WHAT’S IT ABOUT
This 1941 wilderness epic from 20th-Century Fox finds Paul Muni continuing his series of historical portraits (which he had begun with Louis Pasteur, Emile Zola and Benito Juarez), with a fictional, ‘cock-eyed’ account of real-life fur-trapper and explorer Pierre-Espirit Radisson, who envisions a great empire in the lands around Canada’s Hudson’s Bay.
Radisson’s odyssey takes him through the wild regions of the country’s north in the year 1667, where he befriends the local indigenous population, while clashing with the French. Then, returning to England, he convinces King Charles II in backing an expedition for the sum of 400,000 pelts…
WHY IT’S WORTH WATCHING
Despite the lack of action and pedestrian direction (by Irving Pichel, who gave us such classic genre fare as 1932’s The Most Dangerous Game and 1950’s Destination Moon), it’s well shot by George Barnes (War of the Worlds) and J Peverell Marley (who also worked on House of Wax) on the Fox backlot (and on location in Idaho according to some sources), with a sterling ensemble cast holding it all together.
As King Charles II, a bewigged Vincent Price (who looks remarkably like Old Rowley – the nickname given to the restoration royal) brings a foppish air of refinement to the proceedings, whilst also having to deal with a dozen spaniels running about his feet. Interesting, Price originally tested for Muni’s part at the behest of mogul Darryl F Zanuck – and one wonders how he would have tackled the role (and handled that heavy French accent that Muni affects for the film)?
This was the first of four 1940s features that Price appeared in the same film as Gene Tierney: the others being the super 1944 film noir Laura, the 1945 Technicolor melodrama Leave Her to Heaven, and the 1946 gothic masterpiece Dragonwyck (one of Price’s favourites); while John Sutton, who appeared in Vinnie’s first three features, also starred in 1949’s Bagdad, as well as The Bat and Return of the Fly. Screenwriter Lamar Trotti also shares a Price connection in that he penned the 1967 South African Western, The Jackals (based on his 1948 Yellow Sky screenplay).
VIEW A CLIP OR TWO
Here’s a condensed version of the film, focusing on Vinnie’s scenes.
THE BEAVER – VINTAGE ARTICLE