Buried Netflix Treasures About Dudes In Peril

There are literally tens of thousands of things to watch on Netflix. Most of them not very good! If only there was a human video clerk, like the olden days, to help you find the most awesome, most obscure films on Netflix streaming video. Say hello to the Netflix Video Clerk.

Purely by accident, this week I've picked three films with something in common — all of them, in their own ways, are about men and adversity. Two of them feature strong, confident men. The third... not so much.

If you want to see Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin slug it out on the flatbed of a train: Emperor of the North (1973, Robert Aldrich)

Robert Aldrich was generally not one for half measures. When he decided to make a woman's picture, the hysteria and screeching camp got turned all the way up until the final product was Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? or The Legend of Lylah Clare. When he set out to make a vulgar, offensive comedy, he pushed out The Choirboys, a film vulgar and offensive enough for screenwriter Joseph Wambaugh to disown it. And when he made man's-man action movies... well, that was his specialty, and if you don't believe me, go watch The Dirty Dozen again. Despite the popularity of Dozen, though, his tough-minded machismo may have not had a better, more striking expression than Emperor of the North.

The central conflict can be reduced to a simple logline: Borgnine is a fierce conductor who doesn't want hobos riding his train, while Marvin is a legendary hobo determined to ride Borgnine's train. (Keith Carradine gets caught in the middle as a callow young punk looking to make a reputation.) Such stripped-down characterization invites allegorical analysis, and there's plenty of space within the narrative to see it as either an Establishment-vs.-Counterculture social commentary or an arduous spiritual journey towards, ahem, What Lies North; Christopher Knopf's script, with lines like, "Turn her over, it says 'Made in Hell'," certainly seems to encourage the latter interpretation. That's all subtext, of course — the text is a grim, brutal action film, cleanly and efficiently directed by Aldrich with an emphasis on closeups and tight framing (the better to study all the consternation, pain, determination and anger on the faces of its principals). Borgnine and Marvin are terrific playing to type (seething and taciturn, respectively), while Carradine excels at playing the wild card whose sympathies seem to shift by the minute.

If I'm not making this sound appealing enough, know that the opening scene has a glowering Borgnine smashing a hobo in the head with a hammer until he falls under the wheels of his train, and the very next scene has Marvin using a live chicken as a weapon. And it only gets better from there. (Emperor of the North expires from Instant on March 31st, so take advantage while it's around. You won't regret it.)

View Entire List ›


BuzzFeed - Latest