The Spoilers (1942)

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Released 4-Aug-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Western Main Menu Audio & Animation
Scene Selection Anim & Audio
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1942
Running Time 83:39
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Ray Enright

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Marlene Dietrich
Randolph Scott
John Wayne
Margaret Lindsay
Harry Carey
Richard Barthelmess
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music H. J. Salter

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/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 None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    I should state right at the outset that I am a BIG fan of John Wayne. From his breakthrough film, Stagecoach, in 1939 through to his final film, The Shootist, in 1976 I have enjoyed his good films (The Quiet Man, the John Ford cavalry series) and the bad (The Conqueror anyone?). I was so moved by the final scenes in The Searchers that I even named my son after Ethan, the character Wayne portrayed in that film. Surprisingly, I had not yet seen The Spoilers, so approached this review with some interest.

    Like many a western of the 1940s, The Spoilers had been remade a number of times before. This 1942 version is at least its fourth incarnation (it was also filmed with Gary Cooper in the 1930s). One of Wayne's 1960s movies, North to Alaska, has many plot elements in common with this earlier effort. In this film Wayne takes third billing behind Marlene Dietrich and Randolph Scott, both major stars of the period. Wayne was a young-looking 35 years old at the time, and Dietrich an older looking 41 - their romance in the film is less than convincing.

    The film itself is set in Nome in 1900, during the Alaskan gold rush. As the opening blurb in the film says "Lawlessness was rampant". We first meet Dietrich as Cherry Malotte, owner of a rowdy bar in a gold-mining town. She provides the monetary stake for many of the miners. One of those miners is Glennister, Wayne's character, who owns the largest mine, The Midas. Randolph Scott plays the part of the gold commissioner, McNamara, who is behind a scheme to rob the miners of their hard-won claims.

    Some new blood arrives on the scene in the form of Helen Chester (played by Margaret Lindsay) and we soon have at least two and a half romantic triangles under way, along with the claim-jumping shenanigans. The film gets its name from one of the villains, who admits at one point in some disgust that they are just "a cheap lot of spoilers".

    The story itself is a mixed bag of attempted romantic intrigue coupled with gunfights, brawls and rather awkward attempts at humour. John Wayne comes across best in the cast, this is the sort of role he would relish in later years, but even he is not in top form. Randolph Scott seems bewildered by what is going on and does not convince, and I have rarely seen Hollywood make good use of Dietrich, and they fail again here. The plot meanders along pleasantly enough, but will do little to hold your undivided attention; the film itself has dated rather badly. If you stick with it, there is a nicely staged brawl beginning at 78:00, which is a little reminiscent of the one in The Quiet Man.

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Transfer Quality


    This film is now over 60 years old, and it is showing its age rather badly. To some extent this is understandable, though it is disappointing. The audience for the film must be fairly small (as, I imagine, is the audience for this review), and it would probably not be worth the cost for the distributor to do anything other than slap it on DVD in whatever state it is currently in and send it off to the shops. The film was mastered at the SONY DVD Centre - if I were them I don't think I would have wanted to advertise the fact.

    The aspect ratio of the presentation is 1.33:1 full frame, not 16x9 enhanced. This is very close to the cinema release ratio of 1.37:1.

    The picture overall is not very sharp (see 13:02 for one example of the diffused focus which is evident at times). Shadow detail is also fairly poor (see 19:56 and 53:29 for examples), and there is some low level noise. The picture is still acceptable.

    The film is presented in its original black and white. The shades are muted across the spectrum and at times the greys drift in clarity between scenes. The overall appearance is rather drab and murky.

    There are no significant MPEG artefacts, though unfortunately both negative and positive artefacts abound. The negative artefacts are so persistent that it is not worth quoting particular occurrences. There is a bad scratch across the film at 25:11 and notable telecine wobble in the opening credits. Reel change marks pop up frequently (as at 18:52 and 38:07).

    There are numerous subtitles to choose from (16 in all). The English titles are not too accurate. As one example the line "Maybe someone should call on the gold commissioner" becomes "A visit to the gold commissioner". Hmmm.

    There is no layer change on this disc.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    Overall the audio is as poor as the video, but again this reflects the age and condition of the source material.

    There are 5 audio tracks, all in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. They are English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. I listened to all of the English track and parts of the German (given that Dietrich came from Germany). The German track does not feature Dietrich at all, and neither the actress dubbing her part, nor the actor providing Wayne's voice sound remotely like the people on the screen. I don't know how people can prefer dubbed tracks to subtitles.

    The dialogue is adequate, though it can sound a little muddy at times. The audio sync is fairly good throughout.

    The music track by H. J. Salter is really poor. Westerns, whatever their other failings, can usually be relied upon to have a sweeping musical score. This one is undistinguished, and sounds rather strident at times.

    As this is a mono soundtrack, there is little in the way of surround presence. The only point in its favour is that the dialogue was centred nicely on the screen, which is not always the case with these Dolby Digital 2.0 efforts. For some reason the volume level jumps up at the 67:15 mark.

    Now let me see, was the subwoofer plugged in? Hard to be sure.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    One more time with feeling - no extras here.


    Animated with music, as is the Scene Selection menu which gives you 20 choices (20 must be a magic number, I have seen it a lot of late).

R4 vs R1

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

    Unusually for the home of the western, this film is not yet available in Region 1. They don't know what they are missing.


    I like John Wayne. I like Westerns. I didn't particularly like this DVD. Although I am glad that more older films are becoming available for fans, they won't be satisfied with efforts like this, even at mid-price.

    The plot was OK.

    The picture was poor ...

    ... as was the sound.

    Don't get me started on the lack of extras on most DVD presentations of older films.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Tony Robert Davison (read my bio)
Tuesday, November 18, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba SD-K350, using Component output
DisplaySONY VPL-HS10 LCD projector, ABI 280cm 16x9 screen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderKenwood. Calibrated with Video Essentials.

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