Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Top 5 Unlikely Jobs for a Movie Hero

The anti-hero has a long cinema history, but surprising thing is how conventional most of them are. Gangsters, with their family values, their business-before-morality ethos and casual attitude to violence represent the modern Western world view far better than most conventional heroes whilst Rambo, whilst something of an outsider in his first film appearance, soon turned into such a caricature of America military intervention, even helping the Taliban on his third appearance, that he was beyond satire.

Robert de Niro playing a plumber in Brazil is more the sort of thing I'm thinking of, although he wasn't the hero so can't count. Neither does it count if the hero's job has no relevance to the plot, so serial killer accountants, yuppies and the rest can't be included.

So having fixed the rules to ensure the films I like are in it, here is my Top Five.

5. James Mason as an IRA man: Odd Man Out (1947)

The IRA had turned up in films since, such as in John Ford's The Quiet Man and David Lean's Ryan's Daughter.

But whilst the Innisfree IRA cell appears to do little but drink Guinness (not an unrealistic portrayal I believe) and the Kirrary lot do appear to be actually fighting for Irish independence, James Mason's character is neither a harmless drunk nor an effective freedom fighter. Instead he is wounded whilst engaged in nothing more heroic or patriotic than a fairly petty robbery.

This then starts a journey through a strange demi-monde that is clearly a loosely disguised Belfast. Director Carol Read is today better remembered for The Third Man, but Odd Man Out is arguably as good, although its main competition would be a James Cagney gangster film. Perhaps Cagney does baddies better than Mason, but it's still a cracking performance.

4. Boris Karloff as a Monster: Frankenstein (1931)

Those who know the literary Frankenstein know the Monster as a bright chap with a lot to say for himself, but movie versions have always been more physical and less cerebral and Karloff's Monster is definitely in this tradition.

I suppose I'm pushing it to claim being a monster is actually a job, but if it was Karloff's Monster could probably expect his P45 in the post as he soon turns out to be the most human character in the film.

3. Jean Reno as a Hit Man: Léon (1994)

Having disallowed gangsters for being evil Capitalists, and so not antiheroes at all, I'm going to make an exception for hit men, especially Léon as he doesn't even appear to be making any money out of the job.

Leaving aside questions about his relationship with an under age Natalie Portman - and the pot plant - Léon appears to be a regular guy from out of town who has found a rung at the bottom of the social ladder doing jobs the local won't, in this case killing people.

He lives in poor housing, the police pick on him and he has no friends. So if you pretend he's a migrant worker and not a hired murderer what you have is social commentary. Plus a lot of dead bodies.

2. Gregory Peck as a Lawyer: To Kill A Mocking Bird (1962)

Hollywood likes courtroom drama, but it's rather indifferent about lawyers.

We're not really too bothered about whether or not Sam Bowden gets the chop in Cape Fear, whilst Erin Brockovich got a film made about her because she wasn't a real lawyer. Otherwise the hero is usually in the dock or the jury.

Atticus Finch though is different. Noble, moral, courageous, and a paragon of old style values he chooses to work within the system to reform it. As a result his client is fitted up for a crime he didn't commit and gets killed, which perhaps tells us something about trying to oppose institutionally racist organisations from the inside.

1. Jimmy Stewart as a Banker: It's A Wonderful Life (1946)

Yes a banker.

True, it was a long time ago, before the wide boys in braces arrived on Wall Street, but it was only fifteen years after the Great Crash.

It's hard to imagine a remake now. Not only is there no-one of the calibre of Jimmy Stewart to play the lead, but I doubt anyone could imagine a banker being saved from committing suicide by a Guardian Angle showing what life would have been like without him.

I mean, what would he show? The out of work cocaine dealers and Porsche salesmen? The lower property prices? The pensioners enjoying their annuities? It just wouldn't work.

Perhaps the remake then could feature the Guardian Angel as the antihero? A sort of Guardian Demon who goes around persuading well adjusted and happy stock brokers to leap off bridges?


Mr Spielberg? I have an idea for you.......

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