Ernest Borgnine Rides the Rails in Emperor of the North

Emperor of the North

Staring:  Lee Marvin (Actor), Ernest Borgnine (Actor), Robert Aldrich

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.

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

Academy Award winner Ernest Borgnine’s movies include: MartyThe Flight of the Phoenix (1965), The Dirty Dozen (1967), Emperor of the North (1973), Ice Station Zebra (1968), Convoy (1978), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), The Black Hole (1979) and Escape from New York (1981).

Borgnine appeared in an earlier film, From Here to Eternity (1953), playing a similarly sadistic Sergeant “Fatso” Judson, who beats a stockade prisoner in his charge, Angelo Maggio (played by Frank Sinatra).

Yreka Western #19 – Photo by Matt Starman

The movie Emperor of the North was filmed on the Oregon, Pacific & Eastern short line at Cottage Grover, Oregon along with Burlington Northern’s branch between Banks and Veronia, Ore.

Oregon, Pacific & Eastern 2-8-2 No. 19 provided the steam action. The 1915 Baldwin built steam locomotive is for sale in Yreka, CA.

Another engine, ex-Magma Arizona 2-8-0 No. 5  also starred but appeared as No. 4 and No. 27 in various scenes to represent different engines on different trains.

[Product Description] [Specifications]

Theodore R. Hazen: 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.

P. Ferrigno “firehouse444”: 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”.

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