Langdon Towne and Hunk Marriner join Major Rogers' Rangers as they wipe out an Indian village. They set out for Fort Wentworth, but when they arrive they find no soldiers and none of the supplies they expected.
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Based on the Kenneth Roberts novel of the same name, this film tells the story of two friends who join Rogers' Rangers, as the legendary elite force engages the enemy during the French and Indian War. The film focuses on their famous raid at Fort St. Francis and their marches before and after the battle. Written by
Members of Roger's Rangers fought on the American side in the initial battles of the Revolutionary War, Lexington and Concord, in 1775. See more »
Rogers' Rangers did not portage their whaleboats over a ridge during the St. Francis raid. This actually happened two years prior when the Rangers portaged their boats from Lake George to Wood Creek in order to avoid French outposts around Fort Ticonderoga (Carillon). See more »
This is a story of our early America... of the century of conflict with the French and Indians... when necessity made simple men, unknown to history, into giants in daring and endurance. It begins in Portsmouth New Hampshire, in 1759...
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Kenneth Roberts was a distinguished novelist who wrote many fine fictional works about colonial and revolutionary America. Probably his biggest seller was Northwest Passage a fictionalization of the exploits of Roger's Rangers during the French and Indian War.
His books sold well at the time and we have to remember that in viewing Northwest Passage we are seeing a fictional story rather than the real story of Roger's Rangers. At that we are only seeing part of that book, nothing at all about a search for a land route across North America.
The historical significance of the Rangers is that Robert Rogers had an idea that one should be living and thinking like the American Indian in order to fight him. His ideas about specialized units who could meet the enemy on his own terms in colonial America have been followed right down to the Green Berets in Vietnam. His is a distinguished contribution in military history.
To do that and lead such a group you have to be one charismatic leader. And in Spencer Tracy, Rogers has the best kind of interpreter.
This was Tracy's first color feature for MGM and Louis B. Mayer spared no expense for this film. No back lot backwoods here, the company went on location to the Payette River in Idaho for the outdoor scenes depicting colonial era New York State. No stunt doubles here either, that's Tracy, Walter Brennan, Robert Young and the rest of the company waist deep in those rapids forming that human chain. Some of the stars nearly drowned making this film.
One aspect of this film is rarely discussed and that was the politics surrounding the Indians. Please note that while Tracy is burning the Abinagi village, he has some friendly Mohawks with him. When the British and French went to war in this theater of the Seven Years War, the various Indian tribes chose up sides, trying to figure which group of whites would give them the better deal. The Mohawks are part of the Iroquois Confederation and they aligned themselves with Great Britain. Various other tribes allied with with French. Both were supplied with the white man's weapons of war and both fought on each side. And neither got a really great deal in the end.
Northwest Passage is definitely not for the politically correct of the day. Tracy is leading a savage reprisal against the Abinagi, he burns the town, kills all the males of fighting age, steals their meager food supplies to feed his men who are hungry themselves. Tracy makes it clear this is reprisal for raids against the British colonists. Prominently displayed for the camera just before the shooting start is that large exhibit of settler's scalps in the village.
Of course the real story is the retreat back, fleeing a much larger force of French in the area. The men are starving as they reach the rendezvous point which is an abandoned fort. Tracy races ahead of the men who've been promised a feast when they get there and as he makes it there he realizes the supplies haven't come. He starts to break down, but as he hears his men behind him, he regains control of himself and starts issuing the orders necessary for their survival. It's all done in a few minutes without dialog and its own of Spencer Tracy's greatest film moments.
Northwest Passage will not find too much favor with a lot of today's audience. But taken for what it is worth, it is a story about brave men and their struggle for survival in the colonial wilderness.
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