Sunday, April 20, 2014

Tonight's Movie: North to Alaska (1960)

Easter Sunday seemed like a good time to catch up with a lighthearted John Wayne-Stewart Granger movie I'd never seen before, NORTH TO ALASKA (1960). The timing seemed especially good as John Wayne's big week as Star of the Month on Turner Classic Movies starts tomorrow!

NORTH TO ALASKA is a Wayne film my kids watched regularly when they were growing up, but somehow when they watched this, HATARI! (1962), or McLINTOCK! (1963) I was always working. I've thus seen bits and pieces here and there but decided it was finally time to start catching up with these "later" Wayne films.

NORTH TO ALASKA is overlong, clocking in at 122 minutes, and a little too silly at times, but it's buoyed by an appealing trio of leads, John Wayne, Stewart Granger, and Capucine.

Wayne and Granger play mining partners in Alaska. Sam (Wayne) travels to Seattle on business and also plans to fetch the French-born fiancee of George (Granger), who's been waiting for him to strike it rich.

Alas, the girl gave up waiting and married someone else. Sam meets a French saloon gal, Michele (Capucine), and decides George might consider Michele a good replacement for the fickle fiancee. Michele is attracted to Sam and leaps at the chance for a new life. Sam doesn't count on falling for Michele himself, and he's the last to realize he loves her.

Meanwhile, there's all manner of goings-on, as George's kid brother (Fabian) is sweet on Michele and there's also skullduggery involving claim jumpers and a con artist (Ernie Kovacs).

Kovacs' character bored me silly, and the focus on his character early on gets the movie off to such a slow start I was almost ready to reach for my fast-forward button.

The truth is there's a very enjoyable, congenial movie buried inside NORTH TO ALASKA which just focuses on Sam, George, and Michele, and I found that part of the film very entertaining. The rest of it, not so much. An entire subplot with George and Sam defending a neighbor's claim was nothing but excess. This film should have been pared down to a tighter story and been told in maybe an hour and 40 minutes rather than over two hours.

The widescreen location filming is attractive. Point Mugu in Southern California stands in for the Alaska coastline, and Point Mugu Rock can be briefly spotted in the background.

A couple of years ago Deb did a nice piece on the film at Sidewalk Crossings, including a peek at one of the film's locations, Hot Creek, near Mammoth, California.

The supporting cast includes Joe Sawyer, Karl Swenson, Kathleen Freeman, Mickey Shaughnessy, John Qualen, Richard and Stanley Adams. Look for James Griffith in a tiny role at the end as a Salvation Army preacher.

NORTH TO ALASKA was directed by Henry Hathaway and filmed by Leon Shamroy.

NORTH TO ALASKA is available on a widescreen DVD. It's also been released on VHS and Blu-ray. It can be rented for streaming from Amazon Instant Video.


Blogger Blake Lucas said...

It's not too long for me!

This is my favorite Western comedy ever and have seen it many times since it first came out in 1960. It's just so funny and charming and it has Johnny Horton singing that great title song!

I do agree that the Wayne/Capucine/Granger part of it is the heart of it, especially because Capucine plays the one completely serious character, which a movie like this needs. John Wayne had a lot of comedic talent (just threw in my two cents about this over at 50 Westerns and mentioned this film) and he's especially hilarious in famous "jealousy" scene with Granger, Capucine and Fabian ("You're looking a little green, Sam").

Well, I just have to say I love this one, Laura.

11:21 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Blake!

I agree, John Wayne is very, very funny in this, and I also agree the movie needs a completely serious character, and Capucine does a wonderful job. The heart of the story I liked a lot. :)

Thanks for chiming in with your two cents! This is one all my kids watched over and over so maybe the rest will grow on me with repeated exposure...

Best wishes,

12:21 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Both points have validity. Wayne, Capucine and Stewart Granger all fine. Even Fabian, perfectly okay, and Mickey Shaughnessy better than that, but almost anyone in the business would be more appealing and effective than Ernie Kovacs. Otherwise, a charming entertainment. I have the new Blu and -- well done.

6:46 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Glad to hear it's a nice Blu-ray. It's a very attractive-looking film, even though the filmmakers didn't leave California! :)

Best wishes,

7:51 PM  
Blogger DorianTB said...

Laura, we must agree to disagree about Ernie Kovacs, as we of Team Bartilucci have loved him since his wonderfully daft show back in the day -- but to each his/her own! :-) It's a fun little romp with a swell cast in any case, and it's nice to see it's on Blu-Ray now. I always enjoy your posts in any case!

7:16 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Dorian,

Thanks much for stopping by!

It's interesting, I think response to comedy is one of the things that can vary most among movie viewers. For instance, my friend Deb completely agrees with you and liked Kovacs in this too. :)

Glad I could spread the word about the Blu-ray edition!

Best wishes,

9:11 AM  

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