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‘Working Class Man Movies?’
A Man Question from Malcolm


“I know that some of us get tired of the protagonist always either being a rich guy, or some person who does not know they are really a prince or princess until later in the story. And the only time you see a person of humble origins they have to save the world. I’d like to develop a plot for my role playing game that did not revolve around saving the world or involve privileged characters—something every day but amazing. Do you have any suggestions—movies perhaps?”

-Malcolm

Saving the world [which is ultimately about the dominant female theme, which is security] is a must-have plot element to garner female readership or viewers. Also, if one looks at the typical female-oriented romance novel and TV soap opera, all protagonists are well-to-do or the drama centers on mating with the well-to-do. So what you are talking about is a nonstarter for the mainstream publishing or film business. The story will have to appeal to discontented males who will watch a movie without a female present, and are not themselves emasculated, which brings us to a masculine theme. We are talking horror, crime, adventure, and military stories.

I will give a sampling of movies that stand out in my mind in terms of 1. masculine themes, 2. working class orientation, and 3. the absence of the required happy ending, of which the saving the world theme is simply the largest scale expression. I also invite readers to enter suggestions.

First, let me be clear that the working class theme requires that the protagonist—or at least the dominant viewpoint character—be from outside the hierarchal power structure, which is in and of itself a means of society emasculating the individual. This means that police dramas are all out, as all law officers are proxy authority figures, the worst kind of protagonist, as they are, at one and the same time, emasculated and emasculating elements. This excludes many excellent masculine movie choices such as Blade Runner and Public Enemies. This also means that military adventures—to qualify as working class themed—must focus on the soldier of sergeant rank and lower, not the general and his officers.

Movies about antiquity are almost always focused on the privileged [Leonidas, Moses, Hector, Odysseus] or the divinely conceived such as Achilles, Hercules or Jesus.

I am leaving Westerns out of this list as I want to do a separate treatment of Westerns along these lines.

These are movies of defiance or antisocial striving, so will be rated as more defiant and antisocial, not necessarily as better made movies [although my top pick was an excellent example of movie making], beginning with moderately defiant and finishing with a movie that is 100% masculine and anti-hierarchal in nature, understanding that some of the most striking working class characters will be co-opted by the establishment in order to push the slave master agenda, such as in 13, below.

13. Sergeant York with Gary Cooper

12. Stand By Me, about regular boys striking out into the world together on an adventure

11. The Hills Have Eyes—I want to play the mutant-munching family dog

10. Thief, with James Conn

9. Last of the Mohicans, with Daniel Day Lewis

8. Gangs of New York, with Daniel Day Lewis

7. The Baytown Outlaws by Barry Battle

6. Blood of Heroes with Rutger Hauer

5. The Thin Red Line, a Sequel to From Here to Eternity

4. Conan the Barbarian, with Tommy Sotomayor’s favorite actor, Arnold Swarzinigga

3. Hard Times, with Charles Bronson, James Coburn, and Struther Martin

2. Jeremiah Johnson, with Robert Redford

1. Vanishing Point—one speed freak against the world

0. At ground-zero of anti-establishment go-to-hell-master masculine movies is Cool Hand Luke, with Paul Newman, George Kennedy, Struther Martin, and The Man with No Eyes.

Do you recall a movie that does not feature a son of privilege, military leader or law officer in the lead or co-lead [such as Christian Bale as Eliot Ness in Public Enemies], has a cast with all or most working class characters, and is not focused on a happy ending, saving the world or preserving or establishing a hierarchy?

I count Sergeant York as the dividing line between working class and aristocratic movies on these final aspects. I can think of a few other movies but would like to keep my part of the list at the lucky 13. Note that I excluded Spartacus, only because Spartacus was a Thracian chief, not a grunt gladiator.

Add Comment
EdApril 2, 2016 3:17 PM UTC

'Stand Alone' A corpulent Charles Durning (himself a survivor of the Malmedy Massacre) plays an aged Marine veteran forced to stand up to the local drug gang. It's a hokey, Reagan Era, flag waver but entertaining nonetheless.

'Harry's War' a man armed only with an Army Surplus Store worth of goodies takes on the IRS. Good luck finding a copy (can't let the Proles get any uppity ideas)

'Firstborn' Eldest son has to deal with his mother's coke-dealing boyfriend.

'Domestic Disturbance' a father finds himself at odds with his ex's new husband.
EdApril 1, 2016 10:31 PM UTC

'Stand Alone', a corpulent Charles Durning (himself a survivor of the Malmedy Massacre) plays a Marine veteran who, in his dotage, is required to stand against drug dealers. It's a hokey, Reagan-Era, almost parody of the action movies of the time, but worth a look.

'Harry's War' one man with an entire Army surplus store worth of goodies takes on the IRS. Good luck finding a copy, though (can't let the Proles get any uppity ideas).

'Firstborn' Kid has to contend with mom's new coke-dealer boyfriend.

'Domestic Disturbance' a father has to contend with his ex's new husband. I normally don't care for Travolta but, he's remarkable effective in this one.
Jeremy BenthamAugust 28, 2015 1:42 PM UTC

FYI "Death Hunt" was based on an actual incident, the case of Albert Johnson the Mad Trapper of Rat River 1931-32.

Albert Johnson (? - February 17, 1932), known as the Mad Trapper of Rat River, was a fugitive whose actions eventually sparked off a huge manhunt in the Northwest Territories and Yukon in Northern Canada. The event became a media circus as Johnson eluded the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) team sent to take him into custody, which ended after a 150 mi (240 km) foot chase lasting more than a month and a shootout in which Johnson was fatally wounded on the Eagle River, Yukon. Albert Johnson was a pseudonym and his true identity remains unknown. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Johnson_(criminal) “Death Hunt” employs a lot of artist’s license in the telling of the story. The character played by Charles Bronson is a freedom-loving individualist who is wrongfully accused of a crime; whereas, the real Albert Johnson was a homicidal maniac who irrationally picked a fight with the Mounties. Also in real life Constable Edgar Millen, the Mountie played by Lee Marvin, was shot dead by Albert Johnson. Anyway if Albert Johnson were alive today he could have been one hell of an endurance athlete.
responds:August 28, 2015 4:05 PM UTC

Thanks for that Jeremy.

You are the veritable Oracle of Right Wing Trivia!
CyrilAugust 27, 2015 8:19 AM UTC

Death Hunt with Charles Bronson
responds:August 27, 2015 11:08 AM UTC

Was this the movie set in Alaska where he went up against Lee Marvin?
Paul BinghamAugust 26, 2015 2:40 PM UTC

Homeboy

Bullitt

Bullet

Junior Bonner
responds:August 27, 2015 11:12 AM UTC

Bullitt is such a good pick, as it is a cop movie where the cop goes head to head against the police hierarchy. It is reviewed under the video tag.

I suppose this also means that we should count movies like Dirty Harry, The Bounty and Kelley's Heroes, in which their is military mutiny or flagrant defiance of superiors.
IshmaelAugust 26, 2015 2:02 PM UTC

Damn James, Cool Hand Luke, ppppperfect choice!
responds:August 27, 2015 11:09 AM UTC

I forgot to list Valhalla Rising, which should have been #2.
Andrew WebstarAugust 26, 2015 1:17 PM UTC

Mob movies fit the bill. Poor immigrant becomes organized criminal, never conquers personal demons, effectuates others' lives for the worse, ends up dead, in jail, or luckily just de-throned.

My personal fav is Carlito's Way.

Also try (unrelated) Babel.
Jeremy BenthamAugust 26, 2015 1:09 PM UTC

"You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it. It was you, Charley." - Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy “On the Waterfront” (1954).

Let's not forget "On the Waterfront", which has a theme I believe you can relate to as the protagonist is an ex-boxer and a longshoreman who comes into conflict with the labor racketeers who maintain control of the NYC docks through extortion and murder. However, since it is an old fashioned movie that tells a story and doesn't have stuff blowing up in the first five minutes, it may not be able to hold the attention of younger viewers. LOL!

"You know this city's full of hawks? That's a fact. They hang around on the top of the big hotels. And they spot a pigeon in the park. Right down on him." - Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy “On the Waterfront”.
GolliosAugust 26, 2015 12:20 PM UTC

Glad that one made it...Billy Fish's (the Gurka) final charge was a hell of a manly way to go out.

Another that might work: "The Mission" with De Niro. Yeah he starts as a slaver, but renounces it for the cloth, only to have to pick up his sword again to defend the tribe he used to prey upon. And everyone gets royally screwed in the end by the church and two states. His background and some of the themes might knock it off the list though.
GolliosAugust 26, 2015 10:32 AM UTC

How about "The Man Who Would Be King" with Connery and Caine?
responds:August 26, 2015 10:35 AM UTC

Yes. Although it focuses on two adventurers establishing a parasitic hierarchy, it did not work and they had a grand messed up adventure!

Thanks.