Wednesday, May 10, 2006

COMING SOON TO A DVD PLAYER NEAR ME...... ROBERT ALDRICH'S EMPEROR OF THE NORTH POLE


A few days ago I posted my own answers to Professor Van Helsing’s Spring Quiz, and in addition to Mean Streets, The Godfather, The Godfather Part II and the emergence of Robert Altman, the other film I listed as a highlight of the “golden era” of American filmmaking, roughly 1970-1975, was perhaps a bit of a surprise: Robert Aldrich’s Emperor of the North Pole (1973). It’s not a film that’s talked about much some 33 years after its theatrical release. But for those who saw it in theaters years ago, or consequently on TNT or some other cable network highlighting “Movies for Guys Who Like Movies,” it remains a powerful experience. And I admit I chose it out of a mixture of admiration for its brutal lyricism and also precisely because it seemed like such a relatively forgotten work, both as a product of American cinema in the ‘70s and even within Aldrich’s filmography—when the subject of Aldrich comes up, you’ll hear about The Big Knife or Kiss Me Deadly or The Dirty Dozen or Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? or The Longest Yard every time, but you’re unlikely to hear much about this one.

Now comes word that Emperor of the North Pole (aka Emperor of the North, its title upon American reissue) will find its way to DVD on June 6 from 20th Century Fox Home Video, and it may be the DVD release I’m most looking forward to this year. I’ll have a full review of the film up to coincide with that release date, just under a month from now. But for the time being, those who are as interested in Emperor as I am, as well as those who might be unfamiliar with the movie, might be very surprised to discover that there are a couple of fascinating comments on the Amazon.com page for the movie written by a couple of the film’s fans, Theodore Hazen, a.k.a Jew Boy (folks, I don’t write ‘em, I just report ‘em) and J. Terry. I'd like to recommend these comments without hesitation. These guys are unabashed Emperor enthusiasts, to be sure, but they are also very well versed in the folklore of railroads and locomotion, the Depression-era setting of the film, and even information on Leon Ray Livingston, the real-life rail-running hobo who was the inspiration for Lee Marvin’s character A-No. 1.

These comments won’t substitute for a good piece of writing on the film itself (hopefully I won’t be the only one on June 6 trying to fill that void), but the mere fact that Hazen and Terry are head and shoulders above the usual incoherent, illiterate blathering all too common on Internet sites like Amazon and IMDb (to name just two) is itself good news. These men’s words will certainly whet the appetite for the digital version of Emperor of the North Pole, and for railroad no-nothings like me they’ve laid some crucial, excellent groundwork for appreciating anew the context of Aldrich’s masterful movie.

14 comments:

aaron w graham said...
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aaron w graham said...

Saw a clip of this on A&E's Biography of Lee Marvin years back and have always wanted to see it. I'm an avowed Aldrich devotee, and consider his work in the '70s to be his richest period, so this is one gap in his ouevre that I can't wait to fill.

University Press of Mississippi put out a great collection of Aldrich interviews in their "Conversations with Filmmakers" series a couple of years back that I heartily recommend. There's a great anecdote retold in the book with Aldrich apologizing to Claude Chabrol for drinking Coca Cola with his dinner – “I know it’s silly – but I’m American!”

That Little Round-Headed Boy said...

We really need an Aldrich blog-a-thon, but just the thought of another blog-a-thon right this minute makes me weary. But Aldrich needs some love and rediscovery.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

MGM: Do you know if that book is still in print? I'm on the search for it right now. I'll be very interested to hear what you think about this movie. And that's a terrific story, by the way. I just like the idea of Robert Aldrich and Claude Chabrol sitting down to dinner together. The Coca-Cola line is pure icing!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

You know what, TLRHB? I was thinking the exact same thing as I was typing the comment to MGM? What do you think, fellas? Say, maybe September, to give ourselves a nice rest, and top fit in Brian's Friz Freleng blog-a-thon in August? I'm definitely up for an Aldrich-a-thon!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Scratch that question mark after MGM, please. I think I'm weary too!

aaron w graham said...

Dennis,

I believe the Aldrich interview collection is still in print, and should come up as the first title if you type his name into amazon.com. I recall that the only piece I was previously familiar with was a reprint of Bogdanovich's interview, held in the mid '60s, which already appeared in his "Who the Devil Made It".

As for 'Emperor', I'll be sure to type up some thoughts on my blog once the DVD is released and I have a chance to check it out.
Thanks for the heads up!

Wagstaff said...

Well this is very exciting. It is one of those holy grail movies that I've been wanting to see forever. Thanks for the info. I look forward to your review.

Peter Nellhaus said...

Lately I've been thinking about Hustle. If I recall correctly, it was Eddie Albert who stated that the U.S. had become a "banana republic". Aldrich was always warning us all these years.

girish said...

Aaron, thanks for recommending the book. I have about a half dozen books in that series (the Godard and Polanski are particularly great) but I didn't even know about this one.

I have seen very little late Aldrich, but I practically memorized Kiss Me Deadly once upon a time. My dad took me to see Too Late The Hero when I was a kid. He apologized all for the violence later. :-)
I've got Hustle on my soon-to-be-watched shortlist. And Dennis, thanks for the Emperor heads-up. I look forward to it.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Guys, I will make an official call for an Aldrich Blog-a-Thon for September very soon. I want to try and stay out of the way of Girish's avant-garde fest and Brian's Friz Freleng-a-thon. I'll let everybody know, especially you, Girish-- your comments column seems to be an excellent way to spread the word about such things! And the Emperor rolls down the tracks this coming Tuesday. I hope you all enjoy it!

girish said...

Dennis, I'd be delighted to help spread the word. I'll be in Toronto (filmfest) the first half of September, but will continue to blog from there, and you are (always) most welcome to post announcements and links in my comments.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Thanks, Girish. I'm formulating my thoughts about it now and will probably stop by and drop an announcement very soon!

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