Movie "North to Alaska" (1960)

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    North to Alaska — Facts

    1960

    North to Alaska is a 1960 comedic Western/Northern film directed by Henry Hathaway and John Wayne (uncredited). The picture stars Wayne along with Stewart Granger, Ernie Kovacs, Fabian, and Capucine. The script is based on the 1939 play Birthday Gift by Ladislas Fodor and is set during the Nome gold rush.

    The movie featured Johnny Horton's song "North to Alaska", sung during the opening titles, setting up an introduction to the story.

    Production

    Development

    Alaska was admitted to the Union as the 49th state in 1959 and was much in the news at the time. In early 1959 it was announced 20th Century Fox would make The Alaskans starring John Wayne and written by Martin Rackin and John Lee Mahin (the three men had just made The Horse Soldiers together). The film was the first in a three-movie contract for Wayne with 20th Century Fox.

    The first choice for director by Wayne was Henry Hathaway. He had a commitment to direct Woman Obsessed, however, and was replaced by Richard Fleischer, who had a contract with 20th Century Fox and had just made the successful Compulsion (1959). Fleischer was enthusiastic about making a John Wayne film but did not like the story. He says a prime force behind the film was the agent Charles Feldman, who represented production head Buddy Adler, Wayne, Rackin and Mahin, and whose girlfriend Capucine was to play the female lead. Adler insisted Fleischer make the film as John Wayne had committed without reading a script and might pull out if the director pulled out. Fleischer says he got out of the film by saying he did not want to work with Capucine. Hathaway became available and his appointment was announced in March 1959.

    Spyros Skouras wanted the budget of the film reduced; that Hathaway did by reducing location shots.

    The movie spent a long time in pre-production (during which it was also known as Go North) and was delayed by the writers strike and Wayne's involvement in making The Alamo (1960), a passion project of his that ended up costing the actor millions of his own money. Shooting on North to Alaska did not start until May 1960.

    Casting

    Gary Crosby was reportedly cast as Granger's brother until replaced by Fabian, a pop singer who 20th Century Fox had just tried to turn into a film star with Hound Dog Man. The movie was not a success but the studio felt that Fabian might attract younger movie goers in support roles.

    Shooting

    Shooting began in May 1960 under the title Go North. Most of the film was shot in Point Mugu, California. The Wayne and Granger "honeymoon" cabin scenes were filmed along steaming Hot Creek near volcanic Mammoth Mountain. Mt. Morrison appears in the background of many views.

    Production started without a completed script and the movie wound up being heavily improvised. John Wayne said during the shoot:

    I went to see Buddy (Buddy Adler, studio head at Fox) and Skouros (Spyros Skouros, president of Fox) and told them we didn't even have a finished script. They're supposed to have been preparing this thing for a year, but Adler tells me he'll whip it into shape personally in a few days. Then he takes off for London and Skouras heads for New York. Henry is a fine director, but he shouldn't have to be making up scenes... Of course Marty Rackin and John Mahin, who were supposed to produce and who worked on the script, left the picture to do television. Then the writers strike came along. I guess the studio thought the strike would be ended before we started the picture. All I know is, I'd go broke if I tried this in an independent production.

    Ben Hecht who frequently worked with Hathaway was brought in as a script doctor.

    "This is great", Ernie Kovacs told a journalist as he lounged by a pool. "I've been here since 9 this morning and we're behind schedule, so I haven't even put on my costume. I didn't do anything during the actors' strike and now I'm back at work and I'm still not doing anything. It's a great way to make a living."

    Fabian enjoyed working with John Wayne. "What you saw is what you got", recalled the singer. "He was incredible. He was very nice to me."

    Capucine filmed a realistic no-foam bath while being serenaded by Fabian: this scene sneaking through nearly 3 years before Jayne Mansfield officially broke the mainstream nudity ban.

    Stewart Granger's marriage to Jean Simmons ended during filming. A divorce was granted in August 1960.

    The head of studio Buddy Adler died midway through production. The movie finished filming by August 1960, was edited through September and released in November.

    Reception

    Critical

    The Los Angeles Times called it "old fashioned but enjoyable entertainment".

    Box office

    The film was popular at the box office, earning $10 million and making Fox a comfortable profit.

    Awards

    Fabian's performance won the "Uncrossed Heart" award for least Promising Actor of 1960 for him in Harvard Lampoon's Annual Movie awards.

    Plot spoiler

    In 1901, after finding gold while panning in Nome, Alaska, on their claim, brothers George and Billy Pratt and partner Sam McCord have become rich. Sam plans to travel to Seattle, to purchase mining equipment; George also asks Sam to bring back his fiancée, Jenny Lamont, a French girl whom George has never met but has corresponded with for three years. Sam is disgusted by marriage, which he considers tantamount to slavery, and cannot understand why George would willingly seek matrimony, but he reluctantly agrees. Frankie Cannon, a recently arrived conman, runs into Sam in town and attempts to swindle him out of some of his money before he leaves.

    After arriving in Seattle and finding that George's girl has already married another man, Sam brings back prostitute "Angel" as a substitute, giving her the gifts originally intended for Jenny. However, Angel misunderstands Sam's intentions, believing that Sam's offer is for her to be with Sam; during a reunion picnic of Sam's old logging friends the following day, Angel becomes enamored of Sam, who treats her like a respectable lady. On the boat trip, Angel learns of the misunderstanding. Sam intends for her to return to Seattle, but she disembarks at Nome, and plans to stay at the hotel until the return boat arrives. Since Sam has been gone, Frankie has become the owner of the hotel, having won it from the previous owner in a game of cards. It is revealed that Frankie and Angel know each other from their past lives, and that Angel was formerly Frankie's girl. Refusing to stay in the hotel and become Frankie's girl again, Angel stages a fake fight, storms out of the hotel, and travels with Sam to the homestead where he and the Pratts live.

    Upon arriving at the homestead, Sam immediately leaves to join George at a neighbor's claim, where claim jumpers are attempting to drive off the claim holders. After fighting off the claim jumpers, Sam notifies George that Jenny is married, and tells him about Angel. Meanwhile, 17-year-old Billy has become infatuated with Angel back at the homestead, and attempts to impress her by acting as if he is more worldly than he is. Upon his return to the claim, George rejects Angel outright, while Sam throws Billy into the river to sober up after a night of drinking. After spending some time talking to Angel, George takes a liking to her and is willing to marry her. But once he realizes that she has fallen for his partner, and that Sam has been acting strangely because he is also in love with Angel, George spends the night in the "honeymoon cabin" pretending that he and Angel are madly in love in order to incite Sam's jealousy to the point that he will admit his love; instead, Sam gets increasingly frustrated and, as morning arrives, finally decides he's going to leave. Meanwhile, Frankie enacts a scam to swindle the claim away from Sam and the Pratts.

    Soldiers arrive at the claim, interrupting Sam's preparations to leave, and announce to Sam and the Pratts that someone else has filed a claim to their land; until the dispute can be resolved, all work must halt and Sam and the Pratts cannot take any of the gold they have thus far acquired. When Sam resists, he is arrested and taken to town; George, Billy, and Angel all follow. In town, Sam discovers that Frankie has conned an illiterate drunk to fraudulently file a claim for their discovery. An all-out brawl in the town's muddy streets brings it all to an end, and Frankie's duplicity is uncovered to the authorities. The boat for Seattle has come early, and Angel decides to leave; however, she is convinced to stay once Sam yells out publicly that he loves her.

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