TRAIL OF ’98, THE
(director: Clarence Brown; screenwriter: Benjamin F. Glazer/Waldemar Young/Joe Farnham/from a book by Robert W. Service; cinematographer: John Seitz; editor: George Hively; cast: Dolores Del Rio (Berna), Ralph Forbes (Larry), Harry Carey (Jack Locasto), Karl Dane (Lars Petersen), Tully Marshall (Salvation Jim), George Cooper (Samuel Foote, the Worm),Russell Simpson (Old Swede), Cesare Gravina (Henry Kelland, Berna’s Grandfather), Emily Fitzroy (Mrs. Bulkey), Tenen Holtz (Mr. Bulkey); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Clarence Brown; MGM; 1928-silent)
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Clarence Brown (“They Met in Bombay”/”National Velvet”/”The Human Comedy”)directs this silent epic that tells about the Yukon gold rush in 1898 and what ruin greed can cause. John Huston’s The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948) covered the same themed ‘evil nature of man’ subject matter with even more force. Writers Benjamin F. Glazer, Waldemar Young and Joe Farnham base it on the book by Robert W. Service and try to keep the plot thickening with add-ons, but the film works better when it’s just location shots such as those of the climb up the Chilkoot Pass.
It follows a group of characters who went by boat from San Francisco to Alaska in the heat of the moment. Samuel Foote (George Cooper), nicknamed the Worm, forsakes his home; Lars Petersen (Karl Dane), a giant dimwitted lumberman, leaves his wife; preacher turned prospector Salvation Jim (Tully Marshall) leaves the Nevada desert; and the Bulkeys (Emily Fitzroy & Tenen Holtz), with a poor relation, Berna (Dolores Del Rio), and her blind grandfather (Cesare Gravina), plan to run a restaurant in the Klondike. Larry (Ralph Forbes) is a stowaway on the boat to Skagway, Alaska, and becomes Berna’s man.
The trek from Skagway across the frozen tundra to Dawson City has many going crazy or dying, as they struggle in an avalanche and with the severe weather conditions of winter. Berna’s grandfather dies. The elderly wannabe restaurant owners flee back to the States, as they can’t deal with the harsh conditions or harsh men like the film’s dishonest saloon owner Jack Locasto (Harry Carey). Before the disillusioned Larry leaves Alaska, he hears of another gold strike and Larry gives it another shot and returns to the Klondike leaving the reluctant Berna alone in Dawson City. This time partners Lars, Larry, Jim, and the Worm strike gold. Larry and the Worm guard their stake, while the others go to town to record their claim. Greed overtakes the Worm, who tries to get rid of Larry but instead gets eaten by wolves. Back at Dawson City, Larry is depressed to find Berna a fallen woman (forced to become a dance-hall girl in Jack’s saloon) and gets revenge on Locasto for causing this and also jumping his claim, as they get into a fatal saloon brawl whereby Jack dies in the saloon fire while Berna pulls Larry out alive. There’s a happy ending as Larry, Berna and their surviving partners Lars and Jim, try to get back to living a normal life after overtaken by the gold bug and are grateful they have a chance to begin life fresh again. Larry tells Berna to forget about the past, all is forgiven.
REVIEWED ON 5/14/2010 GRADE: C+ https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/