Turkey in the Straw
Heard as background music in the saloon See more »
Knock-Down, Drag-Out "Northern"
The old Rex Beach chestnut, The Spoilers, has been filmed several times, from the early silent days to the Eisenhower fifties. A durable tale indeed. When the first version was made the Emperor Franz Josef was still on the throne in Austria. All versions feature the famous fight between McNamara and Glennister, that begins in a saloon and ends several miles down the street. Windows get shattered, tables and chairs fly through the air, and people gasp in horror.
This 1942 film, directed by the reliable Ray Enright, is actually genteel compared to the silent versions, and as much a vehicle for Marlene Dietrich as anything else. As she was riding the comeback trail, in the wake of her spectacular success in Destry Rides Again, she plays a saloon singer, which had become her specialty. A rousing "Northern" western, set in the days of the Alaskan Gold Rush (which was, incidentally, closer in historical time to the year this film was made than we are to World War II), The Spoilers has a fairly conventional plot about prospectors, claim-jumpers, and the various hangers-on, honest and crooked, that made mining towns like Nome so exciting,--and so dangerous.
Leading men Randoloph Scott and John Wayne make rugged adversaries, though I find Scott somewhat more appealing, which isn't supposed to be the case. Wayne is competent if a little anonymous here. The supporting cast includes the reliable Harry Carey, Richard Barthelmess, Samuel Hinds, and in a cameo (I'm not making this up), the poet, Robert Service, best known for "The Shooting Of Dan McGrew". I guess if you're going to cast a poet in a film like this you don't go for Edna St. Vincent Millay. Service is most appropriate casting.
The sets are quite good, and at times quite fancy; and the streets are muddy, though I seem to remember the earlier films as having a more realistic, dirty look, as Alaska here is cleaner and at least physically less forbidding than one might expect. As to the climactic fight, it is well enough done, and properly violent, though neither participant seems nearly so bloodied up as he ought to. Overall, the movie is satisfying, more routine than I expected, and yet a worthy entry in that fascinating sub-genre, the Gold Rush Western.
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