The Top Ten Taxmen in Pop Culture

By M.V. Moorhead in Daily Lists, Movies, Music, Nerdery, TV
Monday, April 15, 2013 at 6:00 am


Happy Tax Day, everybody! Well, maybe "happy" is too strong a word, but have at least a day of enjoyable grumbling. Since the mid-20th Century, the Ides of April is the deadline (when it falls on a weekday) for Americans - or at least for that 53% of Americans not thought by a recent Presidential candidate to completely suck as human beings - to file a federal income tax return. It's also an unofficial day to whine about it, when even supposedly progressive types like to put their civic-mindedness on hold and gripe a little about the long arm and upturned palm of government. Hence, in pop culture, Uncle Sam's field agents the taxmen are usually not the most likable sorts. Even in the New Testament, after all, they're seen favorably only by comparison to the Pharisee. The preference is by no means universal, and typically tax collectors are depicted as unpleasant, if not actually sinister. Here are ten notable specimens of "revenuer":

10.) The Taxman in Popeye (1980)

When the title sailor-man (Robin Williams) arrives in the not-so-sweet village of Sweethaven, the first person to accost him in Robert Altman's live-action version of the cartoon classic is this bicycle-borne revenuer, played by the excellent Donald Moffat. Calling himself an "exact change" taxman, he's of the nattering, pedantic school of officialdom, and hits Popeye up at once for Docking Tax (twenty-five cents), a New in Town Tax (seventeen cents), a Rowboat Under the Wharf Tax (forty-five cents) and a Leaving Your Junk Lying Around the Wharf Tax (a dollar). Popeye asks a question, and is warned that there's a "nickel Question Tax." Presumably this is different from the "Curiosity Tax" he races off to levy on some onlooking kids.

9.) Elliot Snyder in Grumpy Old Men (1993)

The IRS agent in this favorite of the Old Country Buffet set, who seeks to snatch the house of John Gustafson (Jack Lemmon) over an accidental underpayment, isn't necessarily the most memorable of pop-culture taxmen. But we're just getting warmed up here, and as played by the redoubtable Buck Henry, Snyder is our baseline, a classic example of the stereotype: relentless, condescending and unable to conceal a streak of spiteful pleasure in what he's doing. Walter Matthau's Max Goldman puts even his lifelong enmity to his neighbor Gustafson on hold to help him elude this creepy functionary.

8.) Gatherer Hade in Doctor Who: The Sun Makers (1977)

Hade is an authority figure on the planet Pluto - still considered a planet in those days - in charge of collecting unconquerable tax debts from the human colonists that live there in the distant future. The government which demands these levies isn't democratic, it's the venerated "Company" that runs the colonies; quite literally a plutocracy. The Tom Baker incarnation of The Doctor, Leela and K9 get caught up in (and help to foment) the unrest that leads to Hade's undoing. Played with gusto by the aptly-named Richard Leech, Hade is a grandly odious toadying villain, officious to subordinates, fawningly obsequious to superiors. If Elliot Snyder is the baseline of rotten taxmen, Hade is the Shakespearean ultimate.

7.) Lorenzo Charlton in The Mating Game (1959)

Then again, not all fictitious taxmen are unsympathetic. Here's a rare case of a taxman who gets to be the hero, and get the girl: Debbie Reynolds, no less. Played by Tony Randall, Lorenzo is the foil of this feature-length farmer's daughter joke from MGM, derived from The Darling Buds of May by H. E. Bates. The farmer in question, played by affable Paul Douglas, has been ratted out to the IRS by his uppity neighbor (Philip Ober); Lorenzo is sent to rural Maryland to investigate, and soon discovers that the fellow, who happily subsists by barter, has never filed a return. Lorenzo's rather appalled at the lackadaisical attitude of "irresponsible people" who have "no ambition, no goals, just eat, drink, have a good time..." Appalled at first, that is. The flirty, haystack-romping daughter soon has him looking for a loophole.

6.) Oscar Wallace in The Untouchables (1987)

"Do you carry a badge?" Sean Connery's Malone asks Wallace, the mild-mannered Bureau accountant played by Charles Martin Smith (and inspired by legendary Internal Revenue investigator Frank J. Wilson) in Brian De Palma's gangster melodrama. Wallace meekly replies in the affirmative, and Connery hands him a shotgun. "Carry a gun," he commands. The milquetoast fellow obeys, and the result is almost certainly the rootin'-est, tootin'-est tax investigator in the history of movies, cheerfully blasting away at the bootleggers. He only (spoiler alert!) makes it about halfway through the flick, alas, but thanks to his obsessive number-crunching, Capone (who beats the rap on murder) goes up the river for tax evasion.

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