The lack of 'scope (in more ways than one) betrays the TV origins of this film. Though mainly shot in a studio or on the back lot, brief sequences shot on location recall the classic version of LAST OF THE MOHEGANS (1920) by Jacques Tourneur's father Maurice. Though its from the same source novel as the attenuated 1940 epic, the euphonious NORTHWEST PASSAGE starring Spencer Tracy, it bares more resemblance to the High Tide of the TV western's tsunami of the late 50s and early 60s. They were photographed on sound stages with mercilessly bright overhead lighting, the lead actor (Kieth Larson) is the type of chiseled profile hunk that men who control such things think women will fancy (no stupid, not Gardner McKay but Dustin Hoffman. Are you crazy?) but only appeal to pre-teen boys. His sidekick is Buddy Ebson, late of playing the sidekick to Fess Parker's Davy Crockett in a series of sensationally popular TV movies for Disney. This represented a major re-branding of Ebson's career from being a song and dance man. His career would shortly enter a new phase as Jed Clampett on the Beverly Hillbillies. As they say, sometimes good casting can overcome mediocre writing. But not here.
Tourneur is operating at a different level than his true features. One cameraman he worked with complimented once him as a true artist because he made a new set-up for every shot. Not so here. Of course being re-edited from a TV series, the structure is highly episodic, with each new setting a completely different set of supporting actors appear, never to re-appear. There is one location, where the canoe would be beached in scene after scene after scene, which was merely a set on the back lot beside the studio tank which would have to be redressed to pass it off as yet another place, sometimes quite remarkably well done.
Northwest Passage is not among my favorite pictures but place it side by side with Frontier Rangers and its an object lesson in not only the aesthetic results of severely constraining the budget, but the very one dimensional output of a film due to the limited and constricted imaginations of those who planned to make this stuff in the first place. All very professional so it doesn't resemble a movie which is bad because of incompetence. Here the badness is inherent just because of meanness, cynicism and expediency. It calls to mind Sam Goldwyn's warning to the film industry when TV first arrived- Who's gonna want to go out to a theater and pay to see a bad movie when they can stay home and see a bad movie for free. This is a bad movie.
And oh, this film has the second worst song to appear in any film made in the twentieth century. The theme song is over-the-top terrible made even more remarkable in that it is a product of the first rate, hall of fame even, song writing team of Dietz and Schwartz. It is excrementally bad and for fans of the extreme its a must-not-miss. "Make way for Rangers/Tomahawk, tomahawk here we come". (The dreadful background music was by the incredibly prolific hack Raoul Kraushaar).
13 of 15 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?