OF THE NORTH
THE BEST HOBO-KILLIN MOVIE OF
artwork created for retroCRUSH and
(c) 2005 by Johnny Ryan
"But now I am going to show you what
to people who ride on my train without a ticket!"
-Shack, "Emperor of The North"
One day, I got an email from Johnny
Ryan, who had just read my Keith Carradine interview, and he
heartily recommended that I should see a 1973 film he was in called
Emperor of the North. His praise was intriguing:
really terrific. Lee Marvin plays "A#1", King of the Hobos! Ernest
Borgnine is great as the bloodthirsty, hobo-hating train conductor.
And when I say he hates hobos, I ain't kiddin'!! He beats them to
death with a lead pipe if he catches them sleeping on his train. And
he calls them "dirty 'bos". The movie ends, of course, with a brutal
face-off between Borgnine and Marvin on a moving train. Carradine
plays a young, untrustworthy kid trying to learn the ropes of being
a master-hobo from Marvin."
As luck would have it, AMC happened
to be showing it on TV just a few days later, and after seeing if
for myself, I can tell you it's easily become one of my favorite
The opening scene sets the wonderful
tone for the film. Ernest Borgnine, dressed in his black
conductor's outfit, inspects his train that's about ready to start
moving down the rails. Several hobos peek behind the bushes
like alcohol-soaked Ewoks, all too scared to jump the train.
But we don't know just why. As the train pulls away, a sneaky
tramp darts out and jumps inbetween two of the cars. Borgnine
sees him out of the corner of his eye, and laughs with glee and he
scurries alongside the cars and surprises the hobo with a mini
sledgehammer strike to his skull while the poor sap is munching on a
sandwich. A couple more hits sends the hobo falling to his
doom, with a gruesome camera angle showing his body flopping around
underneath the cars.
movie is fantastic and I can't believe it's not in print any longer.
Ernest Borgnine is deliciously evil as the hobo-hating Shack who'd
rather brutally smash someone to bits than give him a free ride.
His methods of getting rid of freeloaders are incredibly sadistic.
To dispose of a "bo" who's hanging underneath a car, he lowers a
cable with a giant lead weight along the tracks, and the thing
bounces up and down as the train races along until it finds the
unsuspecting hobo, with bone crunching consequences.
Lee Marvin plays A #1, a veteran hobo
who wants to achieve immortality by becoming the only guy to
actually sneak a free-ride on Shack's watch. Keith Carradine
is a wet behind the ears young hobo that's trying to make a name for
himself, soon, but ends up causing trouble of his own as he tries to
assist. It all ends with a crazy showdown on the train
with Marvin vs. Borgnine with some of the most ridiculously fake
bloody wounds I've ever seen. A true trash film classic!
The movie is directed by Robert
Aldrich, who brought us such classics as The Longest Yard,
The Dirty Dozen, and a crazy female wrestling movie with Peter
Falk called All The Marbles that I just love. The story
has a great mythical comic book quality to it, and it's surprisingly
violent for such an early 70s non-exploitation movie. Also
fans of vintage steam trains will not be disappointed, as the engine
in this film, set in the early 30s, is a thing of beauty, as is the
gorgeous countryside that is shown western countryside that is shown
Unfortunately the film is out of
print, but you can catch it on AMC this Friday at 6:30AM EST/3:30
PST. So set your TIVO's up now. You'll be glad you did!
HERE for details.