cool article ‘Emperor of the North’ and ‘Wind Across the Everglades’: Fighters in Nature and Showbiz
‘Emperor of the North’ and ‘Wind Across the Everglades’: Fighters in Nature and Showbiz
By J. HOBERMANNOV. 20, 2015 The New York Times for the entire article go here: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/22/movies/homevideo/emperor-of-the-north-and-wind-across-the-everglades-fighters-in-nature-and-showbiz.html?ref=arts&_r=0
Lee Marvin plays a hobo tormenting a railroad brakeman in Robert Aldrich’s “Emperor of the North” (1973).
The best of those studio directors who, more or less the same age as Orson Welles, began working in movies within a decade of “Citizen Kane” (1941) represent Hollywood’s “greatest generation.” Survivors of the Great Depressionand often veterans of World War II, they fought the good war against assembly-line filmmaking. Robert Aldrich(1918-83) and Nicholas Ray (1911-79) were two.
Both men specialized in unconventional genre movies with larger-than-life antiheroes. Their vigorous melodramas and baroque action films were often self-consciously American. Like other members of the greatest generation, they were influenced by Ernest Hemingway’s emphasis on rites of midcentury existential manliness — although Aldrich’s “Emperor of the North” (1973), out on Blu-ray from Twilight Time, was inspired by the writing of and about Jack London, Hemingway’s precursor in literary swagger.
One of the strongest movies of Aldrich’s late career, “Emperor of the North” (a project originally intended for the mad macho man Sam Peckinpah) concerns the near-cosmic struggle between a laconic super-hobo known as A-No. 1 (Lee Marvin) and an implacably sadistic railroad employee (Ernest Borgnine) called simply the Shack, hobo slang for brakeman. The Shack is a killer who has never allowed a vagrant aboard his train; the ’bo who gets by him will be crowned Emperor of the North Pole, a pointedly meaningless honor that gave the movie its original title.
“The Road,” London’s memoir of riding the rails, was a tale of the 1890s; Christopher Knopf’s screenplay updates the action to 1933. The movie’s tone is post-“Bonnie and Clyde” Hollywood new wave, a scenic outlaw ballad mixing instances of extreme violence with ragtime high jinks. Lyrical passages with the sunlight streaming through the boxcar slats slam up against brawny Soviet-style montages of steel and steam. There are flickers of soft-focus period nostalgia, but the movie’s anti-authoritarianism is as resolute as the snub nose on Marvin’s fist-like face.
“Emperor of the North” opened a year after Martin Scorsese’s underappreciated “Boxcar Bertha” starred Barbara Hershey as a rail-riding union organizer. But Aldrich’s movie — a briefly glimpsed and appropriately hard-boiled young woman aside — plays out in an almost exclusively male world. Romantic interest, such as it is, is provided by a good-looking, aggressively callow aspiring hobo (Keith Carradine) named Cigaret (after London’s on-the-road nom de guerre), who functions as A-No. 1’s unwilling sidekick and pesky nemesis.