Northwest Passage (1940) Movie Trailer

Things have been too quiet here on the website – that will soon change after the first week of March when my comps are complete.  In the meantime, enjoy the official movie trailer for the Spencer Tracy film Northwest Passage (1940).  I’ve been hunting for a copy of the movie lately, but have been unsuccessful in finding a copy, so here’s the next best thing until I locate a copy. Enjoy!

Northwest Passage (1940) Official Trailer


Kenneth Roberts on the Film “Northwest Passage” (1940)

I have yet to write a book, and if I do have the opportunity to author something worth publishing, I highly doubt that Hollywood will come knocking down my doors asking to do a film based upon my book.  I am quite fine with that.  If one considers the sheer number of books published each year compared to the number of movies produced based upon a book, the number of these kinds of movies is quite small.  With that in mind, it would seem the author of the book would be quite honored to have a film produced on his own work.  But that is not the case with Kenneth Roberts and the 1940 Northwest Passage with Spencer Tracey.

My correspondence with Tracey Levasseur (see recent post on the envelope addressed to Roberts) reminded me of Roberts’ disdain for Hollywood – a disdain that comes through in Chapter 1 of his I Wanted To Write.

With the publication of Northwest Passage, I had my first direct – a profoundly depressing – contact with cinema circles.

When MGM began to produce the screen production of Northwest Passage, Roberts sarcastically notes that they were lacking “in technical knowledge concerning the uniforms and behavior of Rogers’ Rangers.”  Instead of contacting Roberts, the studio employed the help of a “Miss Dorothy Vaughan, librarian of the Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Public Library,” who in turn sought out Kenneth Roberts’ answers to the studios questions!  She would relay Roberts’ answers to the studio, who would then, according to Roberts, end up using “their own conceptions, which were nauseatingly incorrect.”

In regards to the screenplay writing of Northwest Passage, Roberts states that the screenplay went through four different writers.  And when all was said and done, the silver screen version differed greatly from the novel:

…the dauntless and hard-boiled leader of the original Rangers had horribly turned into the sort of person who bursts into tears at a crucial moment of an arduous expedition; a woman character, shrewish and a harridan, had become a sweet and mealy-mouthed nonentity; all motivation had been discarded; the book’s thesis had ceased to exist; its essential portion, on which the name of the book and the film were based, was ignored; and a Hollywood flavor was added by introducing a sequence stolen from Arundel.

In our correspondence, Tracey pointed out that tt’s no wonder, then, that no “Part II” followed the 1940 film (recall that “Part I” was part of the 1940 film). It is probably a reason why, she surmises, why his works are still under copyright – to protect them from being mishandled by Hollywood producers.

Kenneth Roberts in Hollywood: Northwest Passage (1940) on “Reel Culture”

Lobby card for Northwest Passage. Spencer Tracy (center) and Robert Young (right).  Picture courtesy of<br />

It seems that the Hollywood rendition of Kenneth Roberts’ Northwest Passage made the rounds in the blogosphere in 2012.  Today we meet up with‘s “Reel Culture” in which they ask: “Where are the great Revolutionary War films?”  Noting the film industry’s success in making blockbuster films of the US’s past (particularly of the Western frontier days and the Civil War), the number of great movies on America’s Revolutionary War is quite small.  “Reel Culture” provides one possible reason for the apparent lack of films honoring America’s struggle for nationhood:

Part of the problem is due to our general ignorance of the times….Designers had little experience with costumes and sets from eighteenth century America, and few collections to draw from. Screenwriters had trouble grappling with events and themes of the Revolution. A few incidents stood out: the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere’s midnight ride, the Minutemen. But how do you condense the Constitutional Congress to a feature-film format?

Though the number of Revolutionary War films are small in number, “Reel Culture” lists various attempts by filmmakers to chronicle this crucial time in our nation’s history, such as 1776, Revolution, and The Patriot (among others).  And, more importantly to this website, the author of the blog post lists Northwest Passage among Revolutionary War films.  Though the setting does not occur during the Revolutionary War, the author justifies the inclusion of this film as such:
Yes, it’s the wrong war and the wrong enemy, and King Vidor’s film drops half of Kenneth Roberts’ best-selling novel set in the French and Indian War. But this account of Major Robert Rogers and his rangers is one of Hollywood’s better adventures. MGM spent three years on the project, going through over a dozen writers and a number of directors. Location filming in Idaho involved over 300 Indians from the Nez Perce reservation. By the time it was released in 1940, its budget had doubled.Most of the action involves a trek by Rogers and his men up Lake George and Lake Champlain, ostensibly to rescue hostages but in reality to massacre an Indian encampment. Vidor and his crew capture the excruciating physical demands of dragging longboats over a mountain range and marching through miles of swamp, and also show the graphic effects of starvation. Spencer Tracy gives a bravura performance as Rogers, and he receives excellent support from Robert Young and Walter Brennan.

While films depicting Roberts’ works shared some time in the spotlight, Roberts was not a fan of his works making it to the silver screen.  And it is with this thought that I will begin what I hope to be a fun, interesting series: Kenneth Roberts in Hollywood.  In an upcoming post, we will take a look at Roberts’ attitude toward Hollywood taking on his novels.
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