The Spoilers (1942)

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A woman doesn’t run out on the man she loves, she sticks with him through thick and thin. It’s 1900 and Flapjack (Russell Simpson) and Banty (George Cleveland) arrive in Nome, Alaska to check up on their claim to a gold mine. Saloon owner Charry Malotte (Marlene Dietrich) knows that Bennett (Forrest Taylor) and Clark (Ray Bennett) are plotting to steal their claim. The new gold commissioner Alexander McNamara (Randolph Scott) is part of the corrupt scheme as is the territory’s judge Horace Stillman (Samuel S. Hinds) whose niece Helen (Margaret Lindsay) has a thing for Cherry’s old flame Roy Glennister (John Wayne), fresh from a trip to Europe. Roy makes the mistake of siding with McNamara which damages his relationship with longtime partner Al Dextry (Harry Carey).  Roy realizes he’s been deceived as McNamara and Stillman prepare to steal at least $250,000 while the mine’s case awaits appeal. Helen is now in love with Roy, who begs Dextry’s forgiveness and persuades him to rob a bank to take back the wealth stolen from them. Both Glennister and Dextry don black faces to disguise themselves during the heist. The Bronco Kid (Richard Barthelmess) kills the sheriff but Roy gets the blame. He is arrested and a plot forms to kill him – permitting him to escape then murdering him on the street – but Cherry comes to his rescue, breaking Roy out of jail. A spectacular train derailment occurs during his fight for freedom. Then a fierce fistfight with McNamara results in Roy getting back his mine and his girl. A great starry cast play brilliantly off one another in this spirited adaptation of the novel by Rex Beach, adapted by Lawrence Hazard and Tom Reed. The tone is set from the start with a shootout in this muddy town and Dietrich beats a path to the dock to greet old love Wayne. She doesn’t sing but wears several sparkly numbers in this monochrome delight. Her byplay with romantic rival Lindsay is a wonderful contrast in performing styles and her scenes with Wayne positively crackle The frequent references to Robert Service’s works are done with a nod and a wink to his own appearance as The Poet. Directed by Ray Enright who brings everything to a rousing conclusion with one of the longest fistfights ever filmed – and it’s all over the saloon! Wonderful fun.

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North to Alaska (1960)

North to Alaska poster

Such a fun-filled, rumbustious comedy western must have had a great concept – but it didn’t other than being a Wayne vehicle in Alaska, the newest state and vaguely based on a play called Birthday Gift. There was no script. The first director didn’t like the choice of Capucine as Angel, the prostitute, declaring her unsexy – he didn’t know she was shacking up with Charles Feldman, the producer. So Henry Hathaway came on board. And they started shooting this adventure about prospectors George (John Wayne) and Sam (Stewart Granger) who strike it rich but need to steer clear of conman Frankie (Ernie Kovacs) and keep Sam’s kid brother Billy(Fabian) on the straight and narrow. When Sam’s fiancee in Seattle proves to have married someone else, George brings back Angel and her relationships with each of the men reveals something of each of their characters in the midst of their efforts to keep the gold haul for themselves. For a script written  mostly on the hoof by old-timers John Lee Mahin, Martin Rackin, Claude Binyon, Wendell Mayes and Ben Hecht, with contributions by Feldman, it works like a dream, with a tongue in cheek touch that more prepared productions should envy. The song was a huge hit and made the film even more popular. Proper entertainment.