EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?
|NORTHWEST PASSAGE (director: King Vidor; screenwriters: Talbot Jennings/Laurence Stallings/based on the book by Kenneth Roberts; cinematographers: William V. Skall/Sidney Wagner; editor: Conrad A. Nervig; music: Herbert Stothart; cast: Spencer Tracy (Major Robert Rogers), Robert Young (Langdon Towne), Walter Brennan (Hunk Marriner), Ruth Hussey (Elizabeth Browne), Louis Hector (Reverend Browne), Nat Pendleton (Cap Huff), Montagu Love (Wiseman Clagett), Regis Toomey (Webster), Lumsden Hare (General Amherst), Isabel Jewell (Jennie Coit), Robert Barrat (Humphrey Towne, Langdon's shipbuilder father); Runtime: 127; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Hunt Stromberg; MGM; 1940)|
adventure story of epic proportions."
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
King Vidor ("The Big Parade"/"Duel in the Sun"/"The
makes his first film in
Technicolor, and it's visually stunning. It's a rousing adventure story
of epic proportions set in 1759 that follows the exploits of a hearty
group of backwoods soldiers dressed in green Robin Hood outfits who are
called Roger’s Rangers. The time frame is during the
French and Indian War. It's based on the first part of a 1936 book by Kenneth Roberts that was serialized in The
Saturday Evening Post, and is written by Talbot Jennings and Laurence
Stallings. It had an excellent
box office, but because it cost so much to make it only broke even.
Part two was projected, but never came to pass. One caveat worth noting
is that it's intensely racist, which got overlooked when released but
has since angered Native American activists and the PC police.
Langdon Towne (Robert Young)
is expelled from Harvard, ruining his chances of becoming a pastor.
When he tells his hometown Portsmouth, New Hampshire, girlfriend
Elizabeth (Ruth Hussey) he now wishes to be an artist, her pompous reverend father (Louis
Hector) tells him that's he's not good enough for
his beautiful daughter. The young man then goes to the local tavern and
when drunk mouths off insults at Wiseman Clagett (Montagu Love),
the wealthy and well-connected crooked local Brit. To avoid arrest,
Langdon and his best friend Hunk
Marriner (Walter Brennan) flee
up Lake Champlain at Crown
Point and try to get to Albany.
On the way they meet Major
Rogers (Spencer Tracy), who gets the greenhorns drunk and enlists them
in his Rangers because he needs the map-making services of Langdon.
Rogers takes the Rangers on a dangerous assignment to avenge the
hostile raids by the savage Abanaki tribe located at the St. Lawrence river near the Canadian border. The Rangers trek through
inhospitable terrain and find
they can't trust their Mohawk guides, and therefore have to go the long
way to get to their destination to avoid the French who are waiting to
trap them. They reach St. Francis village by crossing the treacherous
rapid river by forming a
human chain. Once there they
attack at dawn and set the village on fire and viciously slaughter the
sleeping Indians for scalping children and settlers in the nearby
villages, and free both the white and Indian captives. The trek back to
their fort finds the Rangers suffering mentally from battle fatigue and
physically from starvation and even exhibiting insubordination against
their benevolent despotic leader. Taskmaster Rogers leaves the wounded
behind, who are at the mercy of the Indians and the forces of
Back at the fort, Rogers
receives the congratulations of the Redcoat general (Lumsden
Hare), and is sent on his next
mission to find the elusive Northwest Passage (hoping it will be a
short-cut for trade routes). Marriner and Langdon return as civilians,
with Elizabeth planning to take her man to London where she has
ambitions for him to become a famous painter of Indians, the colonial
soldiers and to make Rogers into a famous heroic figure.
The exciting story and the
great performance by an energized Tracy as the stoic no-nonsense leader
of the over a hundred man force of settler recruits, trumps the film's
inexcusable anti-Indian fervor. Nevertheless those sentiments should
make the film less appealing to a modern audience whose awareness of
human rights has come a long way since films made back then.
REVIEWED ON 5/11/2010 GRADE: A-
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
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