During the Alaska gold rush, a miner hits the mother lode, but a corrupt sheriff jumps his claim, leading to a tremendous fight.During the Alaska gold rush, a miner hits the mother lode, but a corrupt sheriff jumps his claim, leading to a tremendous fight.During the Alaska gold rush, a miner hits the mother lode, but a corrupt sheriff jumps his claim, leading to a tremendous fight.
'The Spoilers' was originally a best-selling novel by Rex Beach: a tale of two-fisted prospectors in the Klondike gold rush of 1898, culminating in a knock-down drag-out brawl. The story was so popular, it was filmed at least five times (one version starring John Wayne). This 1923 slapstick comedy parodies a film version of 'The Spoilers' released three months earlier ... which was at least the second movie version of Beach's much-filmed novel.
In 'The Spoilers', hero Glennister squares off against villain McNamara. Here, they're parodied as "Canister" and "Smacknamara". Sadly, most of 'The Soilers' remains on that Mad-magazine level of wit. Since 'The Soilers' is a two-reeler, it can't possibly parody the entire plot of Beach's novel, so it inevitably emphasises the climactic barroom brawl.
There are a couple of decent gags here. The sheriff is trustworthy, because -- as a title card assures us -- 'Once he had been bought, he stayed bought.' So that's all right, then.
In recent years, 'The Soilers' has attracted some scholarly attention for the presence of an unnamed character portrayed by George Rowe. Among all these rootin' tootin' manly macho males, Rowe depicts an effeminate simpering cowboy who is clearly meant to be what folks used to call a 'nance'. During the climactic fight scene, while Stan Laurel and James Finlayson are tearing each other apart, Rowe sashays into the room in skin-tight dungarees and rearranges the furniture. Hilarious! Later, he addresses Stan as 'my hero' and tosses him a bouquet in the form of dropping a flowerpot from the balcony above. The pot lands on Stan's head, though the action is cleverly staged so that we can't tell if the lonesome cowboy did it intentionally or not.
What I found utterly fascinating about Rowe's performance here is that it doesn't seem to be malicious: he's depicting the stereotype of an effeminate 'cissy', presumably homosexual, yet none of the humour is at this character's expense. Rather than inviting us to find this character ridiculous or unnatural, 'The Soilers' gets considerable laughs from the incongruous contrast of this simpering figure among the brawlers ... depicting this one cowboy merely as different from manly Stanley and the rest, not inferior to them. 'The Soilers' indicates that gays weren't invisible in 1923 ... and straight audiences were savvy enough to recognise them. I'll rate 'The Soilers' 7 out of 10, as one of Stan Laurel's funniest pre-Hardy movies.
- F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
- Aug 12, 2007