Synopsis by Hal Erickson
Kenneth Roberts' fact-based novel Northwest Passage would seem too raw and explicit a book to be considered for an MGM film adaptation-much less one in Technicolor. Amazingly, MGM retained many of the grim episodes from the Roberts' novel, though - thanks to the Hays Code - most are discussed rather than shown. The film is set in 1759, when the headstrong and gifted young artist Langdon Towne (Robert Young) is expelled from Harvard much to the chagrin of his parents and his fiancee, Elizabeth Browne (Ruth Hussey). Towne and his tough-as-nails sidekick, Hunk Marriner (Walter Brennan) get soused one night in a pub and - while intoxicated - viciously insult Elizabeth's father, Rev. Browne (Louis Hector). The two men are nearly arraigned for the incident, but escape just in time and ultimately wind up at the camp of famed Indian hunter Major Robert Rogers (Spencer Tracy). Rogers then invites Towne to join his troupe as a cartographer, and suggests that Marriner tag along. Together, the hundreds of Indian fighters under Rogers's aegis team up and chart their way through the wilderness, headed straight for St. Francis, the base of the French-supported Abenaki tribe, notorious for bloodily wiping out British-controlled colonies, after which they will forge the titular 'northwest passage' to the Pacific. Along the route, the boys counter such obstacles as traitorous Native American guides and exploding gunpowder. Metro Goldwyn-Mayer originally slated this production for Tracy, Wallace Beery, Robert Taylor and Franchot Tone, but only Tracy signed on; the studio reeled in Brennan and Young as last-minute additions, to support Tracy's lead. Northwest Passage marked Vidor's first Technicolor film. William V. Skall and Sidney Wagner received Oscar nominations for their outstanding cinematographic work on the film. Nineteen years after its premiere, Northwest Passage later became an NBC TV series between 1959-60, starring Keith Larsen in the Tracy role, Buddy "Jed Clampett" Ebsen in the Brennan role, and Don Burnett in the Young role.
attack, coming-of-age, exploration, frontier, hardships, journey, massacre, Native-American, starvation, struggle, territory, wilderness