Northwest Passage (1940)
"'Northwest Passage' (Book I -- Rogers' Rangers)" (original title)

Passed  |   |  Adventure, Drama, History  |  23 February 1940 (USA)
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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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(screenplay), (screenplay), 13 more credits »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Elizabeth Browne
'Cap' Huff
Louis Hector ...
Reverend Browne
Robert Barrat ...
Humphrey Towne
Lumsden Hare ...
Lord Amherst
Donald MacBride ...
Sergeant McNott
Jennie Coit
Douglas Walton ...
Lieutenant Avery
Addison Richards ...
Lieutenant Crofton
Hugh Sothern ...
Jesse Beacham
Montagu Love ...
Wiseman Clagett


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 Dale Roloff

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Half Men - Half Demons . . . Warriors Such As The World Has Never Known . . . They Lived With Death and Danger For The Women Who Hungered For Their Love ! See more »


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Release Date:

23 February 1940 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Northwest Passage  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$2,677,762 (estimated)

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Sound System)



Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


W.S. Van Dyke was assigned to direct the movie before King Vidor, and scouted locations throughout the American West in 1938. About 60,000 feet of background shots had been completed in Idaho before Van Dyke was taken off the picture because of a scheduling conflict and replaced by Vidor; Jack Conway eventually shot some additional scenes as well. See more »


Early in the film, Langdon Towne and "Cap" Huff talk to "Hunk" Marriner, who is in stocks; at one point the sound of an airplane engine overhead is clearly audible. See more »


[first lines]
Title Card: 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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Referenced in Hollywood Hist-o-Rama: Spencer Tracy (1961) See more »


The British Grenadiers
Traditional 17th century March
Sung a cappella by Andrew Pena
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User Reviews

Frequently ripped-off historical plot seen here first.
9 June 2011 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Two months before his death in 1957, Kenneth Roberts received a special Pulitzer Prize for his historical novels. Of them, Northwest Passage was his most famous. It consisted of two distinct parts, and was the second best selling American book of 1937 (after first having been serialized in the Saturday Evening Post).

MGM's 1940 movie is based on the first, and in my opinion, better part of the book. It recounts Major Robert Rogers' 1759 raid on St. Francis, an Abenaki village, during the French and Indian War. As Rogers, Spencer Tracy gives a powerhouse performance, King Vidor delivers the directorial goods, and the storyline, itself, is very exciting. Indeed, I remember Northwest Passage fondly from my childhood, and consider it a classic. However, because of today's values, it probably appeals more to conservatives than liberals.

In 1945, Warner Brothers' Objective, Burma! (starring Errol Flynn) used the same plot without attribution--a Japanese transmission station replacing the Indian village. (Directed by Raoul Walsh, it too is very well done.) Then, in 1951's Distant Drums (starring Gary Cooper), director Walsh again used the same plot without attribution. This time the movie (which is not so well done) occurs during The Seminole Indian Wars (1835–1842), and the initial objective is an old Spanish fort, lying deep within the Everglades.

In conclusion, I'm not shocked that Hollywood recycled Roberts' plot without attribution. (You only have to remember Dorothy Parker's quip "The only 'ism' Hollywood believes in is plagiarism.") I am, however, somewhat shocked that Roberts did not sue. (His reputation was that of an acerbic curmudgeon.) But, then again, maybe he just didn't know.

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