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Emperor of the North
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Two 1930s hobos try to ride a brutal conductor's freight train.
Emperor of the North, a vivid Depression-era drama, opens with a friendly, down-home song that doesn't prepare the audience for what follows: The brutal killing of a train-hopping bum at the hands of a cruel conductor named Shack (Ernest Borgnine, Marty, The Poseidon Adventure). A hobo called A-No. 1 (Lee Marvin, Cat Ballou, The Big Heat) rises to the challenge of catching a ride on Shack's train--but his heels are dogged by a tenderfoot (Keith Carradine, Deadwood, Nashville), whose inexperience may get them both killed. Director Robert Aldrich (The Dirty Dozen, Kiss Me Deadly) has a sure feel for male behavior driven by pride, boredom, and desperation. The swagger gets a little overblown at times, but more often Emperor of the North has a gritty realism, peppered with flashes of sardonic humor and surprising compassion. Aldrich has a gift for a loose yet always watchable story, filled with engaging bit parts and offbeat incidents that flesh out the world and make the main storyline all the more compelling. Marvin and Borgnine--craggy-faced character actors deluxe--are in excellent form, but Carradine steals the movie with his bitter, callow arrogance. (Originally titled Emperor of the North Pole, a bit of hobo lingo.) --Bret Fetzer
- Commentary by film historian Dana Polan
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Regardless, the film showcases two screen legends, and if you love old steam trains chugging thru some very beautiful Oregon scenery, plus a film with loads of action, you can't go wrong with buying this one.
The story is loosely based on the real A-No.1, Leon Ray Livingston, an early 20th century guru of the hobo lifestyle who taught legions of tramps how to hop freight trains. If you love trains and dream about what it would be like to ride the rails, then this movie is for you.
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