North to Alaska

John Wayne plays Sam, a prospector who discovers he’s literally sitting on a goldmine under some land he’s claimed in America’s northernmost territory. He heads north, collecting his friend’s bride-to-be along the way. But when he discovers she’s betrothed to someone else he brings adult entertainment operative Angel (Capucine) along in her place.

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This film is something of a change of pace for Wayne as while the frontier town setting looks familiar, he steps out of his stirrups and swaps swashbuckling for chuckling in this romantic comedy, brought out to coincide with the state’s admission to the union in 1959 (but set in 1900).capucine-2

The comedy is mostly derived from a couple of elaborate brawls, peppered with slapstick signposted by ill-suited goofball sound effects, whereas the dialogue is more functional than it is witty. Wayne does well in the role, however, even if someone with a Cary Grant style charm may have been more appropriate, given Angel’s inevitable falling for him. Capucine gives a strong performance, however, holding her own in this chauvinistic world.

The plot is pacy, and more interesting than it is funny, even if the notion of bringing a replacement bride along for someone, who it turns out is under a serious misapprehension about the situation herself, doesn’t exactly sit comfortably. In one scene he even leaves her in the charge of someone who tried to sexually assault her in the previous scene. The visual quality is excellent, including the sets and Alaskan scenery and benefits from strong direction from Wayne himself (uncredited) and Henry Hathaway. And it’s still much better than The Conqueror, if only for having Wayne play an American rather than a Mongolian, and not being filmed on a nuclear testing site.

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