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North to Alaska(1960)
Sam and George strike gold in Alaska. George sends Sam to Seattle to bring George's fiancé back to Alaska. Sam finds she is already married, and returns instead with Angel. Sam, after trying to get George and Angel together, finally romances Angel, who, in the meantime, is busy fighting off the advances of George's younger brother, Billy. Frankie is a con man trying to steal the partner's gold claim.
For more about North to Alaska and the North to Alaska Blu-ray release, see North to Alaska Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on December 7, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: John Wayne, Stewart Granger, Ernie Kovacs, Fabian, Capucine, Mickey Shaughnessy
Director: Henry Hathaway
» See full cast & crew
North to Alaska Blu-ray Review
Call of la sauvagesse.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, December 7, 2013
John Wayne is generally credited with having directed only one picture, the 1960 version of The Alamo, but according to several reports, Wayne also "lent a hand" in getting his other 1960 film, the raucous if unfocused and overlong North to Alaska, shot as well. North to Alaska had a rather troubled pre-production history, which in fact included Wayne's involvement with The Alamo, which delayed production of this film for several months. Those delays may have at least contributed to a rather convoluted revolving door of producers, directors and co-stars, and by many accounts, there was no completed script ready when North to Alaska finally started shooting in mid 1960. The film has serious structure issues, and indeed often seems to have been cobbled together out of set pieces, with no real thought given to through line or that oft-lamented concept of character arc. What remains, therefore, is a haphazard but highly enjoyable farce that has its fair share of laughs, some nice scenery (including then "hot" French starlet Capucine), and a big, gaping void at the center of the film that may leave some viewers wondering what all the noisy fuss in the film is all about. In fact, this is a film that is virtually all MacGuffin (to purloin Alfred Hitchcock's famous concept of a meaningless idea that sets the plot in motion) without any real substance. A lot of films take their good time getting to "happily ever after", but North to Alaska seems positively fixated on taking as long as humanly possible, offering a veritable obstacle course of travails before John Wayne and Capucine can finally enjoy a quick clinch before the final credits roll.
In a way, North to Alaska plays like the flip side or at least a companion piece to another recent Fox Blu-ray release, 1935's Call of the Wild. Both films posit partners out to strike it rich in Alaska, with a female interloper joining them, but in the case of the 1960 film, the men, Sam McCord (John Wayne) and George Pratt (Stewart Granger), have already struck it rich and are simply looking to solidify their claim and move on to greater exploits, while George also wants reclaim something else—the fiancée he left in Seattle while he was in Alaska prospecting for gold.
Sam returns to Seattle to fetch some heavy machinery for their work up north, and he means to also retrieve George's fiancée, but is momentarily thrown for a loop when he finds out she got sick of waiting for George and has already tied the knot with someone else. At a "saloon" called the Hen House (the name of the establishment may indicate it served more than simply libations), Sam meets a French floozy named Michelle (Capucine), whose nom d'amour is Angel, and decides he'll take her back to George as a sort of consolation prize. Michelle is more than happy to oblige, especially once Sam indicates she'll be "marrying money", but Michelle's more tender side is soon touched by how decent Sam treats her, something to which she's been unaccustomed as a "working girl".
There's a rather strange set piece that then takes place, at a loggers' gathering where Sam takes part in a tree climbing race, a sequence that's visually quite impressive with a bunch of guys using belts wrapped around huge tree trunks to rapidly ascend and then return to ground. This sequence also allows Sam to defend Michelle's honor, when she's more or less attacked by a drunken logger. It's at this point that Michelle begins to obviously have feelings for Sam, though he's still determined to simply deliver her to George. That actually comes as a shock to Michelle, who had misunderstood Sam's intentions toward her as being focused on him, not his best friend and business partner.
In the meantime, a comedy subplot has also been brewing involving a conman named Frankie Canon (Ernie Kovacs). Frankie had already conned Sam in a bit of a swindle in Seattle, but once he hears about the Alaska gold, he decides there are even bigger fish to fry, and decides to head off north in pursuit of greater riches. The film finally segues to Alaska, where George and his rambunctious little brother Billy (Fabian, who also sings) are attempting to keep claim jumpers from marauding onto their find, and where Sam attempts to hook George up with Michelle, with a number of complicating factors getting in the way. These include Billy, who develops amorous intentions of his own, as well as even more machinations courtesy of Frankie, who it turns out has a history with Michelle of his own.
North to Alaska is never less than fun, but it's also too chaotic to ever amount to much. It has a lot of the same spirit as another comedic Wayne entry, McLintock!, without the overt chemistry that Wayne enjoyed with his co-star in that film, Maureen O'Hara. Henry Hathaway, always a dependable director, keeps things moving at a relatively decent pace, and the opening and closing fight sequences are real highlights, but a lot of what comes between them frankly seems like filler, designed to do little more than merely pass the time. Wayne is very good in this role, as he tended to be in these action-comedy hybrids, and Granger makes for an appealing, if awfully low key, co-star. Kovacs is always good for a laugh, and Capucine is certainly fetching, even if her performance amounts to little more than eye candy.
The film is ultimately probably too predictable for its own good, a predictability which is exacerbated by the fact that things could have easily been trimmed by at least twenty to thirty minutes without much being lost in the process. But this is big, glossy entertainment that offers some really appealing scenery and charismatic stars. Getting there may take a bit too much time, but the journey is mostly pleasant.
North to Alaska Blu-ray, Video Quality
North to Alaska is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.36:1. This CinemaScope feature has been sourced from elements which were either relatively pristine or have been restored to virtually damage free condition, for there are really no issues at all to be worried about in terms of age related wear and tear. While color is certainly acceptable here, it simply doesn't rise to the vivid levels that have graced other Fox films of this vintage. There's a definite tan-brown hue to a lot of the film, as can easily be seen in many of the screenshots. There are also minor density issues that cause minimal though noticeable fluctuation in color values throughout the presentation. These perhaps niggling problems aside, this transfer still boasts nice fine detail (even if Hathaway and his ace cinematographer Leon Shamroy tend to shy away from extreme close-ups) and there is certainly no sign of either aggressive denoising or digital sharpening.
North to Alaska Blu-ray, Audio Quality
North to Alaska's original theatrical four track stereo presentation is recreated rather vividly with the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0 track on this Blu-ray. The big hit theme song by Johnny Horton (who was killed in a car crash literally days before the film's release) sounds great. Fabian's somewhat lamer ballad doesn't fare quite so well from a musical perspective, but it sounds just fine. The big set pieces offer a nicely splayed soundfield that may not have the intense immersion that contemporary audiences are used to, but which offers decent ambience and occasional discrete directionality. Fidelity is fine throughout this track, offering dialogue, effects and score in a very well prioritized way and with no damage of any kind to report.
North to Alaska Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
North to Alaska Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
North to Alaska is often a lot of fun, but it's missing a certain spark that ignited some of Wayne's better comedically tinged outings. Part of this may simply be due to the uncertainty surrounding the film's gestational period, which evidently spilled over at least a bit into the actual shoot. But the film did huge box office in its day, and it still has a coterie of ardent fans, and those folks should certainly be thrilled by its presentation on Blu-ray. The film is marginal at best, but its technical merits are good, and even without decent supplements, for Duke fans at least it comes Recommended.
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North to Alaska Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Fox to Release Eight Classic Films Through its "Voice Your Choice... - October 2, 2013
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment has announced that it will release eight classic films on Blu-ray through its "Voice Your Choice" campaign on December 3rd. The films have been digitally restored and transferred to Blu-ray for the first time.
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