Thursday, February 11, 2010

Klondike Fever

(Peter Carter, 1980)
Right off the top, a title card defiantly renounces all obligations to historical accuracy, an obvious pre-emptive strike against the Pierre Berton crowd. I'm no stickler for detail myself, but the movie does make a big deal of featuring real historical characters in their actual historical setting, and it does clearly aspire to the kind of nationalist myth-making that one would expect of such a project; if they were going to fly in the face of the facts they could have at least had some fun with it. Centering on the Northern odyssey of good old Jack London, they trip right out of the gate with the casting of Jeff East, a callow nonentity who might as well be Christopher Atkins, or Justin Guarini. When he gets really worked up he threatens to shatter glass, which differentiates him from the sleepwalking big-money guys - Rod Steiger, Angie Dickinson, Lorne Greene - and makes him a good match for his prospecting partner Barry Morse, who does improve somewhat after an exhaustingly 'energetic' first act. In fact the only actor Carter shows any rapport with is his old "Rowdyman" partner Gordon Pinsent, and this script must have made them both nostalgic. But an attentive director would have demanded a rewrite, and the third act is emblematic of Carter's serial late-career catastrophes. Morse abandons East for no good reason, then changes his mind for no good reason again. Pinsent goes 'into hiding' one scene, and is found inside his own saloon the next. Law-and-order mountie Greene is visibly pleased when East wins the stupid dog sled race by murdering his opponent. East finds gold and wins $2000, then immediately leaves town 'with $5 in his pocket'. I give up.

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