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.