Judge P.S. Colbert understands—he's also gone slack and soggy in the middle.
Our review of North To Alaska, published June 16th, 2003, is also available.
"Where the river is winding, Big nuggets they're finding."
There's plenty of gold to be found in North To Alaska, but be warned: with its mammoth running time of one hundred and twenty two minutes, this sprawling action adventure/romantic comedy hybrid requires quite a bit of panning between flakes.
Nome, Alaska, 1900; like the title song says, "the rush is on." Prospector Sam McCloud (John Wayne, The Alamo) and his partner George Pratt (Stewart Granger, King Solomon's Mines) have struck the mother lode—they're milly-on-aires! To keep the riches coming, Big Sam is dispatched to Seattle, in order to purchase more mining equipment, while George ("the twitchinist nose in all of Alaska") and his seventeen-year-old brother Billy (Fabian, High Time) stay behind to keep operations running and protect against potential claim-jumpers.
Oh, and one more thing—Sam's also to collect George's beloved fiancee, the beautiful French flower who he's worked so hard for (not to mention kept completely chaste for) and bring her up north, where a honeymoon cottage awaits. Unfortunately, waiting wasn't the beautiful French flower's strong suit, and by the time Sam arrives, she's married. What to do?
While pondering how to break the heartbreaking news to his partner ("the best pal a fella ever had"), Sam drops into a burlesque club called The Hen House, where he can take his mind off his problems awhile with copious amounts of champagne and a parade of leggy dancing girls. Upon meeting a beautiful prostitute named Michelle Bonet, a.k.a. Angel (Capucine, The 7th Dawn), Sam comes up with a brilliant plan ("A Frenchie broke his heart, A Frenchie can fix it!"), and soon he's convinced Angel to accompany him back to Alaska. I guess I should mention that there seems to be some confusion as to whom Angel is actually intended for…
Oh, and one more thing—By the time ol' Sam gets back to Nome, the town's gone crazy with murderous feuding, lawsuits, and a sharply-dressed, fast-talking sharpie named Frankie Canon (Ernie Kovacs, Bell, Book and Candle) who's swindling prospectors right and left. His next quarry? The glorious claim of McCord and the brothers Pratt. I guess I should mention that the wide, unpaved streets of this mining haven are awfully wet and awfully muddy…
Though a big box-office hit in its day, this film tends to be one of the lower-rated of the Duke's latter day pictures, and it's not hard to see why, given how long it takes to get from the first scenery-shredding brawl (in a saloon) to the last (all over those awfully wet and muddy streets in the heart of town). In fact, I'm tempted to say that North To Alaska is recommended for die hard John Wayne fans only, but for the fact that there's a huge cast, bulging with great performances. Capucine fares best, but Kovacs, Granger, and veteran character actress Kathleen Freeman (The Blues Brothers) are but a few providing highlights.
There is one glaring exception: Fabian, who plays wide-eyed and love-struck young Billy Pratt as a bug-eyed psycho killer. Even worse, he's called on to sing a love song. As anyone the least bit familiar with the spate of hit records released by this teen idol of the late '50s can tell you, Fabian had a great body, a handsome face, and an even better head of hair, but nothing resembling a singing voice!
Speaking of beauties, this 2.35:1 Blu-ray is nothing short of gorgeous, and the sound does just as well. Fox obviously kept a well-preserved print somewhere safe, and despite the film's short-comings, I'd venture to guess that it hasn't looked this good since its first run. Extras are scant: a fifty second Movietone Newsreel item about the film's NYC premiere, and a look at the theatrical trailer.
Finally, a word about the Duke. Then fifty-three years old, the biggest star in motion picture history was in top form here—witty, charming, macho, and demonstrating incredible comic timing in a film that starts strong, goes slack and soggy in the middle and rallies to finish in muddy triumph. Casual moviegoers may want to rent this one, but John Wayne collectors are urged to get it while the getting is good.
Do YOU want to tell John Wayne that he's guilty? Help yourself!
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