Northwest Passage (1940)

Genres - Adventure  |   Sub-Genres - Adventure Drama  |   Run Time - 125 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Bob Mastrangelo

It is perhaps not entirely surprising that over the decades Hollywood has made very few colonial adventures, but one of its more noteworthy forays into that underrepresented genre is Northwest Passage. Spencer Tracy, Robert Young, and Walter Brennan star in this story of Rogers' Rangers, the fighting frontiersmen from the French-Indian War. It's a rousing adventure to be sure, with solid acting and good period flavor, but filled with such virulent anti-American Indian racism that it nearly ruins what should have been an exciting film. Particularly offensive is the shocking raid on the Abenaki village, in which the Rangers burn the village and massacre the inhabitants. As directed by King Vidor, Northwest Passage is an otherwise first-rate production, as the Rangers also battle nature and starvation during their quest. Much of the focus of the story is on Tracy, Young, and Brennan, but there are plenty of solid character performers in supporting parts, notably Nat Pendleton as a pub owner in the early scenes. On the technical side, Northwest Passage also has much to offer. While at times the Technicolor may seem a bit artificial, the amazing location photography more than compensates. Rarely has the North American wilderness been more strikingly photographed, and Vidor also does an admirable job blending in the studio shots, sometimes in the same frame. Originally intended to be the first part of an uncompleted two-part story, Northwest Passage stands as an interesting, if seriously flawed, time capsule piece.