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October 01, 2019

The Spoilers


Ray Enright - 1942
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

This version of The Spoilers is fourth of five film versions, and the best known. Rex Beach's novel was published in 1906, when the Klondike Gold Rush was still fairly recent history. The first film version was made in 1914. Beach himself was a failed prospector who found in gold mine in writing adventure stories that took place in Alaska. His popularity as a writer approximately a century ago might be said to be similar to that of Stephen King today. Beach's last novel, A World in his Arms was nicely filmed by Raoul Walsh. The Spoilers was inspired by true events involving a scheme by a politician and a judge to defraud a group of miners.

Ray Enright was one of the journeymen directors over at Warner Brothers in the 1930s who kept the assembly line going. As such, his version of The Spoiler is strongest with the smart-alec repartee between some of the characters. Marlene Dietrich stars as Cherry, the owner of the bigger bar in Nome. We have a quick shot of one of the world famous legs, and generous opportunities for double-entendre dialogue with Randolph Scott, John Wayne and also Marietta Canty, who appears as Cherry's maid. Scott appears as McNamara, the Gold Commissioner who comes to Nome to supervise legal claims. Wayne is the prospector, Roy Glennister, owner of Nome's biggest mine. There are fights over gold mines, and the inevitable fight over Cherry.

Some of the more dated aspects of The Spoilers may make contemporary viewers wince. There is some obvious action that's been sped up. Some of the scenes with Ms. Canty are problematic, although not with malicious intent given the context of when the film was produced. Without providing spoilers myself, I laughed at one scene between Ms. Canty and John Wayne that may raise a few eyebrows. There is also a throwaway gag done at the expense of one of the film's producers.

The literary heritage of The Spoilers also extends to a cameo appearance by that other Gold Rush chronicler, the poet Robert W. Service. The cast also includes several silent stars including Gibson Gowland, and in larger supporting roles, Richard Barthelmess and Harry Carey. William Farnum, who starred as Roy Glennister in the 1914 film, is seen here as Wheaton, a lawyer who aids Glennister. The Spoilers was also the second of two films starring Dietrich, Scott and Wayne. Dietrich's role could also be seen as non-singing reprisal of her comeback appearance in Destry Rides Again.

Film historian and westerns specialist Toby Roan provides the commentary track for the blu-ray. Most helpful is pointing out many of the film's lesser known supporting cast members as well as their career highlights. Roan discusses the history of the making of this version of The Spoilers, identifying location work, giving credit where it may otherwise be overlooked. Of particular interest is the breakdown of how the extended fist fight between Scott and Wayne was filmed by the uncredited action director, B. Reeves Eason, whose speciality was filming action sequences with multiple cameras. The other extras are a several trailers from other Kino Lorber releases with the three stars, notably with a German trailer for The Blue Angel.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 1, 2019 06:15 AM