Emperor of the North (1973, rated PG, 118 minutes) is a heroic film.
Do yourself a favor: plan to watch it twice.
Get the picture: a tramp named “A No. 1” (Lee Marvin) is a devil-may-care legendary figure in the hobo camps. He teaches the inexperienced Cigaret (Keith Carradine). He challenges the thuggish railroad policeman, Shack (Ernest Borgnine). There’s a supremely brutal fight on a rolling flatcar, the best ‘bo wins, and A No. 1 is the king of the road.
Watch it again. Marvin shows you everything you ever wanted to know about classic heroism of the spirit. See him surpassing his impoverished circumstances to enjoy a rich life, and embracing independence, rugged optimism, casually competent leadership, generous mentoring, and the dauntless strength of a Viking in mortal combat.
Finally, A No. 1 abandons the feckless Cigaret: “You had the juice, kid, but you didn’t have the heart!”
And A No. 1 rides north, singing his victory.
Request the DVD through the Minuteman Library Network
Read On the fly!: hobo literature and songs, 1879-1941 edited by Iain McIntyre