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North to Alaska (1960) - DVD Review

By Widge - posted 05.26.03 @ 10:03 pm
North to Alaska DVD cover art

Film:
DVD:

Written by: Claude Binyon, Ben Hecht, John Lee Mahin, Wendell Mayes and Martin Rackin, based on the play The Birthday Gift by Ladislas Fodor, was in turn based on an idea by John H. Kafka
Directed by: Henry Hathaway
Starring: John Wayne, Stewart Granger, Capucine, Ernie Kovacs, Fabian

Features:

  • Theatrical trailer
  • Movietone news segment

Released by: 20th Century Fox
Region: 1
Rating: NR
Anamorphic: Yes

My Advice: Wayne fans should rent it

Sam McCord (Wayne) is a decent enough man. He's up around Nome, Alaska, prospecting for gold, along with his partners George (Granger) and his brother Billy (Fabian). It's the turn of the 20th Century, by the way. Anyway, the three of them strike it plumb rich, as the idiom might have it. It's been two long years since they've been cranking away at their claim, but now it's time for George's true love, Jennie (Lilyan Chauvin), to come up from Seattle so that she and George can get hitched. Sam has to go down to fetch some equipment, so the guys figure he'll fetch Jennie while he's in the neighborhood. Trouble is, when Sam gets to Seattle, he finds Jennie couldn't wait--she's already married to someone else. He finds a supposedly nice girl (Capucine) to take Jennie's place...and the problems just escalate from there.

All things considered, the movie's not a bad one. By "all things," of course, I'm talking about the detractors. First, the film seems to have trouble figuring out what it is. It's not the fault of the cast--Wayne is his usually stolid self, albeit playing a bit more to his comic timing (and yes, he has a good dose). Granger is well cast, and Fabian, as his brother, doesn't have much to do but sing (he is Fabian, after all) and be that kind of youngster "gee whiz" type. Capucine is as sultry as one can get considering the time period this was made, and Kovacs is probably the standout--he plays grease and sleaze like nobody's business.

It's the script and the direction that make everything suffer. Primarily, you've got inconsistent moods going on. The big fight scenes are riddled with slide whistle and bird chirping sound effects to the point where you expect "BIFF!" and "ZOWIE!" to appear on the screen, a la the 60s Batman. Then you're into some more personal, knock down, drag out fights--or, one memorable scene, Wayne using a kettle of boiling water to convince a guy to give up some information. Just when you feel like you've gotten that cheesy taste out of your mouth, I'll be damned, here it comes again. This is a shame, because it really is a fun movie. And it's obvious it was based on a play, since it just has that feel in how the scenes are setup. But the director and company felt the need to push things right through the envelope and through the side of the mail truck as well. And that's a shame.

Features are shallow--you do have a theatrical trailer (which is rather amusing) and a Movietone reel about the film (which is rather frightening). But that's about it. Not sure what else you include, either. The film doesn't exactly lend itself to a great deal of bonus stuff, although it might be nice to have a talk with Fabian (the only surviving major member of the cast and crew, it seems) while we still can. Or a featurette on Wayne might have been nice. Or, if
you really wanted to grasp at straws, a ten-minute job on the actual situation in Alaska in 1900, where cross-claims were going berserk and people were being killed for their claims.

John Wayne in North to Alaska

All that having been said, the film is watchable--just be prepared to withstand some dairy when the Velveeta rheostat gets turned up. The disc doesn't lend itself to a purchase, although the Wayne completist will definitely want it. The rest of us will do just fine with a rental.

North to Alaska movietone reel

Where to Find It

Read More About:

Widgett Walls is Need Coffee's Chief Cook and Bottle Washer. He is the author of the novel Mystics on the Road to Vanishing Point, and two collections of short stories, Magnificent Desolation and Something Else: The Complete First Season. He is also co-author of the children's book There's a Zombie in My Treehouse! All of those books are available in paperback or for the Kindle from Amazon. He is also the narrator and publisher of the first unabridged recording of Seneca's letters, available here. He is active on both Twitter and Facebook. (If you befriend him on Facebook, do say you came via Need Coffee.) He lives and works in Atlanta, Georgia. He hardly ever sleeps.

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