North To Alaska is one of The Duke’s sillier movies, a love story wrapped inside a comedic adventure film. The lightweight piece has John Wayne playing a bachelor firmly against the idea of marriage in Nome, Alaska. A period film set in 1900 with some trappings borrowed from Westerns, North To Alaska would be considered a romantic comedy if released today and is primarily intended for a male audience.
Sam McCord (John Wayne) and his partner George Pratt (Stewart Granger) have struck it rich prospecting for gold in Alaska. Sam is an over-the-top caricature of the unrepentant bachelor, strictly against the idea of settling down with one woman and raising a family. For Sam, the idea of getting hitched to a nagging wife greatly scares him. George is the exact opposite of Sam, having been engaged for over three years to a French girl and patiently waiting to marry her while mining his claim in the wilderness of Alaska.
Sam is sent on a mission to get George’s fiancée in Seattle while conducting business and bring her back to their place in Alaska. Sam finds out when he gets there that George had waited so long to contact his fiancée, the woman had gone off and married someone else. Afraid George would be devastated by the news, Sam gets the notion to bring home a beautiful saloon girl as her replacement. Luckily enough for Sam’s twisted sense of logic, he finds a beautiful French girl named Michelle (Capucine) willing to go along with his crazy plan due to a misunderstanding.
Sam cutely renames Michelle as Angel as a prelude to their romantic sparring. Angel is a worldly woman that has been around the block a few times and thinks marriage to a potential millionaire is better than her current lot in life. The quirk is that Sam thinks he is taking Angel back to be George’s potential wife, while Angel is quickly falling in love with Sam himself. Though Sam does not want to admit it, the pair are quickly growing closer together through a series of misadventures and obstacles. Sam gets increasingly stubborn about admitting his true feelings towards Angel.
North To Alaska feels like a very long movie at over two hours. There is a really tight comedy somewhere in it that should be thirty minutes shorter. The script throws in the entire kitchen sink, stretching out the story with twisting sub-plots about a crooked con man and George’s horny teen brother that keeps hitting on Angel. For good measure it also includes a zany fight-scene ripped from the Three Stooges. It is fun seeing John Wayne in slapstick humor while acting drunk.
North To Alaska was probably a more effective comedy when first released in 1960. There is an element of fun in seeing John Wayne step outside his comfort zone but its ideas about love and marriage are definitely out of step with modern society. The movie is really a lighthearted, romantic adventure intended for fans of The Duke. There is something to be said for Capucine’s beguiling portrayal of Michelle, so North To Alaska is not entirely without its charms.
The 1960 CinemaScope film arrives on Blu-ray in a serviceable 1080P presentation. North To Alaska runs 122 minutes on a BD-50, encoded in AVC at an average video bitrate of 30.99 Mbps. It is properly framed in its native aspect ratio of 2.35:1. There are no major problems with this film transfer but like many of Fox’s other CinemaScope releases on BD, the inconsistent cinematography and erratic film elements produce a less-than-stellar image.
The film print is almost entirely free of visible damage and there are no indicators of serious DNR. North To Alaska does have persistent softness on BD, especially in certain repeated settings. This is not a particularly detailed or sharp image, often lacking the type of fine detail seen from better scans of this period’s films. Some minor ringing is evident in a few shots, though the halos are not egregious enough to prove distracting most of the time. If I had to take a guess, this film transfer was not taken from the original camera negative but from a decent-looking interpositive or internegative. That does not produce the absolute best video results but many of these older films have missing camera negatives.
Fox’s exemplary compression specifications usually handles any grain with ease but North To Alaska’s video encode does exhibit some mild macroblocking and noise during a couple of scenes. Contrast and black levels are fine considering the film’s age. The color palette is composed of saturated magentas and earthier brown tones. It does not have the bright clarity and vividness of the best classic film transfers on Blu-ray. A few scenes tend to have color-balance issues, most prominently the wildly over-saturated scene in which Sam first meets Michelle.
North To Alaska has a perfectly decent soundtrack in a 4.0 DTS-HD MA lossless mix, directly taken from its original four-track, stereo theatrical mix. Johnny Horton’s theme song was a huge hit in its day and sounds wonderful here, presented in clean fidelity during the opening credits. Intelligible dialogue is the primary focus of a surround mix with limited directionality and sweep, though it does slightly expand for the more raucous action. No one will confuse this dated 4.0 presentation with a modern soundtrack, but it fares quite well against other examples from its generation. It is a clean recording with no significant audio deficiencies.
The following dubs have been included for international listeners: Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0, Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0, French DTS 5.1, German DTS 5.1, Japanese DTS 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0 mono. The provided optional subtitles display in a white font, inside the film’s 2.35:1 framing: English SDH, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish.
Theatrical Trailer (03:00 in 480i) – The vintage trailer provides a quaint window into how Hollywood used to market its films.
Fox Movietone News: Premiere of “North to Alaska” Besieged by B’Way Throngs (00:50 in 480i) – A relic of film promotion that is hard to comprehend for modern viewers.
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Screenshot comparison between this BD and the DVD:
Note the different color timing.