Monday, October 15, 2012

Spoiler Alert: "The Spoilers" (1942)

Spoil is right, as this version of Rex Beach's story never gels from the beginning.

Marlene Dietrich is sexy saloon owner Cherry Malotte in 1900 Nome, Alaska. She does not get a chance to sing, but she is being wooed by Roy Glennister (John Wayne), part owner of the Midas gold mine with Dextry (Harry Carey). Nome is lawless, and that includes claim jumping, being instigated by the new gold commissioner Alex McNamara (Randolph Scott). Roy returns to Alaska with the new judge (Samuel S. Hinds) and his cute niece Helen (Margaret Lindsay).

Cherry gets competitive with Helen right away, and Roy does not help matters by fooling around with both women. Alex takes a shine to Cherry, and she does not dissuade him. Sure enough, the Midas is served papers, but Roy wants to see the case through in court. Dextry would rather shoot the place up. It soon becomes apparent that the judge and Alex are in cahoots, and Roy must find a way to defeat the "law." This results in an extended fistfight toward the end of the film between Wayne and Scott that is celebrated more than the film itself.

Since this was obviously a vehicle for Dietrich, the film's focus is squarely on her, meaning we cannot decide which side of the fence the two male leads are on. Roy is a mean rascal for two timing Cherry, and Alex begins to emerge as the hero until the rug is pulled out from underneath our feet, and everyone is shown for who they are in one unsubtle scene. Thank goodness sides are picked, suffering through Scott and Dietrich's double entendre dialogue is embarrassing.

Director Enright does all the standard directorial duties here, adding nothing special to the western genre. The cast is okay, but a scene involving a blackfaced Roy and Cherry's African-American maid Idabelle (Marietta Carey) is uncalled for. Throw in the treatment of a stereotypical Chinese man in prison in another scene, and a little harmless but unfunny racial humor then becomes glaring pieces of racism.

The script lurches along from one scene to the next, but the film is populated with too many characters and the screenwriters have a hard time keeping all these plates spinning. A train derailment, a big shootout, and the fistfight are all old news.

In the end, "The Spoilers" is of interest only as another retelling of Beach's often filmed story, and it is not a good one at that. (* *) out of five stars.