Saturday, March 31, 2012

North to Alaska (1960)

North to Alaska is not exactly a good movie, but it's quite fun if you just go with the flow. I've seen this one a few times over the years, but recently watched it again, as I'm still catching Stewart Granger films. I've gotten kind of used to Granger being broody and darker, so his sheer good-naturedness and happy exuberance in this movie made me grin. He's so very cheerful. Reminded me of Van Heflin's hilarious line in Three Musketeers to Gene Kelly: "Will you stop looking happy?" But it all works well in this movie.

This movie's about two gold miners who strike it rich in Alaska. With wealth in his pocket, George (Granger) is ready to marry his long-pined-for fiancee. He sends Sam (John Wayne) to bring her from Seattle. Only she got tired of waiting and is already married. Sam gets a hair-brained idea to bring another French lady (Capucine) up to Alaska... only he doesn't exactly explain the situation to her, so she's in love with Sam before they reach Alaska. Throw in the gold strike, claim jumpers, and quite a few brawls to the romance, and you've got the plot to North to Alaska.

Most of my favorite parts of this movie are any time Ernie Kovacs is around. I grew up on re-runs of the Ernie Kovacs Show. We watched his show as often as we could. He was truly a brilliant and gifted comedian, and his show had some absolutely priceless skits on it. We always loved when he set weird stuff to music, like the pencil sharpener whistling "Sentimental Journey," and what we used to call "the spaghetti eating music." And there's Percy Dovetonsils and his awful poetry. And of course, the Nairobi Trio skits were always family favorites, and my sister even dressed up as one of the Nairobi Trio for Halloween one year. Given that I'm not much of a comedy person, Ernie Kovacs was definitely special and a very important figure in my childhood.

I love him as Frankie Canon in this movie. His constant scheming to make it rich just cracks me up. He watches for any opportunity he can turn to his advantage without having to do any work. He does that smiling "I'm your best friend, really!" routine, while lying and cheating and manipulating anything and everyone he can get away with. I love when Clancy the dog thwarts one of his early attempts. And, of course, I love when he finally gets caught as his final scheme goes awry and he finally gets his comeuppance. It's all very satisfying.

John Wayne and Stewart Granger are great as the gold-mining partners. I love their relationship, and the two actors play well off each other. I think John Wayne is underrated in the comedy department. Capucine is lovely as the love interest. When Granger sets out to drive Wayne's character jealous and prove he loves Capucine's character, Michelle, I just grin and grin. Fabian... well. He's young, rather cute, and annoying as all get out. He's my least favorite part of this movie, but at least he annoys the other characters just as much, so I can live with it.

The other thing I enjoy about this movie is the scenery. It's filmed partly at Hot Creek, near Mammoth California, a place I've been visiting since I was a little kid. You used to be able to cross the bridge they built for the movie, but it is finally gone and has not been replaced. Hot Creek is one of those places that has a jillion signs saying essentially, "Don't swim here, scalding water," and people still go in the water... and still get burnt or worse every year. Idiots. But it's beautiful there, and I love seeing it in the movie.

(me, at Hot Creek a couple years ago)

8 comments:

  1. I am not into John Wayne at all, but I do like Stewart Granger, so he would definitely be the draw on this one. I've discovered Capucine in a couple William Holden movies...did you know they were involved in a love affair in the early 60's? Anyhow, she's pretty and sweet, so I'm sure I would enjoy her in this.

    Love the picture of you "at the movie studio."

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    1. This is a film, like MCLINTOCK!, which my kids watched so incessantly when they were young that I've never actually sat down myself and seen it from start to finish, although I must have seen all of it in bits and pieces. Adding to my (very long) list of movies to watch!

      Great shot of you "on location"!!
      Best wishes,
      Laura

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    2. Thanks, Patti. Yep, knew about Capucine and Holden. I've always really liked her.

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    3. Hiya, Laura - I'm getting that way with my nephew's movies, where I end up seeing just bits and pieces until I've seen the whole thing, but not in one sitting!

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  2. I see why they call it 'hot creek' -- groowll!
    Ooops, sorry. Great review -- North to Alaska always caught my attention first because I love the song... the story seemed more comfy and linear than Donovan's Reef, Wayne's other comedy of that time. And mentioned by Patti, Granger brings an irresistible touch of cary grant-like charm. And Kovachs was perfect as the near-likeable schemer (how he'd have chewed up the scenery perfectly as the foil in Around the World in 80 Days...)...
    I found your website and am in love - keep up the great reviews and pitter-patter!

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    1. Hi Rockfish! Thanks, and am glad you're enjoying the reviews and such. I'm quite fond of Donovan's Reef, mostly because I love Lee Marvin, and he cracks me up when he's in comedy mode. The rest of the cast is good too, even if some of the plot, etc. is firmly rooted in the era it was made and hasn't necessarily aged well.

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  3. Your first line is exactly right! Not particularly good, but oh-so-fun. I've loved it for years, but in a slightly furtive way, hee. Because I saw all of them first (and oftenest) in this, I tend to think of Stewart Granger as enthusiastic, Ernie Kovacs as slimy, and Fabian as "only seventeen... just a little kid."

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    1. I love those reactions to actors we develop from our first viewings!

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