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Sam and George strike gold in Alaska. George sends Sam to Seattle to bring George's fiancée back to Alaska. Sam finds she is already married, and returns instead with Angel. Sam, after trying to get George and Angel together, finally romances Angel, who, in the meantime, is busy fighting off the advances of George's younger brother, Billy. Frankie is a con man trying to steal the partner's gold claim. Written by
Out of 20th Century Fox, North to Alaska is directed by Henry Hathaway (& uncredited input from John Wayne) and stars John Wayne, Stewart Granger, Ernie Kovacs, Fabian & Capucine. The film script is based on the play Birthday Gift by Ladislas Fodor, and it's a CinemaScope/Deluxe Color production with Leon Shamroy's cinematography mainly on location at Point Mugu in California. Lionel Newman scores the music and the film also features a hit song of the same name song by Johnny Horton. The plot sees George Pratt (Granger) & Sam McCord (Wayne) strike gold in Alaska. Nicely set up, George sends Sam to Seattle to bring back his fiancée. However, upon finding the girl, Sam learns that she has married another man and Sam makes the decision to bring back a pretty working girl called Angel (Capucine) as a substitute. Trouble is is that Angel misunderstands and thinks Sam wants her for himself and begins to fall in love with him. Things are further complicated back in Nome when con man Frankie Canon (Ernie Kovacs) tries to steal their claim. Not only that but Angel has to contend with George's mood swings and the puppy dog like attentions of George's younger brother Billy (Fabian).
It often gets forgotten just what a good comedy actor John Wayne was. His icon status, and the genre he's most famous for, tends to keep his comedy pieces from being discovered by the casual movie fan. Which is a shame because with film's like Donovan's Reef, McLintock! and this here Hathaway treasure, there's enough fun and adventure to blow away the blues. The story in truth is nothing to write home about, it's a standard love triangle piece surrounded by gold rush conning and conniving. While teenage singer Fabian is out of his depth as his hyperactive hormone act quickly loses impetus, and Capucine, tho regally pretty, gives a one note and lacklustre performance that needs Wayne & Granger to offset it in the scenes shared with her. Yet the film still works incredibly well as a romantic comedy adventure.
There's as many fists thrown here as there is in a championship boxing bout, with three hilariously staged free for all punch ups within the movie. The chemistry between Wayne & Granger is spot on as they do macho in a comedy stylie, and Kovacs revels in being the moustache twirling con man. Hathaway (stepping in when Richard Fleischer bailed out of the project) was a dab hand at action scenes, with a rolling wagon cart-come-shoot out-punch up sequence as rip roaring as it is funny. Even the animals get in on the act, be it a shaggy loyal dog or head butting goats, they too are filling out the comedy. There's also a lot of beauty on offer as Shamroy (Cleopatra/Leave Her to Heaven/The Black Swan) turns parts of California into Nome, Alaska. The scenes set around the twin cabin site of Sam & George are filmed at Hot Creek near Mammoth Mountain, simply gorgeous, while Mt. Morrison, a magnificent piece of nature, is featured in the background of many shots. Dorothy Spencer's editing is tight and on the money and Newman's score is brisk and bouncy.
A far from flawless picture for sure, but what flaws are here are easily forgiven if the viewer is in the right spirit to take the film as it should be taken. 8/10
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