John Wayne, Capucine, Stewart Granger, and Fabian in North to Alaska (1960)


(director: Henry Hathaway; screenwriters: from the play The Birthday Gift by Ladislas Fodor/idea from John Kafka/Claude Binyon/Martin Rackin/John Lee Mahin; cinematographer: Leon Shamroy; editor: Dorothy Spencer; music: Lionel Newman; cast: John Wayne (Sam McCord), Stewart Granger (George Pratt), Ernie Kovacs (Frankie Canon), Fabian (Billy Pratt), Capucine (Michelle, ‘Angel’), Mickey Shaughnessy (Peter Boggs), Lilyan Chauvin (Jenny Lamont), Karl Swenson (Lars Nordquist), Kathleen Freeman (Lena Nordquist), John Qualen (Logger); Runtime: 122; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Henry Hathaway; 20th Century Fox; 1960)
“Never amounts to even a speck of gold.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A silly hybrid Western and northern adventure tale that never amounts to even a speck of gold, though there’s no lack of effort from the spirited cast. It gets bogged down between bookend brawls at the beginning and end of the film and a tepid screwball comedy revolving around a mixup in a romantic triangle. There are long pauses without any action, leaving us stuck with the lame dialogue and second-rate slapstick comedy. It’s directed in a workmanlike way by veteran Henry Hathaway (who replaced Richard Fleischer) that writers Claude Binyon, Martin Rackin, and John Lee Mahin adapted from the play The Birthday Gift by Ladislas Fodor. It should be noted that the script was muddled and was altered throughout the filming. The film never equals in merit its lively hit theme song sung during the opening credits by Johnny Horton. It was filmed at Point Mugu, California. Despite being of inferior quality, the public liked the new gentler and comically self-deprecating John Wayne look and made it a success at the box office.

Set in 1900, in Nome, during the peak of the Alaskan Gold Rush started in ’98, where prospecting partners Sam McCord (John Wayne) and George Pratt (Stewart Granger) become millionaires when their claim delivers after three years. George’s 17-year-old brother Billy (Fabian) is also a partner, who is used as a comic foil by always seen trying to act grownup to get a girl but never succeeding. In town, the partners get into a big barroom brawl when the other prospectors laugh at George for trusting Sam to bring back his fiancée Jenny Lamont from Seattle. Sam finds Jenny in Seattle, but she’s a maid in a rich family’s house and has married the butler. Not wanting to disappoint George, Sam goes to the bordello and talks beautiful prostitute Michelle, also known as Angel (Capucine), into going with him to Nome to marry George. But the drunken Sam never explains it right and she misunderstands the situation and decides to go back home after landing in Nome when she learns she’s meant for Sam’s partner. Angel has fallen for Sam and he has for her, but refuses to admit it. Returning to the mine, Sam is surprised to find there are claim-jumpers he has to do battle with and is further surprised that Angel stayed in Nome. The mixup situation continues with all three men, Sam, George and Billy falling for Angel, trying to romance and fight over her as she stays at the honeymoon cabin George built for his expected bride Jenny. The film concludes with its centerpiece brawl scene in the muddy streets of Nome, as oily con man casino/hotel owner Frankie Canon (Ernie Kovacs) is exposed as the swindler responsible for getting illiterate drunk Peter Boggs (Mickey Shaughnessy) to file a false claim so Frankie can steal the mine. While the slapstick fight goes on, the onlookers cheer on Angel and Sam to declare their love for each other. If you’re a fan of such riotous brawls you might have a different opinion of the pic than I did, as these brawls are considered classics by certain film buffs.

This overlong but good-natured adventure story has Wayne as a genial macho man, who teams up well with his fellow macho man Granger. If there’s a silver lining to this mindless venture, it’s the good chemistry between Wayne and Granger as two-fisted cussin’ brawlers who really like and trust each other despite all their bickering. Taken on those limited terms, the film could be enjoyable. I just found it too corny and the plot too imbecilic, and aside from the two stars coming through despite the terrible script they were saddled with–the supporting cast was inadequate. Leading lady Capucine gives a dull performance, teenage idol singer Fabian is seemingly out of his depth as an actor (given the part to draw a young demographic audience) and Kovacs seemed hamstrung by the script and wasn’t a bit funny.