While definitely not one of John Wayne’s best films, North to Alaska is a lot of fun. A blend of comedy, romance, and Western expressions, North to Alaska had a bit of a troubled production history before its release in 1960. Wayne’s first choice of director had been Richard Fleischer (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Tora! Tora! Tora!), but he begged off, dissatisfied with the script and fearing a box office failure. Henry Hathaway, a man who directed several Westerns in his long career took the job, though John Wayne did some of the directing, uncredited.
Sam McCord (Wayne) and George Pratt (Stewart Granger) are gold prospectors in Alaska who have struck it rich. At this point, they are simply looking to solidify their claim and move on to bigger and better things. George also wants to fulfill his dream of building a honeymoon cabin for the fiancé he left back in Seattle. Flush with cash, Sam sets out for Seattle to buy some heavy equipment for work, and bring back George’s fiancé.
Unfortunately, once in Seattle, Sam discovers that George’s fiancé has already married. Disenchanted by what he see as the vacillating nature of the opposite sex (“I haven’t come across a woman as reliable as a horse,” Sam says), he goes on a bender at the local Hen House saloon, making merry with a chorus of dancing girls. While there, Sam meets a French floozy named Michelle (Capucine), and offers her the chance to marry a millionaire in Alaska. She readily agrees. However, after Sam treats her with respect and decency—including a logger’s picnic where Sam defends her against disapproving wives and drunken loggers. Michelle quickly forgets that Sam’s offer was to marry George, not him. Despite Michelle’s changing feelings, Sam remains determined to deliver her to George.
During all this, there’s a comedic subplot involving a conman named Frankie Canon (Ernie Kovacs). Frankie had conned Sam back in Seattle, but he thought he’d gotten rid of him before heading to Alaska. However, once Frankie hears about the Alaska gold, he decides to head north in pursuit of major riches. Back in Alaska, George and his brother Billy (Fabian, who also sings) are busy trying to keep claim jumpers from looting their find. If that wasn’t enough, Sam’s attempts to set Michelle up with George meets with various snags, including the fact that Billy develops his own feelings for her.
Not to be taken seriously, North to Alaska is a chaotic good time. It has the comedic feel of McLintock!. The always dependable Henry Hathaway keeps things moving at a brisk pace, and the opening and closing fight sequences are a definite highlight. Certainly John Wayne knew he was a mega-star by 1960, and his comfort with the humor here shows that. Stewart Granger is rather subdued here, but it works well for the role. Kovacs is always good for a laugh, and Capucine is gorgeous, which is really all her role requires.
The film’s Cinemascope 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio has been nicely rendered. Sharpness is terrific throughout, and colors are surprisingly vivid. It is worth noting there’s a scene or two that look slightly faded compared to the rest. Skin tones look natural, and there are no artifacts to speak of.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0 track is quite effective, with the hit song by Johnny Horton (who was killed in a car crash just days before the film’s release) sounding full. Fabian’s ballad sounds fine too. Fidelity across the front soundstage is very strong, while the surrounds are noticeably less active. Dialogue, spread across the front soundstage, is discernible throughout.
English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles are available.
The following extras are included:
- Fox Movietone News: North to Alaska Premiere Besieged by Broadway Throngs (SD, 00:50) A very brief look at the film’s New York premiere.
- Theatrical Trailer (SD, 3:00)