Thursday, April 20, 2017

Emperor of the North (Pole)

Coming up on FXM Retro tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM, and available on DVD, is Emperor of the North.

The movie starts of with a scrolling intertitle telling us that the time is 1933, which means the Great Depression, and a lot of hobos riding the rails. We then see one particular hobo trying to hop a train, except that this time there's a bit of a difference. The conductor, named "Shack" (Ernest Borgnine) is more vicious in getting people off his train, and responds by hitting the guy in the head with a hammer, killing the guy as he falls off the train.

After the credits roll, accompanied to some horrible music by Marty Robbins, we met another hobo, A Number 1 (Lee Marvin). He's one of the more experienced hobos, and knows how to evade detection. He hops on an empty car in Shack's train. And he'd be able to get where he's going too, except that not long afterward, another idiot, young Cigaret (Keith Carradine), insists on getting on the train in the same car as A Number 1. Cigaret is an obnoxious jerk, and thinks he can be just as "good", or renowned, a hobo as A Number 1.

The two hobos eventually have to burn their way out of the boxcar they were riding in after Shack locked them in, but Cigaret decides he's going to tell anybody who will listen that he rode Shack's train. And dammit, he's going to do it again, just to show proof of concept of something, not that they used that phrase back in the 1930s. A Number 1 is none too happy about this, and decides he's going to be the one to show everybody how it's done, although he's going to have to take Cigaret under his wing since Cigaret isn't going to stop following him.

Shack, of course, is brutal, as we already saw from the way he hammered a guy to death. And when Shack finds he's got a pair of hobos riding his train, he's going to try any means he can to get the bastards off. And they're going to try anything they can to stop the train and get on it, leading to the climactic fight scene....

Emperor of the North is entertaining enough, although not without its problems. It runs a shade under two hours, but is the sort of story that could probably have been told in only a 90-100 minute running time. Parts of the story really drag. The bigger problem, however, is the Cigaret character. He's one of those obnoxious jerks constantly screwing things up for A Number 1. Sure, there are characters you want to see get their comeuppance, but good writing can make such characters fun: think the way southern sheriffs are often portrayed as buffoons. Cigaret isn't so well written, and the result is the sort of character I wanted to see A Number 1 smack.

Overall, however, if you haven't seen Emperor of the North, it's a movie well worth a watch.

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