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While British import Stewart Granger was in the heyday of his tenure with MGM, sandwiched between his signature swashbuckling soirees Scaramouche (1952) and The Prisoner of Zenda (1952) came the now relatively forgotten Canadian wilderness action-adventure The Wild North (1952). Between its effective survival sequences and striking Idaho location footage, the first of the studio's brief flirtation with the Ansco color process, it remains a more than serviceable testosterone-fueled entertainment.
Here, fitted out with buckskins and a labored French-Canadian accent, Granger stars as Jules Vincent, a notorious trapper who enjoys a layover in a riverside town before heading upstream to his Peace River cabin. He finds a distraction in an attractive Native American beer-hall chanteuse (Cyd Charisse), and wins her immediate friendship by fending off the drunken attentions of the hulking Max Brody (Howard Petrie). When Jules claims his canoe the following morning, he finds the lady holding him to his liquor-born promise to bring her North to her tribe. He's also approached by a now-sober and contrite Brody, who offers his good arm with a paddle in exchange for a lift upriver.
While three leave, only two disembark ashore at Charisse's tribal village. Vincent explains to the chief (John War Eagle) that Brody's incompetence threatened to scuttle them all upon rapids, and how what was meant to be a warning shot turned fatal instead. Certain that a fair trial won't be forthcoming, Jules presses forward into the most inhospitable of regions. Canadian justice must persevere, however, and an implacable RMCP constable named Pedley (Wendell Corey) is soon snooping around Jules's home base asking questions.
The local priest Father Simon (Morgan Farley) makes the dangerous journey on foot to beg Jules to surrender; the clergyman's efforts prove fatal, and Pedley arrives on the trapper's threshold to hear the father's dying words. Pedley is adamant about making an immediate turnaround, despite Vincent's warnings that the weather is slated to break for the worse. The treacherous trip back and the unlikely bond that forms between the free-spirited outdoorsman and the button-down cop engagingly fill the remainder of the screen time.
Direction was wisely assigned to the Hungarian-born veteran and action specialist Andrew Marton, who shared credit on Granger's rousing American screen debut King Solomon's Mines (1950). Marton's career as editor, second unit director and director spanned from the silent era to '60s TV adventure series such as Flipper and Daktari, and his most enduring professional accomplishment may be his second unit handling of the chariot race from Ben-Hur (1959).
Granger was effective as the scenario's antihero, and the role of the stolid mountie played to Corey's strengths. Charisse's efforts were more thankless, as the scenario didn't bother to give her character a real name, and gave her little opportunity to demonstrate she was more than a pair of million dollar legs. (The one-sheet gave more play to Cyd's stems than did the film's uncredited costume designer; claims of false advertising must have arisen from some corners.)
Producer: Stephen Ames
Director: Andrew Marton
Screenplay: Frank Fenton
Cinematography: Robert Surtees
Art Direction: E. Preston Ames, Cedric Gibbons
Music: Bronislau Kaper
Film Editing: John D. Dunning
Cast: Stewart Granger (Jules Vincent), Wendell Corey (Constable Pedley), Cyd Charisse (Indian girl), Morgan Farley (Father Simon), J.M. Kerrigan (Callahan), Howard Petrie (Brody), Houseley Stevenson (Old Man), Lewis Martin (Sergeant), John War Eagle (Indian Chief), Ray Teal (Ruger), Clancy Cooper (Sloan).
C-98m. Closed Captioning.
by Jay S. Steinberg