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Belle of the Yukon

Belle of the Yukon(1944)

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Set in the days of the Alaskan Gold Rush, Belle of the Yukon casts Western star Randolph Scott as "Honest" John Calhoun, who fled Seattle lawmen for the Northwestern Canadian territory after one of his scams was exposed, leaving girlfriend Belle DeValle (Gypsy Rose Lee) holding the bag: in this case a valuable bracelet that he gave her without telling her that it hadn't been paid for. Calhoun has settled in a small coastal town, where he has opened a saloon called The Emporium and is known for being an eminently honorable man.

The peaceful existence that Calhoun has set up for himself is rocked when he learns that saloon manager Pop Candless (Charles Winninger has hired Belle and her girls as the featured act for his establishment. The beautiful Belle arrives with great fanfare, and with companion Viola Chase (Florence Bates) in tow. When Belle learns that her former flame is her new employer, she confronts him on their respective shady pasts, but Calhoun insists that he has gone straight. Of course, Belle doesn't believe him, and insists that he's going to go straight-and rekindle their romance-or she'll inform the Seattle police where the man they knew as "Gentleman Jack" is now residing. And the first step in his reform under her tutelage is to give up "that red-headed singer" working in the saloon: namely Candless' daughter, Lettie (Dinah Shore).

Despite Belle's suspicions, Calhoun is genuinely uninterested in Lettie, who is actually in love with piano-player Steve Atterbury (William Marshall): a match to which Pop Candless vigorously objects, citing as his reason that since the piano-player wears shirts made in France, he has to be a crook. Candless does some fatherly snooping in Steve's room and discovers a letter that implies that Steve has also fled Seattle after committing a crime: and that he has a wife and son! So Candless takes it upon himself to wire Steve's whereabouts to the Seattle authorities, hoping to break up the romance but forgetting that his own boss is wanted by the Seattle police.

As they desperately try to get Steve on a boat so that they can deflect the police, Calhoun starts what appears to be the biggest scam of his life, tricking local sharpster George Maitland (Robert Armstrong of King Kong) into hauling in bets on a supposed sure thing. With a huge stake at risk, Calhoun opens the town's first bank in order to hold the money, then convinces most of the townspeople to deposit their money as well, until his bank is the repository for a huge amounts of gold dust. But when the bank is robbed, Belle comes to believe that "Honest" John has reverted to his old ways, and incites the townspeople against him. It's only after the complicated series of double crosses are exposed that Belle learns the truth.

With workmanlike direction by William A. Seiter (Four Jills in a Jeep, One Touch of Venus), Belle of the Yukon is an entertaining time-waster that gives Randolph Scott one of his most enjoyable roles. Scott was always a solid presence, and this lightweight film gives him a chance to lay back and enjoy himself, and he obviously relishes the opportunity. Gypsy Rose Lee proves a formidable costar in one of her few (and one of her best) screen roles. Lee plays Belle with a twinkling eye and wry twist that adds some punch to the character (as well as some unintentional...or perhaps intentional...howlers about her virtue). Lee, who was more known for what she took off than what she wore, is amusingly costumed throughout the film in period dresses that stay tightly buttoned from chin to ankle. And she and her dance-hall girls present one of the most chaste musical numbers ever to be seen in a saloon--at least, in a movie saloon.

Oscar®-nominated for Best Original Score, the film includes a nicely turned performance by Dinah Shore, who gets to warble the unforgettable "I Was Taken for a Sleigh Ride in July" after learning that her fiance has run off.

Although the packaging of Sony's new DVD of the film incorrectly states that the film is presented in black and white, the film is thankfully presented in all of its Technicolor splendor, with deep, rich color resolution, though there is some general deterioration. Unfortunately, the soundtrack has deteriorated rather badly, and seriously impacts the viewing experience.

For more information about Belle of the Yukon, visit MGM DVD. To order Belle of the Yukon, go to TCM Shopping.

by Fred Hunter