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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This little Hal Roach film made during the early talkies is a very good
time waster. Filmed on locations in Canada or Alaska, the sets are
exquisite for this beautiful story - I won't repeat after the summary
lines above. The young Gilbert Roland is surprising here, as the very
lead. He was rather known as supporting characters in most of his
films. Of course, this flick is not Andrew Marton's WILD COUNTRY or
William Wellman's CALL OF THE WILD. An effective B picture, I guess no
one thinks about now. It has been aired on TCM US. That's how I could
take it. It's not unforgettable but worth although.
The avalanche sequence is breath taking for this period.
Yes folks this is not an April fool's joke. Some background: in 1930
MGM was profiting by their relationship to Hal Roach Studios by
distributing Roach's two reel comedies. Roach Studios could do what MGM
could not seem to do - produce funny comedy shorts and supply loan outs
of great comedy talents to MGM such as Thelma Todd and, of course,
Laurel and Hardy. So in 1930 MGM reciprocated and let Hal Roach stretch
his wings and direct an action adventure at their studio. Instead Mr.
Roach should have stayed in his own comedy nest.
The film is a bit of a mess, and the whole thing is just so poorly directed. It's obvious MGM just treated this as a throwaway in their budget as a goodwill gesture towards Mr. Roach. None of their A or even B list stars appear in this, and most of the players vanished from sight not long after the transition to sound. The exception - Gilbert Roland as likable Louis Le LeBey, who is suspected of robbing shipments of gold, is hiding gold in his cabin, has a very confused love life, and seems to be on the wrong side of the border - nobody has bothered to coach him to sound French Canadian - as he retains his Spanish accent. Gilbert Roland's performance is the only three dimensional one in the lot as the rest are pure cardboard. I've seen the other players in this film give good performances elsewhere so, once again, this just seems to be a case of bad direction coupled with all of the other problems of early sound film.
Barbara Leonard stars as Nedra, a girl who takes a shine to Louis in spite of the fact her father is one of the robbery victims. Robert Eliot plays a Mountie who seems more like a tough New York policemen dressed up like a Mountie for Halloween. Nina Quartero gives the most bizarre performance of all as she seems to have aspirations to be Louis' girl, yet she both pants over him and spies on him. Then when she's talking to the mounties she tries to hang all over them too.
Watch this one for the "so bad it's good" fun of it all and to see Gilbert Roland develop as a sound actor in spite of the impediments thrown at him here.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Gilbert Roland was the type of Latin lothario who had to make sure his hair was washed every day in order not to look as oily as the characters he played. Even here, with an obvious fake French accent and heavy winter coats, that oily nature can't be overlooked. He's an accused thief, although the script indicates a justification. The typical romance ensues with an out of town visitor while a local admirer broods. Pretty to look at in spite of slow pacing, it hits its heights during a dramatic avalanche hits. Roland is surrounded by all unknowns but is given a unique choice for director, a comedy veteran named Hal Roach.
Had Nina Quartero been a very famous actress, folks would have laughed
a lot more because of her ridiculous accent. While the film is set in
French Canada, she sounds way too Mexican (which is odd, as she was
actually born in New York City) to fit in with the rest of the
cast...well, except for Gilbert Roland. While Roland was a pretty good
actor, the Mexican-born guy also sounded pretty silly as he was cast as
a French-speaking guy...with a STRONG Mexican accent! Why the film was
cast this way, I have no idea--especially since he sounded MUCH more
like the Cisco Kid than a French-Canadian! It certainly would have
played better with actors who could have at least approximated the
correct accent. Or, in a truly crazy move, perhaps MGM could have
actually cast some French-Canadians!! Louis LeBay (Roland) is a dashing
guy and Woolie-Woolie (Quartero) is in love with him. However, when a
pretty blonde comes there way (Barbara Leonard), Louis is smitten with
Nedra--and Woolie-Woolie is furious. So, she turns Louis into a Mountie
sergeant (Robert Elliot)--telling him that Louis is responsible for
some stolen gold. What's next? See the film.
Despite coming from a prestige studio, at heart "Men of the North" is at best a cheap B-movie. The writing (especially the dialog*) is very poor and the film is an inconsequential time-passer at best. In fact, I think most folks would probably either skip this one entirely or watch it just for a laugh.
*Pay close attention when Woolie-Woolie and Louis are having the 'good egg/bad egg' conversation. It is hilariously bad.
I can only think of one reason to watch this. I had a ball watching
Gilbert Roland in the role of a Frenchman. Roland was one of the silent
screen's most well known Latin lovers. He does not even TRY to sound
like a French speaking character. His strong accent is pure south of
the border. Pretty funny stuff. Otherwise embarrassing to all
concerned. Moves at a snails pace and once it gets there it just sort
of lays down and dies. Directed by Laurel and Hardy's boss Hal Roach
Early sound effort that just keeps on talking and talking and talking. The dialog is astoundingly stupid, even for it's day. Good luck with this one.
Men of the North (1930)
* 1/2 (out of 4)
Hal Roach directed this "action/adventure" set in Canada. Louis La Bey (Gilbert Roland) is accused of stealing some gold but in the meantime he has a couple women wanting him. I'm sorry if that plot description is bad or just doesn't due the film justice but I'll gladly admit that the story mad very little to no sense to me. This entire picture is a must see because of how bad the thing is and there's never a single second that makes any sense. I'd love to hear some backstory on this thing because what I do know is that Roach brought his huge library of stars to MGM and somehow he was allowed to direct this film. Was this picture offered up in some sort of deal? Did MGM just wish he'd shut up and they allowed him to make a movie? I'm really not sure but it says quite a bit that the studio didn't turn over any of their "A" stars or even any of their "B" stars. Roland, a major Latin lover symbol in the silent era, is quite frankly, awful here. He's suppose to be playing a French guy yet he has an incredibly think Mexican accent that he never tries to cover up. There are a few supporting players who do the same thing and it just really makes the entire film odd to say the least. I'm really not sure why they didn't try to write something around the accents or at least change something about his character but seeing a French guy with a Mexican accent just makes for some laughs. The cinematography is quite ugly throughout the picture and the story is just so thin and all over the place that I'm not sure what's going on. Roach's direction isn't much better because he obviously can't tell a story and really doesn't have any business doing a film of this genre. MEN OF THE NORTH is one of the strangest films of the decade so fans of the bad will probably want to check it out but all others should stay clear.
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