Monday, March 09, 2015


In the small salmon fishing town of Kalvik, Alaska, independent fisherman Boyd Emerson (Joel McCrea) and his buddy Fraser, cold and hungry, are turned away from every home until they're finally taken in by good-hearted Cherry Malotte (Evelyn Brent), a former chorus girl and now owner of a copper mine, and her friend and protector, the roughneck Balt (Louis Wolheim). The town is largely run by Fred Marsh, owner of a salmon fishery business who wants no competition and who ruined Balt's livelihood. Boyd is trying to make money so he can marry Seattle socialite Mildred (Jean Arthur), and Cherry, though by now a bit in love with Boyd, decides to help him by sending him to a banker in Seattle who will back his new fishing venture. But things don’t go well: Mildred seems to have become Marsh's lover, and Marsh manages to get Boyd's bank loan stopped. Cherry steps in and sacrifices her copper mine to get Boyd his money; for a time, Boyd and Bolt build up a good business involving catching and canning fish, but Marsh's men start bullying Boyd's workers leading to a couple of confrontations that threaten to turn deadly.

This pre-Code melodrama takes a while to get going, but it becomes worth watching, partly for the acting surprises. Jean Arthur, who I usually like, is only fair to middling here. She's playing against what became her type; instead of the down-to-earth, slightly screwballish best gal pal, she's a haughty, cold-hearted shrew, and that role just doesn't fit her—she's wooden and obvious. Better is Evelyn Brent whose career never took off like Arthur's did, though she's subtle and complex as the rough woman with the heart of gold. McCrea (pictured), only 25, is young and handsome, and though not beefy or particularly butch, he does display an admirable fortitude in his attempts to make good—though it takes him a little too long to see through the unworthy Mildred. The scrunch-faced Wolheim is fine. There’s a deus ex machina gimmick in the end involving the sudden importance of a heretofore minor character that's a bit hard to swallow, but the pre-Code morality leads to a fairly big surprise twist in the finale. Not for all tastes, but watchable. [TCM]

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