20th Century Fox
Filmed along the Oregon, Pacific & Eastern short line, this movie treats us to TWO operational steam locomotives pulling an eclectic mix of rolling stock past the cameras. The train scenes are sublime although the actors employed frequently go way over the top in the overacting department. Shatner-level carpet chewing. Anyway…
The real stars are OP&E #19 (2-8-2 Baldwin-built 1915) and OP&E #5 (2-8-0 Alco-built 1922) and happily, both engines are still with us. #19 is being rebuilt at the Age of Steam Roundhouse and #5 can be found at the Galveston Railroad Museum (renumbered to 555).
Many thanks to James Tiroch’s Cine Trains Project for helping me identify the heritage of these locomotives. The link includes an exhaustive history of both locomotives.
Oh, the actors? Well, filmmakers brought on board three ENORMOUS hams, Borgnine, Marvin and Carradine, but I’ll be ignoring them for the most part. There’s far too much steam locomotive pulchritude to savor instead. Highball!
OP&E #5 on a passenger train overtakes OP&E #19 in the siding with a freight. In the background, we see a lumber mill featuring one of those cool, old-time wood waste burners. OP&E #5 (appearing here as #27), also was seen as #4 in the movie.
The film opens with some beautifully-lit helicopter shots of OP&E #19 and train rolling through the valley.
The “#19 freight” takes siding to fill up with water, then is lined back out onto the mainline.
Coming and going pacing shots of OP&E #19 racing through the weeds.
Detail shot of #19’s cab. Borgnine takes a flying leap from car to car.
The Yardmaster gets on the blower as the freight approaches. Look at all those brakemen decorating the car tops!
Marvin has set an empty stock car on fire! Here we see the railroad workers in the roundhouse next to OP&E #5 — painted as #4.
This locomotive began life as Magma Arizona Railroad #5, coming to the Oregon Pacific & Eastern in 1970. Sister locomotive Magma Arizona Railroad #7 appeared in the 1960’s epic film, “How the West Was Won”.
The next 18 minutes of the movie hurts my eyes. Using some sort of fog filter to lend “atmosphere” or something, the film makers ruin some perfectly good train footage.
Suddenly, blue skies are back and we are rewarded with some terrific views of a massive wooden trestle the freight must cross.
Of course, if you’re gonna have a movie about hobos, you’ve gotta have at least one scene of them “riding the rods” (structural bracing underneath the cars). Here we see Marvin hopping aboard…and later on Carradine takes a whack at it.
BUT….Borgnine is on to them and despite the hobos climbing the side of their Denver & Rio Grande Western stock car, Ernie unceremoniously ejects them from the train.
How to catch up with the freight train? Why, we’ll use these conveniently-located buckets of axle grease and smear it on the rails! Sure enough, here comes the closely following passenger train led by OP&E #5 (renumbered as #27).
Good views of the fireman and engineer on #27.
The drivers slip along some USS Gary Works rail from 1912 as the two miscreants watch from an overhead water pen-stock.
Leap! Onto the passenger car tops! Overtaking the freight train, the smug is strong as they roll past in triumph.
The passenger train arrives in Salem, Oregon (most likely the OP&E depot in Cottage Grove). Love that lower-quadrant station order board!
So it’s not a complete weinerfest, moviemakers included this scene (witnessed by Marvin) of a bra-less beauty being baptized in a cold, mountain stream. Hallelujah!
There’s more train scenes (including the violent ending), but I’ll pass on that. SO many people told me this movie was the cat’s meow, the bee’s knees, etc. Frankly, the movie itself SUCKS, IMHO, but the train scenes are excellent so it was a railfan’s case of serendipity for me. Your mileage may vary.
Here’s what IMDb has to say about Emperor of the North:
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