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  Spoilers, The Fighting Over Marlene
Year: 1942
Director: Ray Enright
Stars: Marlene Dietrich, Randolph Scott, John Wayne, Margaret Lindsay, Harry Carey, Richard Barthelmess, George Cleveland, Samuel S. Hinds, Russell Simpson, William Farnum, Marietta Canty, Jack Norton, Ray Bennett, Forrest Taylor, Art Miles, Charles McMurphy
Genre: Western, Action, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: The Gold Rush is on in Nome, Alaska during 1900, and many a claim is fought over to the extent that some end up dead, but to the local saloon owner, it's business as usual, she can set up the drinks and the showgirls, and the prospectors can enjoy their fill - as long as there's no brawling, she absolutely forbids that activity. This is Cherry Malotte (Marlene Dietrich), a glamorous small business owner who makes the most of her profits but has not found the right man yet. Or has she? Word reaches her that old flame Roy Glennister (John Wayne) is on the ship about to dock in Nome, and she is full of anticipation she can rekindle their romance; she toys with the idea of not going to meet him, but curiosity gets the better of her, and off she trots...

The spirit of Destry Rides Again continued to dog Marlene Dietrich at Universal in the early nineteen-forties (Western stalwart Harry Carey even played a character called Dextry), though this was not quite as heavy on the comedy as that classic hit. This was in fact one of five versions Hollywood made of The Spoilers, the Rex Beach novel that had been successful in the very early years of the twentieth century: this was fourth in the line, with the final one in the fifties after which tastes began to change. It was reminiscent of the kind of Western John Ford would like to make as a palate cleanser between his serious pictures, no surprises to see John Wayne in there, then, and even less surprise that the movie's claim to fame was, you guessed it, a massive brawl for the grand finale.

Wayne was one combatant, and the other was Randolph Scott, rankling his fellow star by scoring a higher billing (though Marlene was first, as the biggest draw), a not-so-friendly rivalry between two celebrated, strapping cowboy celebrities. Except this was technically not a Western, being set in the Frozen North (which is less icy and more muddy here), one of a number of similar efforts that took the Gold Rush up there as their jumping off points: if it looked like a Western, sounded like one and acted like one, we can probably classify it as such. To distinguish both of Cherry's suitors, Wayne played the decent rogue and Scott the dastardly rogue, he being there with a phony judge (Samuel S. Hinds) and his comely daughter (Margaret Lindsay, second string as ever, but photogenic with it) so they may help themselves to the spoils of the prospecting.

Although pretty familiar stuff, a solid cast lifted it above many similar works, and Dietrich would denote a mark of quality thanks to her sheer strangeness at being in these circumstances, her mixture of class and glamour and playful sophistication standing out amid the roughhousing and putting away shots of whisky in one gulp that you would see in these. There were elements that would not raise eyebrows then that certainly would now: Wayne appears in blackface at one point, ostensibly as camouflage for a raid on Scott's dealings, but also so he could share a few gags with Cherry's maid. She was Marietta Canty, just one example among many of African American actresses of the era encouraged to stay rotund and make with the eye-rolling and slang, that she did it well was a tribute to her abilities, but knowing she was a dedicated human rights activist in real life didn't quite take away the discomfort many would feel looking back. On the other hand, Wayne did dress up in Dietrich's feather boa and act a little effeminate at one stage, which was a sight to witness. But it was that fistfight this would be remembered for, the stars and their stuntmen put through their paces by director Ray Enright with flair. Music by Hans J. Salter.

[The BFI Blu-ray box set Marlene Dietrich at Universal 1940-42 features Seven Sinners, The Flame of New Orleans, The Spoilers and Pittsburgh and these extras:

High Definition transfers of all four films
Seven Sinners feature commentary by film historian David Del Valle and screenwriter C Courtney Joyner
The Flame of New Orleans feature commentary by film historian Lee Gambin and actor and film historian Rutanya Alda
The Spoilers feature commentary by film historian Toby Roan
Pittsburgh feature commentary by critic and film historian Pamela Hutchinson
Music and effects tracks for The Flame of New Orleans, The Spoilers and Pittsburgh
Galleries
60-page book featuring newly commissioned essays by Sarah Wood, Pamela Hutchinson, So Mayer, Ellen Cheshire, Katy McGahan and Phillip Kemp
Limited to 4,000 copies.

Released 25th January 2021.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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