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Northwest Passage
     

Northwest Passage

Director: Jack Conway, King Vidor, Spencer Tracy, Robert Young

Cast: Jack Conway, King Vidor, Spencer Tracy, Robert Young

 

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Kenneth Roberts' fact-based novel Northwest Passage would seem too raw and explicit a book to be considered for an MGM film adaptation-much less one in Technicolor. Amazingly, MGM retained many of the grim episodes from the Roberts' novel, though - thanks to the Hays Code - most are discussed rather than shown. The film is set in 1759, when the headstrong and

Overview

Kenneth Roberts' fact-based novel Northwest Passage would seem too raw and explicit a book to be considered for an MGM film adaptation-much less one in Technicolor. Amazingly, MGM retained many of the grim episodes from the Roberts' novel, though - thanks to the Hays Code - most are discussed rather than shown. The film is set in 1759, when the headstrong and gifted young artist Langdon Towne (Robert Young) is expelled from Harvard much to the chagrin of his parents and his fiancee, Elizabeth Browne (Ruth Hussey). Towne and his tough-as-nails sidekick, Hunk Marriner (Walter Brennan) get soused one night in a pub and - while intoxicated - viciously insult Elizabeth's father, Rev. Browne (Louis Hector). The two men are nearly arraigned for the incident, but escape just in time and ultimately wind up at the camp of famed Indian hunter Major Robert Rogers (Spencer Tracy). Rogers then invites Towne to join his troupe as a cartographer, and suggests that Marriner tag along. Together, the hundreds of Indian fighters under Rogers's aegis team up and chart their way through the wilderness, headed straight for St. Francis, the base of the French-supported Abenaki tribe, notorious for bloodily wiping out British-controlled colonies, after which they will forge the titular 'northwest passage' to the Pacific. Along the route, the boys counter such obstacles as traitorous Native American guides and exploding gunpowder. Metro Goldwyn-Mayer originally slated this production for Tracy, Wallace Beery, Robert Taylor and Franchot Tone, but only Tracy signed on; the studio reeled in Brennan and Young as last-minute additions, to support Tracy's lead. Northwest Passage marked Vidor's first Technicolor film. William V. Skall and Sidney Wagner received Oscar nominations for their outstanding cinematographic work on the film. Nineteen years after its premiere, Northwest Passage later became an NBC TV series between 1959-60, starring Keith Larsen in the Tracy role, Buddy "Jed Clampett" Ebsen in the Brennan role, and Don Burnett in the Young role.

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide
It is perhaps not entirely surprising that over the decades Hollywood has made very few colonial adventures, but one of its more noteworthy forays into that underrepresented genre is Northwest Passage. Spencer Tracy, Robert Young, and Walter Brennan star in this story of Rogers' Rangers, the fighting frontiersmen from the French-Indian War. It's a rousing adventure to be sure, with solid acting and good period flavor, but filled with such virulent anti-American Indian racism that it nearly ruins what should have been an exciting film. Particularly offensive is the shocking raid on the Abenaki village, in which the Rangers burn the village and massacre the inhabitants. As directed by King Vidor, Northwest Passage is an otherwise first-rate production, as the Rangers also battle nature and starvation during their quest. Much of the focus of the story is on Tracy, Young, and Brennan, but there are plenty of solid character performers in supporting parts, notably Nat Pendleton as a pub owner in the early scenes. On the technical side, Northwest Passage also has much to offer. While at times the Technicolor may seem a bit artificial, the amazing location photography more than compensates. Rarely has the North American wilderness been more strikingly photographed, and Vidor also does an admirable job blending in the studio shots, sometimes in the same frame. Originally intended to be the first part of an uncompleted two-part story, Northwest Passage stands as an interesting, if seriously flawed, time capsule piece.

Product Details

Release Date:
11/22/2011
UPC:
0883316336281
Original Release:
1940
Rating:
NR
Source:
Warner Archives
Region Code:
0
Presentation:
[Full Frame]
Time:
2:08:00
Sales rank:
7,583

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Spencer Tracy Maj. Robert Rogers
Robert Young Langdon Towne
Walter Brennan Hunk Marriner
Ruth Hussey Elizabeth Browne
Nat Pendleton Capt. Huff
Louis Hector Rev. Browne
Robert H. Barrat Humphrey Towne
Lumsden Hare Lord Amherst
Isabel Jewell Jennie Coit
Douglas Walton Lt. Avery
Addison Richards Lt. Crofton
Hugh Sothern Jesse Beacham
Regis Toomey Webster
Montagu Love Wiseman Clagett
Lester Matthews Sam Livermore
Truman Bradley Capt. Ogden
Arthur Aylesworth Flint Innkeeper
Rand Brooks Eben Towne
Don Castle Richard Towne
Rychard Cramer Sheriff Packer
George Eldredge McMullen
Verna Felton Mrs. Towne
Edward Gargan Capt. Butterfield
Gibson Gowland MacPherson
Denis Green Capt. Williams
Frank S. Hagney Capt. Grant
Gwendolen Logan Mrs. Browne
Tom London Actor
Peter George Lynn Turner
Donald MacBride Sgt. McNott
Helen MacKellar Sarah Hadden
Addie McPhail Jane Browne
John Merton Lt. Dunbar
Ferdinand Munier Stoodley
Ted Oliver Farrington
Eddie Parker Ranger
Robert St. Angelo Solomon
Ray Teal Bradley McNeil
Hank Worden Ranger
Frederic Worlock Sir William Johnson
Kent Rogers Odiorne Towne

Technical Credits
Jack Conway Director
King Vidor Director
Malcolm Brown Art Director
Jack Dawn Makeup
Cedric Gibbons Art Director
Talbot Jennings Screenwriter
Conrad A. Nervig Editor
William Skall Cinematographer
Laurence Stallings Screenwriter
Herbert Stothart Score Composer
Hunt Stromberg Producer
Sidney Wagner Cinematographer
Edwin B. Willis Set Decoration/Design

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