Spoilers of the North takes a hard look at the seedy underbelly of salmon poaching in Alaska. I just had to write that sentence. Spoilers is a non-studio B-picture from the mid-1940s and, though I may never have seen anything equitable, it’s probably as good as it can be for what it’s got. The direction is technically mediocre, but it’d be hard for it to offend. There’s lots of found footage used in Spoilers, from boat shots, to salmon cannery shots, to American Indian dancing–when there appeared to be a real boat chase, I was shocked it hadn’t been cobbled from newsreels–then realized the editing is so poor, they’d never be able to do it. The editing at the beginning almost makes Spoilers unwatchable. It’s full of wipes and fades, one every six seconds, moving the lame story along. However, once you discover it actually is about a bad guy trying to defraud people over salmon, well, Spoilers gets a lot more amusing.
The film’s public domain now, but the cast is actually somewhat recognizable. Bad guy Paul Kelly is not familiar–he’s an amazingly bad actor. The dialogue in Spoilers is pretty bad, but Kelly gives an exceptionally bad performance. He’s also playing a philanderer. His successful approach to women is to mimic George Raft. James Millican plays his good guy brother. Millican’s been in a bunch of bit roles, so he’s familiar. He’s also almost all right. He’s really busy during the film, always moving his hands and fiddling with things. It gets distracting. But he does have good chemistry with the girl, played by Evelyn Ankers. Ankers is probably the biggest star of the film, at least in retrospect (she was the girl in The Wolf Man). She’s okay, surprisingly good for a few moments, but blah for some others. The best performance is from Adrian Booth, as the “half-breed” who Kelly romances but won’t marry (she’s a “half-breed”).
Spoilers is astoundingly racist–there’s a great scene when Ankers is showing the audience she’s empathetic (not just a twit fooled by Kelly) and she buys a little Native kid a birthday cake. Then the family proceeds to get excited eating the candles. There’s plenty more along those lines, but there’s also a bunch of great sexism in the film too. In rugged (California set-based) Alaska, a successful businesswoman like Ankers can’t possibly understand what’s going on. Spoilers is somehow amusing, offensive, and actually not terrible in places. I just wish I could see a trailer for it, because I spent the whole movie imagining it–”Two brothers battle for fish and women in rugged Alaska,” “See the forbidden love between man and half-breed,” “Prepare for pulse-pounding fishing scenes!” Maybe I just ought to make one myself. I was expecting Spoilers to be low budget of that variety, but it’s not. So, if the filmmakers had actually been impassioned about Alaskan salmon poaching, Spoilers might be a “better” movie, but since they weren’t, Spoilers is certainly a watchable one.
Directed by Richard Sale; written by Milton Raison; director of photography, Alfred S. Keller; edited by William P. Thompson; music by Mort Glickman; released by Republic Pictures.
Starring Paul Kelly (Matt), Evelyn Ankers (Laura), Adrian Booth (Jane Koster), James Millican (Bill), Roy Barcroft (Moose McGovern), Louis Jean Heydt (Inspector Winters) and Ted Hecht (Joe Taku).