Sunday, July 09, 2006

Emperor of the North

While spending the evening with my friend Michael, we came across an old movie 'Emperor of the North" (also released as "Emperor of the North Pole")from 1973. Starring Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, and Keith Carradine, the movie is an action tale set among the rail riding hobo communities of the Depression Pacific Northwest. The title refers to a hobo joke that the world's best hobo was "Emperor of the North Pole," a way of poking fun at their own desperate situation since an Emperor of the North Pole would rule over nothing.

Ernest Borgnine plays the sadistic conductor Shack who brags that no hobo ever rides his train. As the movie opens, he has just thrown a hobo off his train to his death. Lee Marvin plays A#1 the wise and wiley hobo who manages to hop Shack's train along with the pain in the butt and cocky young hobo Cigaret played by Carradine. At the next stop, A#1 evades Shack and escapes but Cigaret is caught. Shack threatens to kill Cigaret but he manages to escape and finds that A#1 has announced that he will be the first hobo to ride Shack's train all the way to Portland. Cigaret of course tags along behind.

Thus the fun begins as Cigaret and A#1 manage to out maneuver Shack. Shack manages to eject them once but they hop a different train and beat him to Salem where they sneak on for the final encounter. The film ends with a climactic battle between Shack and A#1. When A#1 has the defeated Shack at his mercy, instead of killing him, he just throws him off the train. Cigaret brags how great "they" are, how "they beat' shack and how "they" are the greatest of all hobos. A#1, finally having his fill of Cigaret, throws the testosterone laden boy off the train into a lake, lecturing him all while he rides the train on to Portland and to glory.

Good fun, compelling story, minor blood and guts compared to the movies of today, the good guys win and show that they can win without totally massacring their enemy. Certainly worth watching if you come across it.

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