Blu-ray Review: Emperor of the North - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Released in 1973, Emperor of the North (originally Emperor of the North Pole, shortened upon re-release—presumably so it wouldn't be mistaken as a Christmas movie?) is director Robert Aldrich's ode to manly men behaving in uncompromisingly macho ways. Aldrich was at the helm for some great films, including Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte, The Dirty Dozen, and The Longest Yard. Emperor of the North boasts a supremely over-the-top performance by Ernest Borgnine as Shack, a mean train conductor who is absolutely, positively unwilling to let hobos hitch a free ride.

Specialty reissue label recently added Emperor to their on-going Limited Edition Blu-ray series (with only 3,000 copies made available). Anyone looking for a testosterone-drenched blast of old school machismo would do well to snag Aldrich's gritty railway epic. The battle of wills begins when A-No.1 (Lee Marvin) vows to ride Shack's train all the way to Portland, thus earning him the tongue-in-cheek title "King of the North Pole." Along the way, A-No.1 has to deal with his less-experienced sidekick, Cigaret (Keith Carradine). You gotta love the names these characters have, by the way (there's also folks named Hogger, Smile, Gray Cat, and Cracker).

If anything works against Aldrich's action-oriented ride, it's a running time of just a tick under two hours. This isn't a terribly involved plot and there's not enough going on to support what becomes an indulgent length. But it's a lot of fun for lovers of pure pulp, with Shack trying to kick A-No.1 off his train at any cost. Screenwriter Christopher Knopf laces the hard-boiled tale with humor, especially once A-No.1 brings a group of mischievous hobos aboard the train to keep Shack as distracted as they possibly can. 
 
emperor of the north.jpg Twilight Time's Blu-ray presentation is impeccable, with a gorgeously restored image that makes the most of frequent Robert Aldrich collaborator Joseph F. Biroc's cinematography (in color, despite the B&W promo still show here). Forty-plus years fade away instantly when scrutinizing this sharp, detailed, and surprisingly vivid (given the production design's limited color scheme) picture. Not much to say about the DTS-HD MA 2.0 lossless soundtrack, other than it being clean, crisp, and free of any harshness or distortion.

In addition to an isolated track of four-time Academy Award nominee Frank De Vol's score, Emperor of the North is supplemented by an audio commentary by film historian Dana Polan. There are also some TV spots and the film's original theatrical trailer. For ordering information (while supplies of this limited release last), visit Twilight Time's exclusive distributor Screen Archives.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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