Emperor of the North

Directed by Robert Aldrich.
With Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Keith Carradine.
US, 1973, DCP, color, 118 min.

Longstanding Aldrich fixtures Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin go head-to-head in the Depression-era Emperor of the North as sadistic freight train conductor and elite hobo rail hopper, their respective aged features well suited to the atmosphere of every-man-for-himself desperation. The former wants his locomotive purged of filthy parasites; the latter likes the thrill of danger and is unafraid to take on the feared captain in order to one up his fellow vagrants. Shooting on location in the verdant Oregon wilderness, Aldrich brings this obscure pocket of American history to grubby life through soulful characterizations and an unrelenting visual dynamism, with all the action occurring within shouting distance of the moving train. In simultaneously documenting Depression-era class tension and schematizing the enduring American mistreatment of the dispossessed by those in power, Emperor of the North wears its social consciousness on its sleeve. It also represents a spatial concentration of the Aldrich formula, with the train being just another arena for demonstrations of male pride and tenacity.

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