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SPAWN OF THE NORTH(director: Henry Hathaway; screenwriters: Jules Furthman/Talbot Jennings; cinematographer: Charles Lang Jr.; editor: Ellsworth Hoagland; music: Dimitri Tiomkin; cast: George Raft (Tyler Dawson), Henry Fonda (Jim Kimmerlee), Dorothy Lamour (Nicky Duval), Akim Tamiroff (Red Skain), John Barrymore (Windy Turlon), Louise Platt (Dian ‘Di’ Turlon), Lynne Overman (‘Jack’ Jackson), Fuzzy Knight (Lefty Jones), Vladimir Sokoloff (Dimitri); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Albert Lewin; MCA/Universal Home Video; 1938)
“Half-baked Western set as an Alaskan fish story about childhood friends who become bitter rivals as adults.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Henry Hathaway (“The Lives of a Bengal Lancer”/”Souls at Sea”) directs this half-baked Western set as an Alaskan fish story about childhood friends who become bitter rivals as adults. It’s adequately written by Jules Furthman and Talbot Jennings. It was remade as Alaska Seas (1954). The realistic photography of the black and white film earned it a Special Academy Award for outstanding achievements in special effects and photography. It fully capture in its stunning visuals such awesome sights as the salmon returning to the river to spawn and the pristine beauty of the Alaskan glacial wilderness. The rousing old-fashioned adventure tale is aided by the fine performances from its illustrious stars and the cuteness of Dorothy Lamour’s pet seal named Slicker.

In the 1890s in Alaska, licensed American fisherman are at odds with Russian fish poachers who steal the salmon from the traps during spawning time. Tyler Dawson (George Raft) and Jim Kimmerlee (Henry Fonda) are inseparable friends from childhood, but things change when Jim’s dad dies and he stops poaching and goes legit as he mortgages everything to buy a cannery with his meager inheritance. Tyler fails to convince Jim to partner with him, and instead joins the intimidating Russian pirate Red Skain (Akim Tamiroff) as a poacher.

Jim begins romancing Dian Turlan (Louise Platt), the sweet daughter of a windy local newspaper owner and tippler, Windy Turlon (John Barrymore). Dian grew up in Alaska as a child but went to college in the mainland and returns to the rural area as a stunning woman after eight years, and begins her awkward romance with the now reformed Jim as she’s encouraged to by her philosophical father.

Nicky Duval (Dorothy Lamour) is a tough-minded hotel owner who is hopelessly in love with the rakish Tyler, and tries to keep him from being an outlaw.

Things get out of hand when the law and order locals become vigilantes and battle with the Russians instead of allowing the law to take its course, which result in a few deaths and a stirring climax that has Tyler redeem his lost soul with an heroic act.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”