North to Alaska (1960)

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Released 13-May-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy Western Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1960
Running Time 117:03
RSDL / Flipper RSDL Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Henry Hathaway
Studio
Distributor

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring John Wayne
Stewart Granger
Ernie Kovacs
Fabian
Capucine
Mickey Shaughnessy
Karl Swenson
Joe Sawyer
Kathleen Freeman
John Qualen
Stanley Adams
Case ?
RPI Box Music Lionel Newman
Peter De Angelis
Robert P. Marcucci


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 4.0 L-C-R-S (384Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles Dutch
English for the Hearing Impaired
French
German for the Hearing Impaired
Italian
Spanish
French Titling
German Titling
Italian Titling
Spanish Titling
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Another of the films in the John Wayne Big Westerns box set, North to Alaska is a bit of a departure from the others in the set. It's not really a western in the traditional sense of the word, and in fact in the end it comes off as more of a romantic comedy set in one of the final US frontier lands.

    John Wayne plays Sam McCord, who along with his partner George Pratt (Stewart Granger), and George's brother Billy (teenage heartthrob of the time Fabian), has struck it rich in the goldfields of Alaska at the turn of the century. Now that they're officially millionaires, George wants Sam to bring back his fiancé, Jenny, from Seattle so that he can marry her. This idea is met with some scepticism by the locals, since Sam has a reputation as a womaniser, but George trusts him to complete the errand.

    Upon his arrival in Seattle, Sam finds that Jenny has been too impatient to wait for George, and is already married to a butler. Her distress at missing out on marrying a millionaire is matched only by Sam's fear of what George will do when he gets back with the news. That night while trying to drown his sorrows in a house of ill repute, Sam comes across a French girl named Angel (genuine French actress Capucine), who he thinks he can take back to Alaska to mend George's broken heart (since Jenny was French, too).

    There's a bit of a misunderstanding on Angel's behalf, and before they get back to Alaska it's clear that she's fallen for Sam, after he defends her honour and treats her like a lady (something she's not used to). When they do finally arrive they find things have changed a bit back home, and Sam discovers there are claim jumpers everywhere, and a sleazy con-artist he met before leaving for Seattle now owns the town hotel (Ernie Kovac in a beautifully slimy role).

    Anyway, Sam eventually gets Angel up to their cabin in the hills, where trouble brews when Billy, George and Sam all vie for her attention. It's not hard to work out what the conclusion will be, but it's quite a fun trip getting there.

    As I mentioned at the start, this is no standard Western, but more a light-hearted story about a rough-tough mountain man finding love and having to admit to it. There are plenty of large-scale fistfights which are quite well choreographed (you can see where Jackie Chan must have picked up some of his ideas), and lots of loud, overly-cheery banter going on between all the men. In fact, it has more the feel of some of the old comic musicals such as Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, but without the musical numbers. There are some real laugh-out-loud moments in the film, such as when George is in the honeymoon cabin with Angel, trying to make Sam jealous.

    John Wayne plays John Wayne, and does it very well, with Stewart Granger playing a good supporting role. Fabian gets to croon a song during the movie, but is actually surprisingly good with his comic scenes as well. Capucine does a good job as the girl in the middle of all this, and it's a pleasant change to actually have a genuine French actress instead of some phoney-accented American.

    Overall, I found this to be an enjoyable 2 hours, with a few painful scenes, but a lot more genuinely comic ones. John Wayne shows that with the right supporting cast, and his incredible screen presence, he can pull of comedy material and make you actually laugh.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    After watching The Comancheros, which was only filmed a year after this film was released, I was quite disappointed with the video transfer. It's not awful, but it could have been a lot better.

    This transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and is 16x9 enhanced.

    The transfer is not particularly sharp, which was quite a contrast to The Comancheros' transfer, and made it more noticeable when watching the movies back to back. There aren't many really dark scenes (even night-time shots are daytime with a bit of filter), but what there are show no problems with low-level noise, and shadow detail is fine.

    The colours throughout seem a little muddy and washed out. I'm not sure if this is a result of the actual source or if it's something to do with the transfer itself, because being shot in "Deluxe Color" you'd expect very vivid colours. Take for example the scenes at 15:15 and 25:10, which really should have had more vibrant and bright colours, but just come across as rather drab. It's a shame because some of the sweeping vistas could have made incredible visuals if they'd had more vivid colour. There are no problems with bleeding or chroma noise though.

    Unfortunately, there are some visible film-to-video artefacts in this transfer. Initially I was quite concerned about the aliasing, since some of the opening scenes exhibit quite obvious examples of this problem (such as the sign at 2:05). However, after about the 10-minute mark I didn't notice any more aliasing, which was a relief. Edge enhancement is also unfortunately evident throughout the film. Some of the more obvious examples of this are at 11:18 on the "Saloon" sign, 40:09 around the boat, and 60:15 around Sam's hat. Film artefacts are present throughout, with the occasional really obvious piece of dirt visible, such as at 12:09 and 53:07. It seems that the cleaning process for this transfer hasn't been as thorough as for some of the other films in this box set.

    There are 10 subtitle streams on this DVD, and I sampled the English one, which is English for the Hearing Impaired. The words were spot-on, and even song lyrics were displayed accurately.

    This is a dual layered disc, but I was unable to spot the layer change.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Like the other films in this box set, we get a 4-channel remix of the original track, with LCRS channels. This is more than enough, and makes the film sound better than it ever has on VHS and TV. Again though, we aren't given the original mono soundtrack as an option, which will annoy some people I imagine.

    There are 5 tracks on this DVD; English Dolby Digital 4.0, French Dolby Digital 2.0, German Dolby Digital 2.0, Italian Dolby Digital 2.0, and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0. I listed to the English Dolby Digital 4.0 track, which is an LCRS track (Left, Centre, Right and Surround channels). It's interesting to note that this track is recorded at 384 kbps, whereas the other 4.0 tracks in this box set are at 448 kbps.

    Dialogue was clear, and easy to understand. I only occasionally had trouble with Angel's dialogue due to her French accent, but it was never really a problem. Audio sync was also spot-on, with the only failure being briefly at 62:55 when Billy is singing to Angel. Like any musical number, this was obviously ADR-ed later.

    The musical score by Lionel Newman is complemented by Johnny Horton's opening song North to Alaska, and Fabian's rendition of If You Knew (which seemed a little out of place for the intended era). North to Alaska made it to number 4 in the US pop charts the year this film was released, and it suits the film perfectly as well as being quite catchy. Besides If You Knew, the rest of the music was just right for the cheerful atmosphere of the film.

    Like the other 4.0 mixes, the surround speakers get sent a mono channel which means no directional rear sounds. However, for anything that is meant to simply engulf the listener, the surrounds are put to good effect, such as the barroom fight at 15:13, and the music at 37:00. In fact, music is where the surrounds get most of their use in this film, which isn't really that frequent.

    The subwoofer did not get any use during this film, which is not surprising considering the 4.0 format used.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu

    Menus are static and 16x9 enhanced.

Trailer - 2:51

    This original trailer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and is 16x9 enhanced. It's your standard 1960s trailer, and is a far cry from those we are bombarded with these days. Of novelty interest, and nicely presented in widescreen format, but with mediocre video quality.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;

    I haven't been able to find any detailed Region 1 reviews of this disc, so I'm not sure exactly what the MovieTone News extra covers, but if it's anything like the one for The Comancheros then I doubt that it's any great loss.

Summary

    North To Alaska is an enjoyable romp that manages to maintain its energy for almost the whole runtime. Not your usual John Wayne film, but if you're a fan of the man then I'm pretty sure you'll enjoy this one.

    The video quality is a little disappointing, but I doubt you'll be able to find it looking better on any other format.

    The audio is more than adequate.

    There are no extras except for the original theatrical trailer.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© David L (Only my Mum would have any interest in my bio)
Thursday, June 05, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDOmni 3600, using RGB output
DisplaySony 1252QM CRT Projector, 250cm custom built 16x9 matte screen. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS797- THX Select
SpeakersAccusound ES-55 Speaker set, Welling WS12 Subwoofer

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