Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Emperor of the North Pole (1973)

Director: Robert Aldrich

Starring: Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Keith Carradine, Charles Tyner

More Info: IMDB

Tagline: Lee Marvin & Ernest Borgnine meet in the fight of the century.

Plot: Famous for brazenly hopping the most dangerous trains, even legendary hobo A no. 1 (Lee Marvin) won't ride a locomotive guarded by brutal railway cop Shack (Ernest Borgnine). But when his young protégé, Cigaret (Keith Carradine), boasts that he'll hop Shack's train, A no. 1 joins him, unwilling to lose his hard-won moniker. Soon, the two tramps are in a life-or-death battle with the sadistic Shack in this intense Depression-era drama.

My Rating: 6/10

Would I watch it again? Nah.

Here's a flick that just screamed "Watch me!". You've got director Robert "THE DIRTY DOZEN" Aldrich and badasses Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine! What's that? There's a big fight between these two manly men on top of a moving train? You can't keep me away from this any longer.

Too soon. It's a two hour disappointment with one letdown after another. So what went wrong? It's too "light". There's too much comedy. I love Marvin but there are too many moments where he's being Lee Marvin, the badass movie star instead of being his character, A No.1. Keith Carradine is absolutely annoying as the young upstart who thinks he's a badass. Listen, this guy doesn't have the testosterone in his entire body that Marvin has in one hair off his head! It'd be like watching Hayden Christiansen in the same scene with...uh...just about anybody. You'd know instantly who's got it and who doesn't. I can't blame Carradine too much. After all, who wouldn't look like a schmuck in the presence of the great Lee Marvin? Ernest Borgnine, that's who.

Here's a fucking badass that people don't consider him one. Look at this face and tell me he couldn't kick your ass just thinkin' about it!

See? You can almost hear him growling and gnawing on your severed leg that you gladly cut off with a pocket knife as a sacrifice to him for not beating the snout out of you.

Everything that happens with Borgnine (Shack) is serious and straight down the line. He's a sadistically brutal man who will kill anyone who tries to catch a free ride on his train. They show you right from the beginning what he's capable of so you know he means business.

So Borgnine's character is presented very well, Marvin's could have been better (but it's still good) and Carradine's is downright annoying. The music, by the not so great Frank De Vol (I've never really cared for this man's scores), is amateurish and sounds like something from a DUKES OF HAZZARD episode. It's very silly, thin and it seriously detracts from the film. Put in someone like Goldsmith and you'd likely have a much better movie.

Here's a Baptist wet t-shirt contest. Niiiiiice!

Something I didn't quite get considering the two hour run time is why there are so many off-train mini adventures with Marvin and Carradine. At least twice they leave the train, go off and do their thing and then come back the next day to hop back on (often the same train) for more travelling. I would have thought that there would be brief pit stops from time to time but not ones that lasted a day or more. It's possible but it seemed forced so we could watch Marvin go steal some chickens and hang out with other hobos and shit. I would have sacrificed a few scenes just to tighten the picture and lose some of Carradine's antics.

It was really neat, though, to see the principle actors (and there's a lot of Borgnine) doing their scenes on top of a moving train. It's not the kind of thing you'd see these days and it also goes to show that Borgnine and Marvin aren't some namby pamby actors who are afraid of a little danger.

Oh, and that fight at the end? Well, it's not what the tagline suggests, I'll tell you that much. But like some of the earlier spots of violence in the film, it's got moments of harsh brutality. When someone gets it with an axe - you feel it. It's a pretty good climax considering but it could have been better. And...


It's a happy fucking ending. Nobody dies and Marvin, having thrown Carradine and an injured (but still very much alive) Borgnine off the train, yells a long-ass speech to Carradine about how he ain't got what it takes and so on. Give...me...a fucking...break!


Sadly, this film ain't got what it takes, either, but it's still worth watching for Borgnine and Marvin.

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