The Hollywood Correspondent writes a monthly email critiquing movies, past and present. It’s always eagerly anticipated at The Home Office: well-written, thought provoking, and entertaining. (I’ve been after him to start a blog; maybe this will get him thinking about it more seriously.)
This month he took a look back at a favorite movie of mine, 1973’s Emperor of the North, starring Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine. Here’s what he had to say, in its entirety; nothing I can do makes this any better.
I can just imagine a filmmaker taking the idea for this movie to a Hollywood executive today:
Filmmaker: "It's about a couple of Depression-era hobos who are determined to ride a train patrolled by a vicious conductor. You really get the sense of what life was like during the Depression and it features three great roles."
Executive: "When you say Depression-era, you're talking about the 1800s?
Filmmaker: "No, that would be the 1930s. Food lines, unemployment, FDR, you've read about that, right?"
Executive: "We don't really like period pieces here....except when there's a romance involved. Is there a role for Gwyneth Paltrow?"
Filmmaker: "Sorry, no roles for women, but it's filled scenes of these men beating on each other."
Executive: "Well, that's a start. What kind of special effects budget are you thinking about?"
Filmmaker: "Actually there aren't any special effects. The actors will ride on the train and interact on the moving train."
Executive: "Hmmm, I'll check with our lawyers on that. OK, so who do you see in the main roles?"
Filmmaker: "For the conductor, we need a real physical presence, someone who can scare the crap out of the audience-maybe De Niro?"
Executive: "Bobby's no longer hot. How about Jude Law? Wasn't "Cold Mountain" set in the Depression?"
Filmmaker: "Not exactly what I was imagining and he's a bit young for the role."
Executive: "Maybe Oprah Winfrey? But we'd need bigger stars in the other roles."
Filmmaker: "I don't really see Oprah working in the role, but the real star of the picture is the older hobo. He's the Emperor of the North who must fight off the young upstart."
Executive: "How about Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick?-they're just finishing up "The Producers."
Filmmaker: "Well, it's not exactly a comedy."
Executive: "But you have funny lines in it, right? This is an action film, right?"
Filmmaker: "Maybe it's a little more serious than most action films."
Executive: "We can fix that in rewrite. How about Bruce Willis and Ashton Kutcher? Now that's a publicist's dream, eh?"
Filmmaker: "Maybe I should try another studio....."
Executive: "I was just joking! What if we made the younger hobo a girl? Pitt and Paltrow! I think we have it! And instead of Oprah we can cast Dr. Phil as the conductor. He can bring them together. I'll have my secretary get their agents on the line."
Filmmaker: "I really didn't see the film as a romance....."
Executive: "Don't worry, I do. Maybe the train they ride is going through the south of France?"
Filmmaker: "In the Depression?"
Executive: "I've already forgotten about the Depression. I see this as a great contemporary romantic adventure between two down-on-their-luck Americans who end up getting married at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Son, I think you have a huge hit on your hands!"
Just be thankful it was made in 1973 when director Robert Aldrich was allowed to cast Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine and Keith Caradine and make a film that's both entertaining and a serious look at the life of homeless men in the 1930s. If you haven't seen it, rent it now before someone remakes it.