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Emperor of the North
Emperor of the North
Actors: Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Keith Carradine, Charles Tyner, Malcolm Atterbury
Director: Robert Aldrich
Genres: Action & Adventure, Drama, Mystery & Suspense
PG     2006     1hr 58min

A legendary depression-era hobo and his young accomplice battle a sadistic railroad worker in a determined bid to hitch a ride.


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Movie Details

Actors: Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Keith Carradine, Charles Tyner, Malcolm Atterbury
Director: Robert Aldrich
Creators: Joseph F. Biroc, Michael Luciano, Kenneth Hyman, Stanley Hough, Christopher Knopf, Jack London
Genres: Action & Adventure, Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Sub-Genres: Action & Adventure, Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen
DVD Release Date: 06/06/2006
Original Release Date: 05/23/1973
Theatrical Release Date: 05/23/1973
Release Year: 2006
Run Time: 1hr 58min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 12
MPAA Rating: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, Spanish

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Movie Reviews

"A-No.1 At Rest At Last"
Theodore R. Hazen | United States | 03/26/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"EMPEROR OF THE NORTH POLE is my favorite movies, and LEE MARVIN is one of my favorite actors. I have been waiting for years for this movie to come out on DVD. I hope the DVD includes features such as the movie trailer, and the "making of feature" (which I have seen for sale separately on video tape), and a photo gallery.

Why is this my favorite movie? I grew up where the real A-No.1 hung out, where his 12 books on being a hobo were published, and where he finally settled down, and died. A-No.1 was a real life folk hero featured in a college class on American Folklore. A-No.1 a.k.a. LEON RAY LIVINGSTON (1872-1944) was born in San Francisco, and at the young age of 11 young LEON RAY LIVINGSTON ran away from home and took to the rails. He had a done something, he couldn't recall exactly what it was, and feared that his parents would punish him, and rather than face his father he ran away being inspired by the song, "THE BIG ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN." My great grandfather (The Jew) lived in a rooming house in Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania, where A-No.1 would stay when he was in town, and where A-No.1 would meet his future wife. My mother's father (Steve German) rode the rails when he first came to this country in 1910. My great uncle Henry L. spent most of his life living as a hermit in tar paper shacks and hollowed out earth mounds. When the Gypsies came to town, I would go with him to listen to the music around the campfire at night. As a young kid I (Grahamqckr) had to ride the rails as well. It will remain the happiest time of my life being chased by railroad dicks though train yards. And I worked in a flour mill where the owner Harry Moffatt remembered seeing A-No.1 when he would come into town. A-No.1's books inspired my father (Erie Ted) who was a teenager in the 19-teens to run away from home on a number of occasions. He would end up in places like Canada, and Mexico, and his mother would have to send money for his ticket home.

The books of LEON RAY LIVINGSTON (a.k.a. A-No.1) published in Cambridge Springs and Erie, Pennsylvania, by A-No.1 Printing Company are as follows: "Life and Adventures of America's Most Celebrated Tramp! "A-No.1 The Champion Tramp Of The World" The Actual True Life Adventures of A-No.1. The famous tramp who traveled 500,000 miles for $7.61. A-No.1 the King of the Hoboes. A-No.1 Leon Ray Livingston."

1. Life and Adventure of A-No. 1.
2. Hobo-Camp-Fire-Tales
3. The Curse of Tramp Life.
4. The Trail of the Tramp.
5. The Adventures of a Female Tramp.
6. The Ways of the Hobo.
7. The Snare of the Road.
8. From Coast to Coast with Jack London.
9. The Mother of All Hoboes.
10. The Wife I Won.
11. Traveling with Tramps.
12. Here and There with A-No. 1.

He gained fame seldom equaled by anyone who devoted almost a lifetime to travel. He set out to see the world when he was only eleven and for thirty-one years and four months he traveled every where. He said of himself, "I thought when I ran away from my home in California that I'd see everything in one day, but I was wrong and it took me thirty-one years to find that out."

LEON wrote articles published in the 1890's which would basis of his book series. LIVINGSTON published twelve books, which sold by the hundreds of thousands. He turned to the lecture platform when his traveling days were over and spoke before thousands of schools and churches always on the same theme - "Home is Your Best Place." "KING OF ROAD" - A life of wandering and traveling, which led into an example for young people through books and lecturing "Beware of the Open Road." LEON RAY LIVINGSTON, became famous as "A-No.1 the Tramp. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft asked to meet him.

He soon realized he was trapped in the life of being a hobo, but realized that many young kids, both boys and girls would run-away, and got killed on the trains. He spent much time giving lectures on the evils of running away from home a become a hobo. He was the greatest success story of someone who took to the trains, and learned to be a hobo. A-No.1 would not admit it, but he actually taught many people how to hop fright trains, because he spent much time trying to convince young people to go back home. From money from his books and lectures, he bought one way tickets home for these kids. His greatest success story was a young JACK LONDON who when home to lead the straight and narrow to live as an author. Many young hoboes may also have written this moniker on water tanks, railroad freight buildings, and chalk it on box cars. At one time it was more common to find "A-No.1' inscribed somewhere, than "KILLROY WAS HERE!" A-No.1 In hobo lingo it means "number one man," and later it came to mean, that you are "all right (or okay) with me." The thumbs up sign, "A Number One."

JACK LONDON whose "Moniker" or hobo's nickname was SAILOR JACK or CIGARET. In the book "FROM COAST TO COAST WITH JACK LONDON," by A-No.1, he finally gets tired of hearing CIGARET run at the mouth all the time, trying to maintain the character of JACK LONDON, so he grabs him, and throws him off back of a moving train. So line in the movie (EMPEROR OF THE NORTH POLE) has real meaning, LEE MARVIN says as A-No.1 to CIGARET (KEITH CARRADINE) (to his face.), "Hey kid you got no class......(Kids face goes blank as he is suddenly grabbed, and tossed from the moving train into the stream below. The kids face rises out of the water. A-No.1 walks back in the car.).......Hits the bums kid. Run like the devil. Get a tin can and take up mooching. Knock on back doors for a nickel. Tell them your story. Make em weep. You could have been a meat eater kid (A-No.1 pointing at him.).......But you didn't listen to me when I laid it down......(Kid swings hand in water.)......Stay off the tracks. Forget it. Its a bum's world for a bum. Your never be Emperor of the North Pole Kid. You had the juice kid, but not the heart, and they go together. Your all gab, and no feel, and nobody can teach you that, not even A-No.1. So stay off the train, she'll throw you under for sure. Remember me for that. So long kid."

EMPEROR OF THE NORTH POLE never mentions that the LEE MARVIN character is an author of books. The real A-No.1 kept a series of travel journal notebooks on his person, where as the LEE MARVIN A-No.1 is just living his life. "FROM COAST TO COAST" is an interesting adventure novel. It centers around the hobo partnership of the author, LEON RAY LIVINGSTON, a.k.a. A-No.1, and JACK LONDON (who was a slightly better writer than A-No.1). They travel from New York City out to San Francisco by rail, and have a crazy an adventure on the way. A-No.1 feels very conflicted about his life on the road as a railroad tramp. He clearly hates it, yet cannot quit the life. All of A-No.1's books are a must-read for people who are interested in the psychology of the hobo-tramp, language and culture of the period. JACK (JOHN GRIFFRITH) LONDON (1876-1916) in his book, "THE ROAD-HOBOES THAT PASS IN THE NIGHT," published in 1907, does not even mention A-No.1 once in the long list of hoboes and tramps that he encountered! However, he does talk about SKYSAIL JACK who in the movie only rode SHACK'S train only in a coffin.

Some minor technical problems with the movie are:

(1) The radio speech of President Franklin D. Roosevelt as heard in SMILE's caboose took place on a different date than in the movie, October 22, 1933. The fireside chat from President Franklin Roosevelt is from 28 April 1935. Hey, it works for the scene, and for the move as a whole.

(2) ERNEST BORGNINE who plays the murderous bug-eyed SHACK.......A Shack
is a brakeman, and not a conductor. The brakeman is the occupant of a caboose. Shack's master is a conductor. SHACK may have started working as a brakeman, and retained the name of SHACK. BORGNINE is a sadist, who sports a menacing grin, and believes that the hoboes are the scum of the earth. He will sledgehammer anyone to death who thinks they can get a free ride on his train. SHACK's claim to fame is, no one gets a free ride on his train unless they want to be dead. LEE MARVIN is laconic, immensely proud to be a hobo, and proud enough to claim he can ride any train for free. The real A-No.1 was also known by everyone he encountered, and in a short time it was like he had a rail pass to ride any train in the country for "free" and no one would put him off. Even in JACK LONDON's chapter article and book, "THE ROAD-HOBOES THAT PASS IN THE NIGHT," mentions that "SHACK" is a "brakemen" who don't bother them, and let them (the hoboes) sleep all night.

(3) CHARLES TYNER who plays CRACKER........A Cracker (1) - A contemptuous name for a railroad worker who works below or underneath a higher grade person. A slang term for poor southern white trash. Cracker (2) - One who is lazy, brutal, inquisitive, intolerant, illiterate, ignorant, and of the lowest class. CRACKER is just CRACKER, and we love him for that. HARRY GAESAH who played COALY which is a the railroad name of the fireman. They shovel coal like the stokers on a steam ship, and everything around them would become black like coal. MALCOLM ATTERBURY who played the engineer which were known by the name of HOGGER.

An early draft of the script for the 1973 Robert Aldrich classic THE EMPEROR OF THE NORTH POLE, screen play by CHRISTOPHER KNOPF, the movie takes place in 1905 rather than the great depression. GEORGE C. SCOTT was originally asked to play A-No.1 because of his work in the movie FLIM FLAM MAN, but turned it down. GEORGE C. SCOTT would have been wonderful as A-No.1, but LEE MARVIN has become the real movie version of A-No.1, forgetting the fact that the real A-No.1 LEON RAY LIVINGSTON was short, had a moustache, and was half-Jewish. He could speak Hebrew and Yiddish with the best of them. GEORGE C. SCOTT has a slick quality about him where LEE MARVIN has a rough edge quality to him. LEE MARVIN is terrific as the spry and wrinkled tramp, who long ago forgot when the knocks stopped hurting, and is a professional tramp (with his skimmer-a flat hat that won't blow off, goggles, gloves, leather belt, straight razor blade, butt board, etc., besides the bindle that he lost to the road kids at the beginning of the movie) much like the real A-No.1.

The movie opens with "1933 THE HEIGHT OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION
Hoboes, roamed the land; riding the rails in a desperate search for jobs. Spurned by society, unwanted and homeless, they became a breed apart. Nomads who scorned the law and enforce their own. Dedicated to their destruction was the Railroad Man who stood between them and their only source of survival -- The Trains."

The lyrics of "A MAN AND A TRAIN" by HAL DAVID MUSIC BY FRANK DeVOL and sung by MARTY ROBBINS. "A Man, and a Train. A train and a man. The both try to run as far, and as far as fast as they can. But a man is not a train, and a train is not a man. A man can do things that a train never can. Going up a mountain. Even half way to the top. A minute that a train runs out of steam, its got to stop. But is a different story, when a man runs out of steam, he still can go a long, long way, on nothing but a dream..........So don't try and stop me. So don't try and stop me, because no body can.............I've got a dream, a beautiful dream, and that makes me a man..........I've got a dream, a beautiful dream, and that makes me a man. (Train moves onto siding.) Oh, No don't try and stop me. Don't try and stop me. No body can. I've got a dream, a beautiful dream, and it makes me.........Makes me a man."

Men (even if they are hoboes or tramps) are a powerful mythic symbol, showing the oppressed versus the oppressor."
Great Depression Era Train Tale
Chet Ragsdale | USA | 10/07/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"A movie for any fan of Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin or Trains. Set in the Great Depression of the late 20's - 30's. Borgnine portrays Shack, a conductor whose disregard for hobos is legendary. Lee Marvin as A Number One, is the quintessential rider of the rails, who is forced to deal with Shack and a young upstart "bo" played by Keith Carradine. A great story! Watch for the scene with the constable "barking like a dog"!
Marvin and Borgnine face off in violent Depression Era drama
P. Ferrigno | Melbourne, Victoria Australia | 06/12/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Definitely not a film for the faint hearted, director Robert Aldrich places he-men actors Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine on opposing sides in this violent story about hobo's attempting to ride rail freight cars for free during the Great Depression. Fiery Ernest Borgnine once again demonstrates his perfection at playing malevolent screen villains with his sinister portrayal of "Shack", a railway guard with a murderous disposition towards the homeless men crossing the country looking for work. In fact, Borgnine's character is very like the bully that he depicted as "Coley Trimble" in "Bad Day At Black Rock", and even the sadistic "Fatso Judson" in "From Here To Eterninty". Opposing the psychotic "Shack" is fellow screen tough guy Lee Marvin, who plays the crafty and cool headed hobo "A Number One", keen to take on the challenge to ride "Shack's " deadly train and to survive the journey with his life intact !

Fine support is given by a young Keith Carradine as the wise cracking, know it all hobo "Cigaret", as well as engaging performances from character actors, Charles Tyner, Simon Oakland and Elisha Cook Jr. Credit should also be given to props, make up and wardrobe departments, as the film has a genuine 1930's feel to it, and watching the production, it often reminds me of another first rate Depression Era movie....."Hard Times" with Charles Bronson & James Coburn.

"Emperor of the North" has a gritty, earthy feel to the entire film, and you can sense that Aldrich was eager to depict a legendary show down between two fiercely opposed individuals, that were perhaps forgotten amongst the many tales of woe and hardship told during the Depression years. Robert Aldrich had a great knack for directing intense, testosterone laden films that were very popular with male audiences. Chances are you are already a fan of some of his past work including "The Dirty Dozen", "The Flight Of The Phoenix", "The Longest Yard" or "Twilights Last Gleaming".

If you have not seen "Emperor Of The North", then by all means, watch it ! For those of us who are already fans....we are still waiting for the film to be released on DVD !!"
Another Example of Neglected Masterworks
Bruce Kendall | Southern Pines, NC | 07/14/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This film tops my list for neglected masterpieces. It is so packed with meat and metaphor that it would require 100 viewings to catch them all. This is the story of a train bound for the afterlife, basically, with all of humanity packed in its compartments, represented by the existential battle between Marvin and Borgnine (the ultimate hand to hand combat, with the fate of mankind held in the balance). Definitely the apex of both their careers, and Carradine's as well. This is such a superb piece of cinema that it was destined, precisely because of its depth, to go sailing over the heads of American audiences. Storytelling in its most elemental and purest form. A myth worthy of Homer or Hesiod. Art, in other words, in the truest sense. I can't think of a greater distillation of the eternal struggle, a more perfect microcosm of existence, than this movie provides. An absolute masterpiece, and my highest possible level of applause and recommendation."