King of the Hill (1993)
Director: Steven Soderbergh.
Starring: Jesse Bradford (Aaron Kurlander), Jeroen Krabbé (Mr. Kurlander), Lisa Eichhorn (Mrs. Kurlander), Karen Allen (Miss Mathey), Spalding Gray (Mr. Mungo), Elizabeth McGovern (Lydia), Cameron Boyd (Sullivan), Adrien Brody (Lester), Joe Chrest (Ben), John McConnell (Patrolman Burns), Amber Benson (Ella McShane), Kristin Griffith (Mrs. McShane), Chris Samples (Billy Thompson), Peggy Freisen (Mrs. Thompson), Katherine Heigl (Christina Sebastian).
the Great Depression seen through the eyes of a 12-year old Jewish boy in the mid-west
St. Louis, Missouri. Young Aaron stands up in front of the class and reads his little essay that he through a telephone call helped Charles Lindbergh chose the kind of food he should take on his historic flight starting on the morning of May 20, 1927. Aaron says he suggested the pilot couldn't go wrong with a cheese sandwich. So that's what Lindbergh selected. After a safe voyage of nearly 34 hours, Lindbergh called him up to thank him for the suggestion that he take cheese sandwiches. The teacher enjoyed the story and says that Aaron was very inventive.
The Empire Hotel. The bell boy gets the job of locking people out of their rooms when they can no longer pay their bills. He goes to a chest that is full of locks with their key. He selects one for his next victim, in room 326.
Mr. Sandoz walks past the school and says hello to Aaron. Aaron responds: "Hi, Mr. Sandoz." Aaron is waiting for his very young brother who every day seems to get into trouble with the teacher. And today is no different. Aaron tells his brother that it's no wonder he got caught stealing someone's lunch. "I told you a thousand times, you only take food from the fat kids, and you never take a kid's dessert." Sullivan had to go see the principal. Aaron asks him if he told the principal where they live? Sullivan says no.
They pass by the lovely apartments at Carleton Court at 4519 Riley Street. They pass by a policeman they don't like and call "Big Butt Burns". The boys go into the Empire Hotel. They go up to their floor and find that the bell boy is in the process of locking Mr. Sanchez out of his room. Sanchez begs the fellow to open the apartment for a moment so at least he could go in and get the the paints he needs in order to make money through his painting to pay his bill. The bell boy just keeps repeating that he has gotta do what Mr. Desot tells him. Sanchez tries to fore his way in, but the bell boy has a blackjack and knocks Sanchez down with it.
The boys run for their own apartment. Entering their home, Aaron knows almost immediately that something is wrong and asks what is it? Dad says he and mother have made a decision. Mother says she only said that they don't have a choice. Dad tells the boys that Sullivan is going away for awhile. Uncle Nathan has agreed to keep Sullivan until the family gets back on its feet. This way the family can save a $dollar a week. Aaron says he can make a $dollar a week. Dad just makes fun of Aaron. He says he is going to get that job selling watches and just around the corner he is going to get a public works job. Then they will move into the Carleton Court, which is where they belong.
The family is walking Sullivan to the bus. Aaron stops to thrust a note under the door of his friend Lester's apartment. Sullivan cries a little and tells his brother he doesn't want to go. Aaron says he is going to make some money and will get Sullivan back from Uncle Nathan. Aaron's mother cries as her boy leaves.
Aaron's mother has tuberculosis and coughs a lot.
At school Aaron sees some bigger boys picking on a younger kid, named Billy. Aaron asks if Billy is okay and one of the bigger boys says that Billy said he would play marbles, but now he's welshing on the deal. Billy tells Aaron that their marbles are obviously inferior to the marbles he has. So Aaron says Billy and he will play partners against the two other guys. Aaron is really good at marbles and wipes the guys out. Billy invites Aaron over for a soda. Billy is obviously from a wealthy family. He wears a suit and tie to school and his mother has a fine dress and a ritzy car. Billy's mom gives Aaron a ride. She makes a remark about this salesman who is trying to sell candles that one cannot even light. The salesman happens to be Aaron's dad, but Aaron doesn't say anything.
At home with Billy, Aaron says he has a canary at home. Billy says he has one too and takes Aaron to another room to see his canary. It turns out that the entire room is filled up with bird cages holding birds. Billy says his hobby is breeding birds. He sells them to Mr. Farley who has a shop on Develavere. Billy sells each bird for $3 dollars. Aaron is really impressed, so Billy gives Aaron a female canary so Aaron can mate his canary with the female and start making some money. He also gives a bird cage to Aaron.
Aaron starts lying to cover the fact that the family is dirt poor. He says they are currently living in a hotel until their new house is finished being built. And his father flies airplanes for a living.
Going home, Aaron sees Big Butt Burns picking on a poor kid who stole an apple for some food. Aaron doesn't say anything to the policeman.
Walking down his hotel hallway the shy girl Ella says hi to him. Ella gets a bit hyped up when she sees Aaron and Aaron once again makes up an excuse as why he has to return to his apartment immediately. She is a lot bigger than Aaron and looks a bit Plain Jane.
It turns out that his friend Lester is a young man who acts like a big brother to Aaron. Lester has been making a little money by being a caddy for people who play golf. He urges Aaron to learn all the different golf clubs so he can start caddying.
Aaron's teacher asks to speak with Aaron in private. She tells him that the school does not have a current address for Aaron. So Aaron tells her that he is living at the Carleton Court at 4519 Riley Street. She has a strong feeling that Aaron is lying to her, especially when he says to address the mail to a Donald Miller.
Aaron walks home. In the gutter there is a torn up poster of President Herbert Hoover. He bends down to pick up a cigar band for his collection and Big Butt Burns grabs him by the ear and starts making all kinds of ridiculous statements about what Aaron is up to. He ends by saying that Aaron had better watch himself. The policemen walks over to two guys who look a bit like a couple of gangsters and he talks with them awhile. Aaron continues on into the hotel where he lives. On the corner is his teacher who is watching Aaron as he goes into the hotel. And that hotel is certainly not Carleton Court.
Aaron starts playing around in the lobby and the bell boy asks Aaron if he wants a job. He is to deliver some liquor to someone in room 310. Aaron asks him what does he get if he does this? Bell boy Ben says: "You get on my good side." So Aaron goes up to room 310 and delivers the booze to Mr. Mungo. The man asks Aaron how's his cigar band collection going? Flashing his hat with lots of cigar bands on it toward Mr. Mungo, he says it's going pretty good.
Aaron goes back home and again immediately knows something's wrong. His mother says her specialist says that she has to go back to the sanatorium for awhile. She says it maybe for only a month or two. Aaron is crushed -- first Sullivan and now his mother. Mom tells him he can come visit her every Sunday. Always the downer, dad says they won't let the boy go inside the sanitarium.
Aaron caddies along with Lester. Aaron makes so many mistakes that Lester tells him to go home. There are other ways to make money, he says.
Aaron is all alone in his apartment. Ella knocks on the door. She wants to see Aaron's newly hatched canaries. Aaron lies and tells her they haven't hatched yet. Ella asks can she see the birds when they do hatch? Sure. He is about to close the door on Ella when she asks him if he would like a hot dog. He would sure like to have a hot dog so he goes over to her apartment. She turns on the radio and asks Aaron if he would like to dance. Aaron is nervous but finally says yes. He nervously keeps an eye on the pot that is cooking his hot dog. All of a sudden, Ella goes into an epileptic fit. Aaron immediately calls out for Mrs. McShane, Ella's aunt. Her aunt comes out running.
Ella is able to get up, but she is so worried that she embarrassed herself in front of Aaron. Aaron is a real gentleman and says: "You were sick, and now you're better." She says it only happens when they run out of medicine. Ella gets him to promise to come see her again. Aaron leaves and is met by a worse sight. Bell boy Ben is going to lock another person or persons out of their apartment.
At home Aaron makes tomato soup with ketchup and hot water for his dad and him. Dad fills out an application form for the Hamilton Watch Company with a personal recommendation from Mr. Sid Goodman.
At night Mr. Mungo brings a prostitute to his room. Nosy Aaron stands up on a small table and looks out of the transom window and sees the man and woman.
In school the next day, his teacher whispers to him that she put his address into the school records exactly like he told her.
Aaron's father is overdue on his car payments and Big Butt Burns has been trying to find out from Aaron where his father keeps his car parked. Today the policeman grabs Aaron again and manhandles him and says that he knows that the car parked on the street here is his father's car and he's going to write his father a ticket as big as the state of Texas. Aaron gets angry and yells that's not his father's car because his father parks it in the alley behind the Davidson house. It's too late. Aaron realizes he just told the policeman where his dad parks his car. He says to himself: "Stupid, stupid!"
Desperate for help, Aaron runs over to Lester and tells him what he has just done. Lester yells at him to follow him and they take off running. They reach the car. He puts Aaron into the driver's street and pushes the car down the hill. Aaron can't reach the brake pedal and almost crashes into another car. And now the car is headed directly toward a group of boys playing street baseball. Aaron blares down on the car horn. He just does miss hitting one of the boys. The car finally comes to a stop and Aaron can take a big breath. A little later Lester finds Aaron sitting in the car. He picked up a gas can as he was running after the car.
Aaron goes home and tries to tell his father about the car, but dad is too excited to show Aaron his brand new briefcase filled with fine watches. He shows him his license for the territory of Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma. But Aaron asks him what about Missouri? Dad says he couldn't get his first choice for a territory. But he has worked it all out. He gave one of the watches to the owner of the diner so Aaron can go in there and get a free meal once a day and he gave another watch to Mr. Desot in return for giving him some credit on his rental debt. So Aaron will be all set.
So now Aaron will be all on his own. And dad will miss Aaron's graduation day. He walks down to the car with his father. His father gets it and says Aaron is going to be okay because he's smart and can take care of himself. Dad now drives off.
Aaron bring some more liquor to Mr. Mungo. This time he tells Aaron to come in to his apartment. Mr. Mungo then introduces Aaron to the prostitute whose name is Lydia. Lydia just sits there in a chair wearing a dress and with her legs widely stretched out to either side. Aaron makes up an excuse and leaves the apartment.
Aaron goes over to the Woodbine Cafeteria to get some food to eat from Manny. He tells a waiter that he would like to talk to Manny. So the waiter calls out for Mr. Navarro, saying somebody wants to speak with Manny. Mr. Navarro listens as Aaron tells him that his father worked out an arrangement with Manny. Navarro says that Manny worked out way too many arrangements with way too many people, so he fired the son of a bitch. Now the only alternative for Aaron is to ask what can he buy for a quarter? He says he needs something that will last him. So Navarro gives him 20 dinner rolls, saying that should last him.
Aaron goes over to visit with Ella like he promised, but her mother says Ella had another attack. And besides, they are soon moving to Illinois to live with her sister whose a doctor. That, she figures, will be better for Ella.
Aaron tries to sell his canaries to the bird store, but is told the bad news that all the birds are females. And since only the male canaries sing, there is no market for female canaries. The pet store owners says he will give Aaron $50 cents for the five females. Aaron uses the money to buy a kitten. He then takes the kitten over to Ella. That brightens up Ella's day.
At lunch time at school, Aaron can only eat his dinner rolls. He watches as a heavy boy chow down on a wealth of food. Another student deliberately bumps the heavy kid, who then chases after the boy. Aaron goes around several tables to get to the great banquet of food and starts eating the boys sandwich. A pretty girl, who Aaron likes, looks on in disbelief. Aaron takes the sandwich with him back to his original seat.
The pretty young girl invites Aaron to eat at a restaurant with her and her parents. Aaron says yes. They will meet at Billy's graduation party and then leave from there.
Aaron has nothing to wear to the dinner, so he turns to his buddy Lester again. Lester and Aaron now sneak down to the storage area where there are lots of things left behind by apartment dwellers who moved out or were locked out. Aaron is able to find a suit that fits him and Lester takes a bottle of booze.
Aaron shows his suit off to Ella who says it looks wonderful. She adds: "Oh, Aaron, knowing you is the only good thing that happened to me here." She kisses him and then leaves.
Aaron goes to his graduation ceremony and gets his diploma. Lester is there to cheer him on. Aaron feels let down by his parents and day dreams in his seat. He is called up front to receive the Admiral George Dewey Achievement Award for scholastic ability and good character. Aaron is still day dreaming and a fellow student has to tell him he won. Go on up!
Lester drives Aaron in a fancy car to Billy Thompson's house for the graduation party. Lester asks what's Aaron going to do after the party? He is going to dinner with Christina Sebastian. Lester says wow, Aaron's got a real date.
At the party, he loads up on food. Christina asks him to dance. While dancing, Christina starts asking a lot of questions about Aaron's parents. She keeps on probing him until Aaron feels that he has to tell a lie to hide the truth. He says his parents are missing. His parents are archaeologists and they are on an expedition, but nobody's heard from them in a while, so they are missing. Christina is concerned, but Aaron says that he's not that worried. His parents have gotten lost lots of times. Christina tells another girl and soon everyone has heard that Aaron's parents are missing from an expedition.
Aaron's worse critic at school makes fun of Aaron's clothes and says he's a charity case. And this explains why Aaron gets special treatment, like getting that award at school. Oh, that hurts Aaron. And now everyone is staring at Aaron, the parentless kid. Billy comes over to ask Aaron: "I thought your father was a pilot flying for the government." Billy excuses himself saying he has to use the bathroom. He goes up to Billy's room and climbs out a window. He drops himself to the ground and takes off running as fast as he can away from the party.
Aaron goes home and passes apartment after apartment that has a lock on its door. At home Aaron picks up a note left for him. He goes to see Mr. Desot who informs him that he and his family owe $172 dollars in back rent. Aaron pleads for a stay of execution but Desot says these days it's the bank that gives the orders, not him. The bank wants to get rid of everyone on the third floor to rent rooms to the dancehall girls. All the bank cares about is the money.
Aaron travels to the sanitarium to tell his mom about his situation. He can't get inside so he stands by a fence and yells for a Mrs. Kurlander. She is happy to see Aaron, but is worried that maybe things are not so good for him. Aaron, however, will not upset his mother and says that everything's fine. He says he was just wondering where his father is. His mother says she doesn't know exactly when she will be let out, but it will be soon. As Aaron travels home on the train he sees Mr. Sandoz living with other homeless men. He calls out his name. Mr. Sandoz looks like he's in a trance, but he does lift his hand up partway to say hi to Aaron. That's very sobering to see his friend as a hobo.
The elevator is no longer in service in the Empire Hotel. He hears music coming from Mr. Mungo's place and knocks on the door. Mr. Mungo invites him in. Lydia is just wearing a slip and Mungo tells her to put something. She asks Aaron if he minds what she's wearing and then tells Mungo: "See, he likes it." The waiter from Woodbine Cafeteria brings up a full meal for Lydia. That makes Aaron so hungry. Aaron tries to sell his cigar band hat to Mr. Mungo, but the man is more interested in why Aaron feels he has to sell his prize possession. Aaron tells him that the bank is trying to lock him out of his apartment. The older man likes Aaron and tells him to come around tomorrow and they will go see Mr. Desot together. Aaron leaves. Lydia gives Mungo a disapproving look and he asks of her: "What?!"
Aaron feels lonely. So he pretends that he is his father and writes a letter asking that Sullivan might be sent back to St. Louis.
Aaron hears a terrible commotion going on outside the Empire Hotel. It seems the police are using horses and batons to tear down hobo town. He walks down to the lobby and bell boy Ben asks if he is going out? Yeah, for a minute. Aaron doesn't connect the question with the possibility that Ben might be going up stairs to lock Aaron out of his apartment. Outside Aaron sees people being beaten and trampled. He sees Big Butt Burns pushing Lester toward a police vehicle. Aaron rushes over to Lester, who tells the cops he has something that belongs to the kid. He hands Aaron his small knife Lester uses to get into locked rooms. Lester is taken away. Things just keep getting worse and worse for Aaron.
Aaron goes back into the hotel and sees that Ben's usual chair is now empty. It dawns on him he is going to be locked out. Aaron runs as fast as he can up the stairs. He manages to run right past Ben on his way to lock Aaron out. He reaches his room before Ben and locks the door. Ben bangs on the door and Aaron tells him this just isn't fair. His three days aren't up. Ben says a day or two doesn't matter anything to a deadbeat like Aaron. The young boy says Mr. Mungo is going to help him. Ben laughs and says Mungo is just as much a deadbeat as Aaron.
Aaron is back to eating dinner rolls and water. Mr. Mungo isn't there to help him. One day someone slides a folded letter under Aaron's door. The letter contains a cigar band and says: "For your collection" and is signed by Mr. Mungo. Aaron goes to thank the man, but sees a mixture of water and blood coming from beneath the door of Mungo's apartment. He opens the door and follows the liquid until he finds Mungo's lifeless body. He hadsslit his wrists. Aaron becomes frightened and horrified and runs out of Mungo's apartment as fast as he can.
The authorities pick up the body.
Aaron is down to nothing to eat. He starts having hunger pains. Sad images from his past and present haunt him.
He sees the pretty candle decorations his father was unsuccessfully trying to sell. He gets so mad at his father that he starts breaking the candle by throwing them against an apartment wall. Each time the glass breaks, Aaron shouts out: "Bastard!" or "Son of a bitch!" When he's finished, he throws himself on his bed and cries himself to sleep.
There is a knock on the apartment door that is very light, so Aaron knows it's not Ben. He goes to see who it is and there stands Sullivan. Uncle Nathan sent him back when he got "dad's" letter. The boys hug each other. Luckily, Sullivan has a bag lunch and the two boys can eat. Sullivan is shocked to hear that Mr. Mungo killed himself and that Ella and her aunt moved to Illinois and Mr. Sandoz is living in a Hooverville. So now the boys are the only ones left on the third floor.
Aaron teaches Sullivan how to play marbles. There is a knock on the door. Dad has finally come back. He is glad to see Aaron, but shocked to also see Sullivan in the apartment. Dad explains that he is back home because he got the WPA job. He's going to be a clerk, first-class. And he will be paid $65 dollars a month. Sullivan thinks that's a fortune. Aaron, however, reserves comments having been sobered up by continued hardships. He's the one member of the family who has really, truly suffered.
Dad says let's go get their mother and then go to Carleton Court. Aaron says they have to take their stuff with them. Dad says to leave it all behind. They will buy new stuff. Aaron screams at his father: "No!!!!" "I'm not leaving my stuff here for Ben." Dad explains to Aaron that the only way they can take their things out of the hotel is if he pays the bill for the back rent. But he's not going to pay the bill. They are just going to leave this place and go. But Aaron tells his father that they will meet him over at the Carleton Court. Sullivan tells dad that he is staying with Aaron. Dad leaves saying the boys will never get their things past Ben.
Sullivan stands on the street below the apartment building window. Aaron ties things together with cloth and slowly lets them out the window and down to Sullivan. Then he puts on multiple layers of clothes and leaves the apartment. He uses Lester's knife to get into the storage room and takes all the keys out from the locks Ben uses to lock people out. He takes the keys with him. While he's down there he grabs Mr. Sandoz's paints. He walks through the lobby and Ben grabs him. He says Aaron is wearing a lot of clothes. Aaron tells him that's none of his business. He then tells Ben you can teach a dog to stand on it's hind legs, but it's still a dog. He walks out of the hotel forever.
Aaron sees Big Butt Burns picking on another kid. He shouts out hey, Big Butt. Burns is white hot mad and comes after Aaron. But a truck just avoids hitting Big Butt Burns by inches. Some of the watermelons off the truck smash at the feet of Big Butt. And now Big Butt has to deal with two angry watermelon sellers.
Ben is pissed when he sees his locks without keys and then nothing left in Aaron's apartment.
Dad gets mother from the sanitarium and they go to Carleton Court. The boys are already there waiting for their parents. The manager let the boy's into their new place. To the boys the apartment looks gigantic. They have their own bedroom and the apartment even has a bathroom. The boys are absolutely thrilled.
Their parents arrive and the family is finally reunited. Sullivan runs to see his mother, but Aaron again stands back. Dad has to go into the bedroom and get Aaron. But, at least this time, he's not yelling at his boy. He puts his arm around Aaron's shoulder and walks him over to say hello to mother.
Damn good movie. It's a good one to teach people a little bit of how hard things were for even "regular" middle-class people during the Great Depression in the United States of America. The family was down to nothing, had nothing. This forced the family to split up, at least temporarily. And the really nice young fellow bore the brunt of the real suffering endured by the family members. One day to the next things get worse and worse for Aaron and for the people who live around him on the third floor of the Empire Hotel. How many shocks and setbacks can one poor boy suffer without being permanently effected by his travails? The experience is so profound on Aaron that his personality actually changes. Unlike his still happy go lucky father, Aaron faced starvation as he was all alone with no money. He had only his friend Lester to help him and then the cops caught Lester for stealing things, some of the things that went to help Aaron. Aaron became a much more cautious person, very money aware and a bit alienated from his parents. No longer is he a carefree lad.
There are still millions of white people in the USA who have closed their hearts to the poor and suffering -- blaming the victims. They probably would never watch this movie because they don't want to hear that very bad things can happen to people who are very, very good. Some people are ideologically programmed not to have a heart and work to make things even worse for the poor. I just say, there's no heaven for these people unless they repent of their racism and wickedness.
The actors were really good, making the film all the better. Thank God for actors and actresses and movies that have a heart!!!!
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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