Sunday, November 17, 2013

North to the Klondike (1942)

Director: Erle C. Kenton                                  Writer: Clarence Upson Young
Film Score: Hans J. Salter                              Cinematography: Charles Van Enger
Starring: Broderick Crawford, Evelyn Ankers, Lon Chaney, Jr. and Andy Devine

This is a typical low-budget adventure yarn from Universal, based on Jack London's essay “Gold Hunters of the North.” North to the Klondike is notable for featuring the nascent film duo of Evelyn Ankers and Lon Chaney Jr., who had first teamed together in their previous film The Wolf Man. Also onboard are Broderick Crawford and Andy Devine, two of Chaney’s drinking buddies. But what it lacks in artistry, it more than makes up for in brash and joie de vivre. It’s a familiar story of homesteaders trying to carve out a life in the wilderness, living next to miners who want to extract the gold. The miners need the farmers to leave so that they can stake a legitimate claim to the land, but of course the landowners don’t want to leave and the ensuing conflict is predictable.

The film begins with a short prologue, Andy Devine as an old man telling the story of the town of Haven as the ship he’s on takes refugees from the Dust Bowl up to Alaska to make a new start. Forty years earlier Broderick Crawford had gone up as an engineer to work a mine owned by Lon Chaney Jr. The only problem is, at the same time Crawford arrives so does a letter from the land office saying that the homesteaders have first claim to the land where the mine is located. Evelyn Ankers and her brother are two of the farmers, waiting for a shipment of supplies that will get them through the winter. Chaney tells Crawford to go home, saying that the mine’s a bust, but he sticks around while Chaney begins his campaign to get the landowners to leave. The first step is to burn the supply ship, the next is to kill the man who goes for more supplies. Crawford, his dander up now, decides to stay and fight, with Ankers as the reward.

The story has been used before, tangentially in something like Ride the High Country, but it is almost identical to the story that Clint Eastwood would use decades later when he filmed Pale Rider, his remake of Shane. This script, however, is difficult to take at times, as Andy Devine’s comic relief wears thin pretty fast. The star, Broderick Crawford does a nice job, however. For a man who never really had a major film career, he was a solid actor and managed to earn an Academy Award at the end of the decade for All The King’s Men. Ankers and Chaney definitely have supporting roles and so their characters really never have time to develop. There are some nice character parts, though. Lloyd Corrigan has a nice turn as the doctor, but it’s Keye Luke, one of the most recognizable Asian actors in Hollywood, who has a nifty little role as a stereotype but manages to give it an element of respectability.

As far as the technical aspects of the film go, it’s fairly underwhelming. Lots of rear screen projection, studio exteriors and cheesy costumes give the picture the look of an early thirties serial. The one nice set is on the homestead of Ankers’ brother, boasting a beautiful looking waterfall. The direction by Erle C. Kenton, one of the studio’s journeyman directors, is as pedestrian here as it is on the studio’s horror pictures. Speaking of which, the film score is simply the monster music composed by the great Hans Salter and grafted on to the film. Ultimately, it’s Broderick Crawford, not even his character, that’s the reason for watching the film. He’s calm and confident and a pleasure to watch. North to the Klondike may not be a good film, but it does deliver a modicum of entertainment and for that it’s worth a look.

No comments:

Post a Comment