saviour in Willis. This could exist in any other realm: in Scarface, ordering the demolition of Tony Montana's palace, or in sci-fi, aboard the luxury cruise liner of The Fifth Element. Anything's better than Gary Oldman's hatchet job Panic! At The Disco flip.
The quiet menace isn't exactly a new personality type in the world of mafiosos. But away from the East Coast burbs of The Sopranos, and the histrionics of The Godfather, Pulp Fiction immortalised a kingpin that stands on his own. Sideline him at your peril. Because, as Samuel L Jackson so elegantly put it: nobody treats Marsellus Wallace like a b****.
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