Emperor of the North (USA, 1973)

emperorofthenorthDirected by: Robert Aldrich. On the DVD I rented from the library, there’s an audio commentary track from some film historian going on about the cultural importance of this “cult classic.” I gotta say, I was skeptical. Within about 5 minutes of screen time, I wasn’t sure that this movie would be anything more than some crappy 70’s B-movie that was lucky enough to have some great talent like Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin. Once I found out that Robert Aldrich is a “notable director”—the guy who did The Dirty Dozen—this thing made a lot more sense. I absolutely loved The Dirty Dozen when I was a kid. I mean, come on! But looking back, it probably wasn’t actually a “good” movie. But maybe I’m totally on the wrong track. This film probably has all of the same things that I loved about The Dirty Dozen-–tough guys being tough in a tough-guy world, a lot of pre-feminist, old school, sub-John Wayne masculinism, but nothing directly negative or offensive to our delicate modern sensibilities. So I suppose the way that you read this film depends on how you’re feeling that day, like myself. There’s a lot of fun stuff in this film, mostly the fact that the majority of the shots take place on moving trains as they pass by some of the most beautiful scenery on the continent—the Pacific northwest. There’s also a lot of crappy stuff—the whole relationship between Lee Marvin and the young kid Keith Carradine is kind of crappy. The whole dynamic is just not that satisfying, especially when I think that this film could be really powerful and simple by just focusing on the rivalry between Marvin and Borgnine—these two creaky old dinosaurs, duking it out. Those old-man fight scenes at the end are some of the most visceral I’ve ever seen. You can feel every punch, hear how damn tired they are—fight scenes are rarely more grounded and gritty. An even briefer review would be this: OLD MAN HOBO FIGHTS.

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One response to “Emperor of the North (USA, 1973)

  1. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2013 | Offhand Reviews·

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