Comedy Rush rather than Gold Rush
"North to Alaska" is a curious John Wayne movie because whilst entertaining it also feels pointless, pieced together and unfinished. All of which makes sense when you learn that as "North to Alaska" went into production it didn't even have a completed script and had already had a change of director. But despite it feeling a little messy and thrown together "North to Alaska" is also surprisingly entertaining with strong elements of slapstick as well as a touch of sex comedy which distract from the movies obvious and numerous weaknesses. And to be honest it's by no means a bad John Wayne movie, The Duke most certainly made worse but his later comedy westerns were most certainly better.
Having struck it rich with their gold mine just outside of Nome, Alaska best pals George (Stewart Granger - The Wild Geese) and Sam (John Wayne - The Searchers) and along with George's younger brother Billy (Fabian - Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation) have it made. And in order to celebrate Sam heads to Seattle to bring George's fiancé back whilst he guards their claim. Except when Sam reaches Seattle he discovers that the woman in question has got tired of waiting and has got married and so returns with an attractive woman called Angel (Capucine) instead in the hope it will soften the blow. Trouble arises when Angel falls for Sam whilst having to fend off the advances of Billy. And matters are made more complicated when con man Frankie Canon (Ernie Kovacs - It Happened to Jane) tries to steal their land with a bogus claim.
Now to give an example of why I say that "North to Alaska" is cobbled together is that it starts and ends with comedy brawls, those which are way over the top and frankly go on too long. But then what goes on in between feels very different to the riotous start and finish, oh it's still funny but these comedy fights feel like they were added after the movie was finished to bookend it as the unfinished script didn't have a decent start or ending. It is all great fun and watching John Wayne doing a bit of slapstick accompanied by Stewart Granger and Fabian is well worth a watch just for all of Wayne's face pulling as he gets smacked around the head but it does feel a little out of place.
Now as for the actual story, well it seems as protracted as those comedy brawls and basically revolves around a comedy romance as Sam having gone to Seattle to get his George's girlfriend fails and so instead brings back Angel to make up for it in the hope that George will fall for her. But of course it's not that simple because Angel falls for Sam, George isn't really interested, his kid brother Billy most certainly is and Sam doesn't really want to admit it but he also likes Angel. It really is very obvious and simple yet this romantic tale is stretched out to last the majority of two hours and frankly ends up treading water for much of that time. Again you get a sense that the actual script for this messy romance was very short and so it was padded out with scenes such as the rather strange logger's picnic in Seattle, a scene whilst fun also feels out of context with the rest of the movie.
The annoying things is that whilst "North to Alaska" feels very bitty, with scenes thrown into pad it out, the actual scenes are all very good it's just they don't link together that well. A prime example of which is when George, realising that Sam has feelings for Angel but won't admit them, pretends that he is making love to her in his cabin in the hope that he makes George admit to how he feels. It's such a well worked scene and very reminiscent of a Doris Day rom-com yet it doesn't link that well with other scenes. The same can be said of when Billy tries it on with Angel, embarrassingly trying to act big and older despite being a teenager.
Like all the set piece scenes the actual performances are also very enjoyable and John Wayne looks as happy as a pig in mud with all the comedy he gets to deliver in "North to Alaska". Whilst it would be fair to say that Wayne always played characters with a strong element of himself to them watching him do slapstick is a treat especially as he had such great comic timing which when blended with his tough cowboy persona is amusing. Wayne is not alone as Stewart Granger is just as spot on when it comes to mixing traditional cowboy with comedy and Fabian as younger brother Billy steals a couple of scenes as he tries to act bigger and older than he is.
It's not all good and whilst Capucine is stunningly beautiful as Angel she doesn't deliver the fiery temperament the character needed to deal with all the testosterone on display. And sadly Ernie Kovacs is once more seriously under used in the role of conman Frankie Canon a role which like the slapstick brawls seems to end up book marking the movie.
What this all boils down to is that "North to Alaska" is a seriously flawed movie and feels very much pieced together on the fly, scenes being thrown in to pad it out. But ironically whilst flawed it is also surprisingly entertaining with some decent moments of comedy which thanks to imaginative gags and some great comic timing end up being remarkably memorable.