Friday, April 24, 2009

Spawn of the North (1938)

I know, I know. Enough on George Raft already, but I watched a predictable, cheesy-by-today's-standards, but totally wonderful film on youtube last night. It was so much fun I just have to write about it. And I also have to thank these wonderful strangers from all over the world who take the time to post movies on youtube. It may not be the ideal viewing venue, but as I don't have cable, and these films aren't on DVD, youtube is turning into a veritable treasure trove of classics.

Spawn of the North kind of goes with Joel McCrea's The Silver Horde... more Alaska salmon fishing/canning/romance/violence. What's up with all these salmon fishing movies anyway? LOL!

But this film shot immediately onto the top five list of my personal favorite Raft films. It's George without a perfectly tailored suit in sight (okay, there's one suit, because I think there's some sort of rule about him being required to wear one, but only for one party scene, and it's an old suit). It's George scruffy and a bit unkempt, cocky and smirking, and singing (not a bad voice either). He's not in tough guy mode here (except for a couple moments). And best of all -- it's George swimming and goofing off with a sea lion named Slicker. I mean come on, what's not to love? Then there's also Dorothy Lamour (one of my favorite actresses) as his girlfriend. She's feisty and every bit his match. They're a very good combo.

The film also stars Henry Fonda, unfortunately, who I can really do without. He has the charm of a cud-chewing bovine and I swear, whenever he shows up in a movie with one of my favorite actors, my favorite actor will be in trouble and Henry Fonda will do nothing about it. It's guaranteed. Like The Ox-Bow Incident. Ahem. I'm telling you, Henry Fonda is just plain bad luck for my men.

In the film, Henry's character, Jim, and George's character, Tyler, grew up together. Get them together and they still behave like a couple of 10-year-old kids. It's a crack up, and his silly interplay with George almost made me like Henry Fonda for awhile. They're best friends, but that doesn't stop them from trying to one-up each other where women are concerned. Of course, movies are built of conflict, so the fun and games don't last. Tyler needs money to achieve his dream of owning a schooner and making something of himself. (Money, it really is the root of all evil.) When he can't get any fast the legal way, he goes illegal (natch! it's George!), and he does it by hooking up with a Russian named Red (hah!) who steals salmon from other people's traps and sells them himself. This puts Tyler on the wrong side of the law from Jim, but things would still work out all right, except the other robbed salmon fishermen band together and decide to go vigilante and kill anyone who steps onto their boats. And they do it too. No handing transgressors over to the law, they just murder them. (And gee, Henry Fonda can't stop them any more than he can stop the vigilantes in The Ox-Bow Incident.) Jim tries to warn Tyler from going with Red, but Tyler doesn't listen. There's no guesswork where the movie's going to go from there. And of course, this being George Raft... he redeems himself and comes out the hero in the end. I'm telling you, it's his raison d'ĂȘtre in films, doing the right thing at the eleventh hour.

There were so many great scenes. My absolute favorite: Tyler and Jim and the bet payoff with the egg. Makes me laugh out loud just thinking of it. Every scene with George and Dorothy, but particularly her attempt to stop him from heading out to join Red. Dorothy Lamour's resigned/mortified: "I hope they've got their clothes on" comment. And there's one gruesome scene involving cigarette smoke and what happens when you smoke when you've been shot through the lung that I won't forget anytime soon. Gah! There's also a couple unexpectedly powerful emotional scenes where George shows he's anything but wooden. (He's extremely lively and colorful the entire movie.) There's also some quite intense action scenes on the salmon boats. The two newspaper guys get some choice dialog that also made me laugh aloud. The editor waxes flowery and poetic, and the typesetter guy who, when asked to read the editorial back, renders it into just the important words. Nice writing lesson there, LOL! Actually, all the dialog was well-written. Quite a few zingers in there, and some quiet important stuff too. Man, I love this movie.

And then there's Slicker the sea lion. He steals every scene he's in. And he almost made me cry at not one but two points too. Darn animals. They break your heart.


  1. A great review, dKoren! :)

    That sea-lion's adorable.


    And I had no idea you disliked Henry Fonda...I used to dislike him too! For the longest time, I would avoid movies with Henry Fonda, and then when I was going through Dana's filmography and Gene Tierney's filmography, I HAD to watch Henry Fonda, and I tell you, I really fell for him! :)

    Especially in RINGS ON HER FINGERS, and our beloved OX-BOW INCIDENT.

    Have you seen THE GRAPES OF WRATH? Surely you'd like him in that one...

    Though I KNOW you've seen DAISY KENYON: I hated him in that one! Gosh, he annoyed me...I think maybe post-war Henry Fonda was less likable than pre-war.

  2. I've watched this film at least three more times since posting this too. Just adore it! Want it on DVD, darn it all!

    Henry Fonda... no. I have yet to experience a turnaround on him. I still dislike him. I've seen quite a few of his movies over the years, and can respect his acting (and he is quite cute in this film) but I still don't like him. I have not seen Grapes of Wrath yet. Always steered clear because of the Henry Fonda factor. LOL! Should I give it a chance one of these days?

  3. I just watched this film, and I thought is quite good. I have never seen Raft in any role other than the gangster. I will watch a movie of this era before I would see any of the films made today.
    On a 1-5 rating, I would rate this a 3-1/2. Not quite a snoozer, it had some boring scenes, but the special effects were superb.