Emperor of the North Pole

Emperor of the North Pole

Emperor of the North
original film poster
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Produced by Kenneth Hyman
Stan Hough
Screenplay by Christopher Knopf
Story by Jack London (uncredited)
Starring Lee Marvin
Ernest Borgnine
Keith Carradine
Music by Frank De Vol
Cinematography Joseph F. Biroc
Edited by Michael Luciano
20th Century Fox
Distributed by 20th Century Fox (USA, theatrical)
Fox-MGM (West Germany)
ABC USA TV airing
Release dates
  • 1973 (1973)
Running time
118 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3,705,000[1]
Box office $2 million (US/ Canada rentals)[2][3]
251,021 admissions (France)[4]

Emperor of the North Pole is a 1973 American film directed by Keith Carradine. It was re-released under the shorter title Emperor of the North, and is best known under the latter name.

The film is about hobos during the 1930s and is set in the U.S. state of Oregon. It is based, in part, on the books The Road by Jack London and From Coast to Coast with Jack London by "A-No.-1" (the pen-name of Leon Ray Livingston), although both books predate the 1930s by a few decades. Carradine's character, Cigaret, uses the moniker that Jack London used on the road, and like London, is portrayed as a young traveling companion to the older A-No.-1 (played by Marvin), but that is where the similarity between Carradine's character and Jack London ends, as Cigaret is portrayed in the film as immature, loud-mouthed, and none too bright. The title is a reference to a joke among hobos during the Great Depression that the world's best hobo was "Emperor of the North Pole", a way of poking fun at their own desperate situation since somebody ruling over the North Pole would reign over a wasteland.


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Filming location 3
  • Home media 4
  • Soundtrack 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Shack is a merciless, inhumane, and sadistic bully of a railroad conductor who takes it upon himself to ensure that no one would ever ride on his train for free, even to go as far as murder in order to do so. Shack has an arsenal of makeshift weapons: a hammer, a steel rod, and a chain.

A hobo who is a hero to his peers, A-No.1, manages to hop the train with the younger, less-experienced Cigaret close behind. At the next stop, A-No.1 evades Shack and escapes into the hobo jungle, but Cigaret is caught. Shack threatens to kill Cigaret for riding his train for free, who is bragging that he and he alone did it.

Shack is distracted when he learns that A-No.1 has posted a notice on the yard water tower, announcing that he will become the first hobo to ride Shack's train all the way to Portland.

The other hobos agree that the first who can successfully ride Shack's train will have earned the title "Emperor of the North Pole." Railroad workers place bets whether A-No.-1 can do it, spreading the news far and wide over the telegraph, Shack being widely known and disliked.

A-No.1 hops the train and does everything he can to steer clear of Shack, pulling a series of pranks with the help of other hobos, such as running Shack's train into a siding and almost causing it to crash head on into an oncoming mail train. He tries to rid himself of the company of Cigaret, who tags along and makes a general pest of himself. Shack succeeds in ejecting the two, but they board a fast passenger train which overtakes Shack's train and ride it to Salem, Oregon.

There, they have several farcical encounters, including one with a policeman who chases the two into the Salem hobo jungle, accusing them of stealing a turkey. They also encounter a Holiness minister holding an outdoor baptism service.

The two hobos reboard Shack's train after it arrives in Salem. The story ends with a climactic fight, involving heavy chains, planks of wood and an axe. A-No.1 ultimately has the bloodied Shack at his mercy, but instead of killing him, throws him off the train. He then tosses Cigaret off for bragging about how "they" defeated Shack, telling the kid he could have become a good bum but he's got no class.


Filming location

The film was shot in and around the city of Cottage Grove, Oregon along the right-of-way of the Oregon, Pacific and Eastern Railway (OP&E).[5] Willis Kyle, President of the OP&E in 1972, allowed the film company unlimited access to make the film. Oregon, Pacific and Eastern's rolling stock, including two steam locomotives (one being #19, a type 2-8-2 Mikado), appear in the film.[5] This was the location used by Buster Keaton for his 1927 railroad feature The General. Also featured in the film is the Dorena Reservoir, located about 10 miles east of Cottage Grove,[6] and OP&E's railyard in downtown Cottage Grove.

Filming finished on 5 October 1972.[7]

Home media

The film was released in North America on DVD on June 5, 2006 under the title Emperor of the North. The Region 2 version was available under general release in the UK from September 3, 2007 under the same title.


On June 16, 2008, Intrada Records released the only commercial CD version of composer Frank De Vol's soundtrack to the public, 35 years after the film's release. The CD, limited to 1,200 copies, immediately sold out. Featuring several unused score cues, it was learned that Bill Medley, of the Righteous Brothers, had originally recorded the vocals for the film's score, but was replaced at the last minute for unknown reasons by Marty Robbins.

The theme ballad, "A Man and a Train", written by Frank De Vol with lyrics by Hal David and sung by Marty Robbins, appears on his album All-Time Greatest Hits (Catalog# 77425), and the CD The Best of Marty Robbins released by Curb Records in January 2006, both featuring a second verse not used in the film.

See also


  1. ^ Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p257
  2. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 19
  3. ^ Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History, Scarecrow Press, 1989 p232
  4. ^ French box office results for Robert Aldrich films at Box Office Story
  5. ^ a b "Oregon, Pacific & Eastern Railway". Abandoned Railroads of the Pacific Northwest. Retrieved 2006-11-09. 
  6. ^ "Row River Trail: Harms Park". City of Cottage Grove, Oregon. Retrieved 2006-11-09. 
  7. ^ Alain Silver and James Ursini, Whatever Happened to Robert Aldrich?, Limelight, 1995 p 288

External links