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PLEASE NOTE: Michael D's is currently in READ ONLY MODE. Anything submitted will simply not be written to the database.
Lots of stuff is still broken, but at least reviews can now be looked up and read.
Emperor of the North (1973)

Emperor of the North (1973)

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Released 5-Oct-2010

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1973
Running Time 115:12 (Case: 75)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Robert Aldrich

Beyond Home Entertainment
Starring Lee Marvin
Ernest Borgnine
Keith Carradine
Charles Tyner
Malcolm Atterbury
Simon Oakland
Harry Caesar
Hal Baylor
Matt Clark
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $14.95 Music Frank De Vol

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     1933, and America is in the grip of the Great Depression. Homeless men, called hoboes, ride freight trains across the country in search of work; railway men do everything in their power to stop them cadging free rides. One of the most brutal of the railwaymen is Shack (Ernest Borgnine) who has vowed that no hobo will ride his No. 19 train and is willing to use violence, and even murder, to fulfil his vow. Among the homeless men there is a hierarchy of hoboes and the man who can ride successfully any train is The King, the Number One, the Emperor of the North Pole. Currently the top hobo is “A No. 1” (Lee Marvin) and he is not about to concede to any railway man. He deliberately sets out to challenge Shack by openly declaring that he will ride Shack’s No.19 all the way to Portland. This becomes the challenge of legend and both hoboes and railway workers bet upon the contest. The presence of brash newcomer Cigaret (Keith Carradine), who both challenges A No. 1 but later enters into a mentor / pupil relationship with him and joins the ride on the No.19, only compounds the mix. With the bets on, will A No. 1 make it to Portland? Reputation, prestige and, indeed, honour are at stake.

     Emperor of the North, aka Emperor of the North Pole, reteams director Robert Aldrich with two of his The Dirty Dozen (1967) hard men stars, Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine. Emperor of the North, like The Dirty Dozen before it, is a picture centred upon men and examines themes of friendship, reputation and honour, with women only briefly glimpsed on the periphery. Those seeking a romantic interest should look elsewhere. The film, however, is well served by its stars as both Marvin and Borgnine are terrific; neither was a “glamorous” leading man but they were both genuine hard men. Marvin was a Marine who saw action in the Pacific and was wounded on Saipan in 1944 while Borgnine spend 10 years in the navy during WW2 and was a keen boxer and they bring to their roles a definite violent edge that is very convincing. This genuineness is helped by the location filming and the use of real steam locomotives and rolling stock that look wonderful. Indeed, the freight yards, steam engines and rolling stock of depression era America are used to excellent effect in telling the story – the action in, on and over the boxcars done mostly for real adds to the authenticity of the story.

     If the film has a weakness it is in the script which adds sequences that don’t have the same ring of authenticity, such as the turkey theft that ends with a policemen baying like a dog. For a depression era film, with people starving, it also does not feel gritty or the people desperate or hungry enough. In fact, some of it looks quite glamorous. However, when the film concentrates upon the contest between Marvin and Borgnine, adding the beautiful rural locations and the always wonderful sight of steam engines at top speed, it is never less than entertaining.

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Transfer Quality


     Emperor of the North is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, its original ratio, and is 16x9 enhanced.

     This is a very sharp looking print. The colours are muted, but have good depth and the greens and browns look very natural. Skin tones are good and the close ups of the craggy faces of Marvin and Borgnine have excellent sharpness, with every whisker, dirt mark and sweat drop finely detailed. Brightness and contrast are generally consistent, blacks and shadow detail very good indeed.

     There were minor artefacts, such as dirt marks and scratches, as well as film grain. However, none were too distracting.

     There are no subtitles available.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     Audio is an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono at 224 Kbps. Dialogue was mostly clear although sometimes it was a bit soft and the accents made it hard to hear what was being said. The lack of subtitles doesn’t help here. The Foley effects are acceptable. I did not notice any hiss or distortion. There was no surround or subwoofer use.

     The score by Frank DeVol was neither memorable nor distracting however the opening theme song A Man and a Train, sung by Marty Robbins with lyrics by Hal David and music by Frank DeVol does sound somewhat dated.

     Lip synchronization was fine.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


     Nothing, not even a trailer.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     The Region 1 US release has an audio commentary by film historian Dana Polan, a theatrical trailer and 2 TV Spots as well as English and Spanish subtitles. From reviews the video is similar (but NTSC) and there is an English 2.0 stereo plus English, Spanish and French mono audio tracks and English and Spanish subtitles. The extras would make the Region 1 the version of choice.


     Emperor of the North reteams director Robert Aldrich with two of his The Dirty Dozen (1967) hard men stars, Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine, in a depression era action drama, with steam trains. It is a good looking film, with excellent performances, that deserves to be better known. The video is very good, the audio fine but there are no extras, unlike the Region 1 US edition.

     Note: if you are looking for this DVD in the store the spine, under a picture of the grizzled Lee Marvin, actually says North of the Emperor although the front cover shows the correct title.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 42inch Hi-Def LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

Other Reviews NONE