Emperor of the North Pole
|Emperor of the North|
original film poster
|Directed by||Robert Aldrich|
|Produced by||Kenneth Hyman
|Screenplay by||Christopher Knopf|
|Story by||Jack London (uncredited)|
|Music by||Frank De Vol|
|Cinematography||Joseph F. Biroc|
|Edited by||Michael Luciano|
20th Century Fox
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox (USA, theatrical)
Fox-MGM (West Germany)
ABC USA TV airing
|Box office||$2 million (US/ Canada rentals)
251,021 admissions (France)
Emperor of the North Pole is a 1973 American film directed by Robert Aldrich and starring Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, and Keith Carradine. It was re-released under the shorter title Emperor of the North, and is best known under the latter name.
The film is about hobos during the 1930s and is set in the U.S. state of Oregon. It is based, in part, on the books The Road by Jack London and From Coast to Coast with Jack London by "A-No.-1" (the pen-name of Leon Ray Livingston), although both books predate the 1930s by a few decades. Carradine's character, Cigaret, uses the moniker that Jack London used on the road, and like London, is portrayed as a young traveling companion to the older A-No.-1 (played by Marvin), but that is where the similarity between Carradine's character and Jack London ends, as Cigaret is portrayed in the film as immature, loud-mouthed, and none too bright. The title is a reference to a joke among hobos during the Great Depression that the world's best hobo was "Emperor of the North Pole", a way of poking fun at their own desperate situation since somebody ruling over the North Pole would reign over a wasteland.
Shack is a merciless, inhumane, and sadistic bully of a railroad conductor who takes it upon himself to ensure that no one would ever ride on his train for free, and that anyone who has would no longer live. Shack has an arsenal of makeshift weapons: a hammer, a steel rod, and a chain.
A hobo who is a hero to his peers, A-No.1, manages to hop the train with the younger, less-experienced Cigaret close behind. At the next stop, A-No.1 evades Shack and escapes into the hobo jungle, but Cigaret is caught. Shack threatens to kill Cigaret for riding his train for free, who is bragging that he and he alone did it.
Shack is distracted when he learns that A-No.1 has posted a notice on the yard water tower, announcing that he will become the first hobo to ride Shack's train all the way to Portland.
The other hobos agree that the first who can successfully ride Shack's train will have earned the title "Emperor of the North Pole." Railroad workers place bets whether A-No.-1 can do it, spreading the news far and wide over the telegraph, Shack being widely known and disliked.
A-No.1 hops the train and does everything he can to steer clear of Shack, pulling a series of pranks with the help of other hobos, such as running Shack's train into a siding and greasing the tracks, almost causing it to crash head on into an oncoming mail train. He tries to rid himself of the company of Cigaret, who tags along and makes a general pest of himself. Shack succeeds in ejecting the two, but they board a fast passenger train which overtakes Shack's train and ride it to Salem, Oregon.
There, they have several farcical encounters, including one with a policeman who chases the two into the Salem hobo jungle, accusing them of stealing a turkey. They also encounter a Holiness minister holding an outdoor baptism service.
The two hobos reboard Shack's train after it arrives in Salem. The story ends with a climactic fight, involving heavy chains, planks of wood and an axe. A-No.1 ultimately has the bloodied Shack at his mercy, but instead of killing him, throws him off the train. He then tosses Cigaret off for bragging about how "they" defeated Shack, telling the kid he could have become a good bum but he's got no class.
- Lee Marvin as A-No.-1
- Ernest Borgnine as Shack
- Keith Carradine as Cigaret
- Charles Tyner as Cracker
- Matt Clark as Yardlet
- Liam Dunn as Smile
- Simon Oakland as The Policeman
- Malcolm Atterbury as Hogger
- Elisha Cook, Jr. as Gray Cat
- Harry Caesar as Coaly
- Vic Tayback as Yardman
- Hal Baylor as Yardman's helper
- Joe Di Reda as Ringer
- Diane Dye as Girl in water
- Robert Foulk as Conductor
- James Goodwin as Fakir
- Raymond Guth as Preacher
- Sid Haig as Grease Tail
- Karl Lukas as Pokey Stiff
- Edward McNally as Yard Clerk
- John Steadman as Stew Bum
- Dave Willock as Groundhog
- Lance Henriksen as Railroad worker (uncredited)
The film was shot in and around the city of Cottage Grove, Oregon along the right-of-way of the Oregon, Pacific and Eastern Railway (OP&E). Willis Kyle, President of the OP&E in 1972, allowed the film company unlimited access to make the film. Oregon, Pacific and Eastern's rolling stock, including two steam locomotives (one being #19, a type 2-8-2 Mikado), appear in the film. This was the location used by Buster Keaton for his 1927 railroad feature The General. Also featured in the film is the Dorena Reservoir, located about 10 miles east of Cottage Grove, and OP&E's railyard in downtown Cottage Grove.
Filming finished on October 5, 1972.
The film was released in North America on DVD on June 5, 2006 under the title Emperor of the North. The Region 2 version was available under general release in the UK from September 3, 2007 under the same title.
On June 16, 2008, Intrada Records released the only commercial CD version of composer Frank De Vol's soundtrack to the public, 35 years after the film's release. The CD, limited to 1,200 copies, immediately sold out. Featuring several unused score cues, it was learned that Bill Medley, of The Righteous Brothers, had originally recorded the vocals for the film's score, but was replaced at the last minute for unknown reasons by Marty Robbins.
The theme ballad, "A Man and a Train", written by Frank De Vol with lyrics by Hal David and sung by Marty Robbins, appears on his album All-Time Greatest Hits (Catalog# 77425), and the CD The Best of Marty Robbins released by Curb Records in January 2006, both featuring a second verse not used in the film.
- Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p257
- "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, January 9, 1974 p 19
- Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History, Scarecrow Press, 1989 p232
- French box office results for Robert Aldrich films at Box Office Story
- "Oregon, Pacific & Eastern Railway". Abandoned Railroads of the Pacific Northwest. Retrieved November 9, 2006.
- "Row River Trail: Harms Park". City of Cottage Grove, Oregon. Archived from the original on October 19, 2007. Retrieved November 9, 2006.
- Alain Silver and James Ursini, Whatever Happened to Robert Aldrich?, Limelight, 1995 p 288