The Spoilers
Kl Studio Classics // Unrated // $19.99 // September 10, 2019
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted September 24, 2019
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The fifth film version of Rex Beach's 1906 novel, The Spoilers (1942) is one of the better movies John Wayne made between his breakout role in John Ford's Stagecoach (1939) and his ascension to superstar status with Ford's Fort Apache and Howard Hawks's Red River (both 1948). In between, Wayne tended to headline tepid period action-melodramas at Republic, where he was under long-term contract, or loaned out to major studios, generally to support more established stars, in this case Marlene Dietrich. Sometimes these films turned out well, as in A Lady Takes a Chance, with Wayne delightful as a rodeo star romancing charming Jean Arthur. But nearly all of Wayne's best films came later.

A "Norwestern" set in 1900 Nome during the Gold Rush, the movie follows Roy Glennister (Wayne) and his partner, Al Dextry (Harry Carey) as they struggle to keep control of their claim while corrupt new gold commissioner Alexander McNamara (Randolph Scott) plots to take it away. Glamorous saloon owner Cherry Malotte (Dietrich) is the dame caught in the middle.

As biographers Randy Roberts and James S. Olson note in their essential John Wayne: American, the plot of The Spoilers is very nearly identical to Republic's In Old California, a Wayne vehicle first released the very same month. Both films concern gold miners, land-grabbing, and feature Wayne caught between a mercenary saloon girl with a heart of gold and a proper but heartless society dame (in this case, a judge's daughter, played by Margaret Lindsay). Adding to the confusion, Wayne, Scott, and Dietrich also starred together in Pittsburgh, a drab historical melodrama released later in '42. In both films Wayne is billed third, though he has a bigger part than second-billed Scott in both movies, and more than protagonist than Dietrich.

The main point of interest in The Spoilers is the casting, first Randolph Scott as the genial but ruthless con man, the actor still transitioning from Paramount leading man to elder statesman cowboy hero of the 1950s Westerns. Even more startling is Samuel S. Hinds as his coconspirator, Horace Stillman, a corrupt judge bending the law and subverting his authority to steal miners' claims. A former lawyer himself, Hinds, with his white head of hair and fine wrinkles, forever played low-key authority figures, nearly always on the side of law and order and goodness generally. (Today's he's best remembered as Jimmy Stewart's paragon-of-virtue father in It's a Wonderful Life.) For Hinds to be playing an almost giddy bad guy is a jolt for those familiar with the actor's usual screen persona. Owlish character actor Charles Halton is another cast-against-type bad guy.

The movie features one of the most elaborate fistfights up to then, Wayne and Scott at the climax, during which they wreak all manner of havoc on Dietrich's saloon. Wayne must have loved filming these scenes: from the time he began producing his own films practically every one features at least one big saloon brawl, even in films (e.g., Hellfighters, Brannigan) that don't call for one. Dietrich, for her part, comes off as glamorous but not much else, given the limitations of her part, and her curiously incongruous Marjorie Main-like hairstyle, which looks strange on her tiny frame.

Beyond that, the picture is standard fare, though it's certainly nice to see veteran actors Harry Carey (Sr.) supporting Wayne in a big part, with Richard Barthelmess as Dietrich's lieutenant. It was Barthelmess's penultimate role.

Video & Audio

? Licensed from Universal by Kino, The Spoilers looks good throughout, a strong black-and-white, 1.37:1 standard size presentation comparable to Universal's classic horror titles of the same era. The DTS-HD Master Audio (mono) is likewise good. Optional English subtitles are provided on this region "A" disc.

Extra Features

Supplements include an animated image gallery, a trailer, and an audio commentary track with film historian Toby Roan.

Parting Thoughts

Enjoyable enough but hardly memorable, fans of John Wayne, Randolph Scott, and/or Marlene Dietrich will want to see it, and on big screens it sure looks nice, so mildly Recommended.

Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian currently restoring a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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