Lee Marvin 20th Anniversary – Emperor of the North (1973)

This is a special blog review, part of the Lee Marvin Blog-a-Thon and one that you won’t find anywhere else!

Lee Marvin was one of the big Hollywood names between the 50s and 70s, and even into the 1980s (he had a leading role in the epic war film The Big Red One (1980)). Back in a time when actors were distinctive, and what mattered was what they did onscreen, not what they did in nightclubs or their private lives. For my part in this tribute I have reviewed a film that ranks in my top 5 films of all time, Emperor of the North (1973):

Set during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and based on a real story (author Jack London’s account of his time as a hobo in the 1890s published as The Road), the film is a gripping and well written account of a duel between a hobo and a notorious conductor, who was happy to risk lives to get his job done. Lee Marvin is the hobo, and Ernest Borgnine the conductor in this very well crafted film. Direction is from Robert Aldrich (The Dirty Dozen (1967)) who does a very good job, and most importantly (for myself and fellow railroad fans) he manages a great deal of historical and railway authenticity. Most excitingly there is not single blue screen shot in the whole film – the actors are really running around atop moving trains.

After an agonisingly long wait for this on DVD (at times I considered buying a laserdisc player, or even trying to buy the release rights myself), Fox USA released it last year on a very good looking disc. Details about the DVD, and more about the film can be seen in my new full review: Emperor of the North (1973).

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