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SILVER HORDE, THE (director: George Archainbaud; screenwriters: Wallace Smith/from novel by Rex Beach; cinematographers: John W. Boyle/Leo Tover; editor: Otto Ludwig; cast: Evelyn Brent (Cherry Malotte), Joel McCrea (Boyd Emerson), Jean Arthur (Mildred Wayland), Gavin Gordon (Frederick Marsh), Blanche Sweet (Queenie), Louis Wolheim (George Balt), Raymond Hatton (Fraser), Purnell Pratt (Wayne Wayland), William Davidson (Thomas Hilliard), Ivan Linow (Svenson); Runtime: 75; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: William LeBaron/William Sistrom; RKO; 1930)
“It was easier for me to believe McCrea loved the salmon more than either Arthur or Brent.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

George Archainbaud’s (“The Lost Squadron”/”The Kansan”) adventure drama is based on the 1909 novel of Alaska salmon fishers by Rex Beach and is a mostly stale remake of a 1920 silent classic. It was the second leading role for the 24-year-old Joel McCrea, who seems a little young and flat for his robust fisherman entrepreneur part but still shows his inner fortitude that made him eventually a top-notch star in Hollywood. This early talkie was shot on location in rugged Ketchikan, Alaska, giving it a realistic salmon fishing look. The silver horde of the title refers to the shimmering tribe of salmon. Jean Arthur also stars. She was a popular actress at the time but today is largely forgotten, probably because she never played the Hollywood publicity game and never gave interviews. Next to Garbo, she kept the lowest profile of any Hollywood actress.

Fortune hunter Boyd Emerson (Joel McCrea) goes to Alaska to find gold and ends up dead broke with vagabond older partner Fraser (Raymond Hatton), and runs into the copper mining camp of the toughie Cherry Malotte (Evelyn Brent) in Kalvik. She’s been around (being an infamous dancehall girl with a reputation for loose living) but the naive Boyd can’t see it, and she falls in love with the innocent straightshooter but he takes her as only a good friend. To help him out, she sends him to Seattle with local rough-edged fisherman George Balt (Louis Wolheim) and forms a shotgun fishing partnership between the two opposites. Balt provides the fishing experience and she enables Boyd to get a business loan from Seattle banker Thomas Hilliard (William Davidson) for supplies and to hire a fishing crew headed by ruffian ‘snapper’ Svenson (Ivan Linow). With the loan money they begin their Alaskan fishing operation in Salvik, but are opposed by ruthless syndicate boss Frederick Marsh (Gavin Gordon) who will do anything, including murder, to make sure he doesn’t have any competition.

In Seattle, Boyd fell in love with spoiled society belle Mildred Wayland (Jean Arthur). Her wealthy businessman father Wayne Wayland (Purnell Pratt) steers her to marry the wealthy Marsh, but she refuses. Mr. Wayland then arranges for Hilliard to cancel the loan, but Cherry comes down from the snowy Alaskan plains to Seattle and makes a business offer Hilliard can’t resist to give the boys the loan (she trades her copper mine for the loan). The naive Boyd thinks Mildred arranged it through her father and the two become an item. The boys have their hands full fighting the dirty tactics of Marsh to stop them but eventually win an all out fight on their respective boats and their fishery becomes a huge success (showing how the salmon was processed and canned was more inviting than the melodramatics). On land, Boyd becomes conflicted between the women and after acting like a self-righteous prig comes to his senses and chooses the one with a heart of gold. The romantic triangle story seemed uninteresting and sophomoric, and the melodramatics seemed unconvincing. It was easier for me to believe McCrea loved the salmon more than either Arthur or Brent.

Former silent screen star Blanche Sweet, played in the 1923 Anna Christie, has a small part as a dancehall friend of Brent’s. With the talkies, her career was soon over. This was one of her last films.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”