Posted: January 21, 2007 in 2006 NEW Reviews

 DVD Review by Brian Roper


Saw this at the now-history Westerner Drive-In down the road from Carswell AFB as the “B” feature companion to THE GROOVE TUBE way back in the mid-70’s. I’ve since purchased and sold my DVD copy of The Groove Tube; EMPEROR holds up so much better 30 years later. This film is a real mans movie; definitely NOT a date film. Lee Marvin is ” A-number One” King Of the Hobos, and the Emperor Of the North of the title. Train engineer Shack (Ernest Borgnine) is that scariest of movie villians, a man who truly loves his job. The relish with which he knocks “those filthy ‘bos” off his train (usually with a sledgehammer he carries in his belt) is truly creepy. Shack prides himself on having the only train in America the hobos don’t dare hitch a ride on. A slew of wagers is started amongst the Depression-era railroad workers when A#1 announces his attempt to ride the “19” (Shacks train) up the West Coast all the way to Portland.If they made this today, they’d use a CGI “Polar Express” train. This movie was made the old fashioned-way, with a real train. The Frank DeVol music is the other thing that really dates this film. However, the tranquil music at the beginning of the film sure doesn’t prepare you for watching Borgnine hitting a hobo in the head with a sledgehammer and knocking him underneath the train where he is run over and killed. And this happens before the credits even roll. These two details aside, this 1973 film is still a lot of fun. The action sequences are anything but dull, especially the climatic fight scene at the end between A#1 and Shack.

Keith Carradine plays a young punk who tries to tag along with Lee Marvin ( who attempts to teach Carradine how to become a “first class bum”) and gives one of the best performances of his career. You’ve only got to watch a few minutes of Lee Marvin if you needed a reminder of why he was one of the greats and I would be hard pressed to think of a better Ernest Borgnine performance. He gives 100% in every scene. When he gets mad, you almost expect him to literally blow up onscreen and he does this repeatedly. You’ll recognize many of the supporting cast, which includes veteran character actors like Sid Haig and Vic Tayback.

The photography of the Northwest wilderness is gorgeous; the scenery of Oregon (where this was filmed) is breath-taking all through the movie.

I can’t help but wonder what it all looks like today.

This just got released in June 2006 and retails for around $10…dollar for dollar a true DVD bargain considering how entertaining this is.

About time this got a DVD release.


JAN 2007


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