1940 Technicolor MGM Movie: "Northwest Passage" with Spencer Tracy

Discussion in 'Visual Arts' started by Steve Hoffman, Mar 6, 2003.

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  1. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your Host Your Host Thread Starter

    I watched this on Turner Classic Movies last night. I've seen it before, but this time I really paid attention.

    Amazing photography. Think about it: It's 1940, you need big generators to power the lights and cameras and you're in the middle of the Pacific Northwest, filming on a river using a GIANT three-strip Technicolor camera with tons of extras who need to be fed, etc.

    It boggles the mind.

    At any rate, for those of you who have seen the movie, here is my question:

    Is this the most violent, realistic MGM movie ever filmed in the Golden Age? Louis B. Mayer must have been sleeping when this one was ok'd for production. I know he hated stuff like this. Guys running around with severed Indian heads in their satchels, etc. I was shocked at the violence in this film. Totally unlike any MGM film I've ever seen.

    I enjoyed the movie, but was blown away by this unusual MGM film. Only Todd Browning's "Freaks" was any odder in the MGM canon.
     
  2. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden MichiGort Staff

    Location:
    Livonia, MI
    Robert Young is excellent in this film. Maybe his best film role. One certainly doesn't get hung up on his Father Knows Best/Marcus Welby TV persona based on this performance. I have no idea how King Vidor got away with making this one so brutal, either.

    Regards,
     
  3. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your Host Your Host Thread Starter

    Yes, Robert Young was really amazing. The scene where he was wounded was quite convincing. It's a great performance which allowed him to "stretch".

    Same like Ronald Reagan's performance in Sam Wood's "Kings Row".
     
  4. Ed Bishop

    Ed Bishop Incredibly, I'm still here

    FREAKS would rank as extremely strange(yet very fascinating)in any studio's library; NORTHWEST PASSAGE is, as you point out, an anomaly during the Mayer era: a genuinely violent, near-realistic depiction of what it might have been like in the time the film is set. The only other MGM film to match it is GONE WITH THE WIND, and even then only that blurred image of Scarlett shooting an interloping(and rape-minded)deserter square in the face.

    I can only guess that the expense of the film(made in the latter part of '39), coupled with Vidor's influence and Tracy's drawing power, kept the film from being buried entirely. It did do well for Metro at the box office, but it's instructive the studio didn't make too many like this. Being out in a real location well away from studio interference(apparently the spies were either paid off or they too fell asleep along with Mayer)probably didn't hurt.
    It's an exceptional film, very underrated.

    Imagine what a hunk of garbage this might have been if the story had gone to Paramount and DeMille had gotten hold of it...oh my...:rolleyes:

    ED:cool:
     
  5. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your Host Your Host Thread Starter

    Ed, I agree!

    (Technically, GWTW was a Selznick picture and only distributed by MGM though....;) )
     
  6. Ed Bishop

    Ed Bishop Incredibly, I'm still here

    But forever associated with Metro...a fact that gnawed at Selznick to the end of his days.

    Another film with a touch of brutality--though this was as TV took over and the studio system was falling apart--was BAD DAY IN BLACK ROCK, from '55 and, not so coincidentally, also starring Spence. Shot in CinemaScope and filmed out in the middle of nowhere, aside from the viciousness of Robert Ryan and the amorality of most of the other characters, there's the sequence where a guy with only one usable arm(Tracy)beats the tar out of a well cast Ernest Borgnine. Not as nasty as Jimmy Stewart doing a number on Dan Duryea in WINCHESTER '73, or the maiming of Stewart in THE MAN FROM LARAMIE, but potent, all the same.

    ED:cool:
     
  7. Dan C

    Dan C Forum Fotographer

    Location:
    The West
    I've never heard of this film, sounds fascinating. Is a DVD available? If not, what's the best version on the market?
    Thanks,
    Dan C
     
  8. Ed Bishop

    Ed Bishop Incredibly, I'm still here

    Dan,

    I think there's still a VHS edition available, but no DVD as yet. It would be great if someone chimes in to say I'm wrong about no DVD, but I haven't come across a copy yet.

    ED:cool:
     
  9. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden MichiGort Staff

    Location:
    Livonia, MI
    There was a so-so laserdisc as well.

    Regards,
     
  10. audiomixer

    audiomixer As Bald As The Beatles

    I have never seen the film, but I did tape it from TCM the other night went it aired. I will be watching it soon...though.
     
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