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Northern Pursuit
Drama, Adventure, War, Romance
IMDB rating:
Raoul Walsh
John Ridgely as Jim Austin
Julie Bishop as Laura McBain
Bernard Nedell as Tom Dagor
Helmut Dantine as Col. Hugo von Keller
Tom Tully as Inspector Barnett
Alec Craig as Angus McBain
Gene Lockhart as Ernst
Monte Blue as Jean
Errol Flynn as Cpl. Steve Wagner
Warren Douglas as Sergeant (scenes deleted)
Storyline: Canadian Mountie Steve Wagner captures a German Luftwaffe officer on a spy mission, who later escapes from the prison camp. To catch the spy ring, the Mounties employ a ruse so that the spies, believing Steve to be sympathetic, enlist him in their plans.
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Erroll Flynn infiltrates Helmut Dantine's Nazi band in Manitoba wilds
"Northern Pursuit" (1943) is a spy-adventure story and a good one. I'd rate it as above par or 3/4 or 7.5/10, if I could. The story is a good one, with very good twists. Nazis typically make great bad guys. In this one, both Helmut Dantine, a Nazi pilot, and Gene Lockhart, a Canadian Nazi-loyalist, are both very bad, as shown by their callous murders early in the story. Lockhart has deviousness down pat. Erroll Flynn is in good form as a Mountain Police operative who infiltrates Dantine's little party that's bent on an objective that's kept secret for most of the story. Only the tables are turned and Flynn finds himself forced to help the Nazis as a guide through the snowy wilderness.

This movie has a terrific avalanche sequence and a fast ski chase too. If this movie were done today, the exteriors would be authentic. Unfortunately, the movie has a good many studio-interiors of snowy locations. One has to abide by this in some of the older movies, but they are really well done and quite elaborate so that it's pretty easy to stay involved in the story itself. The opening with a submarine breaking through ice looks real before being combined with studio work. However it was done, it's very beguiling.

This movie has always held my attention and did so again on a rewatch today. Flynn is a very smooth actor and we follow right along with him. He has to get out of some tight spots. He's very cool in this role. Dantine is appropriately sharp and curt, determined to achieve his mission. Lockhart is wonderful. A good word is due for John Ridgely as a stalwart buddy of Flynn, and Julie Bishop as Flynn's girl. The dogs, beautiful animals, pull the sleds through some wintry exteriors. The story integrates some native Canadians effectively and imaginatively. Director Raoul Walsh's movies are all watchable.
Not as good as Across the Pacific (1942), which it obviously borrows from ...
Warner Bros. recycled the essence of Across the Pacific (1942), this time using Errol Flynn (in lieu of Humphrey Bogart) as a disgraced Mountie that infiltrates a German operation – led by Helmut Dantine (of course) – on Canadian soil.

Directed by Raoul Walsh and scripted by Frank Gruber and Alvah Bessie from the story by Leslie T. White, Flynn plays Steve Wagner who, along with fellow officer Jim Austin (John Ridgely), initially captures Nazi Colonel Hugo von Keller (Dantine), who'd survived an avalanche that destroyed his original invasion team. Because Wagner's parents emigrated from Germany, he speaks von Keller's language, and the Nazi wastes no time trying to assess Wagner's loyalties.

Wagner decides von Keller is unable to make the journey to their post and convinces Austin to report back to Inspector Barnett (Tom Tully) without him. Barnett smells a rat and sends out a patrol to capture and arrest Wagner, a fact which they later use with a subsequent ruse to enable Wagner to join von Keller's new team, after the Colonel and some other Nazis escape from an internment camp.

The purpose of the mission is eventually discovered, and it's no less implausible than the rest of the plot, which has the cinematic action hero stand idly by while three of his colleagues are murdered by the Nazis.

Julie Bishop plays Wagner's fiancée (Alec Craig her Irish-accented father), Gene Lockhart plays an undercover German co-conspirator, and Monte Blue plays an Eskimo dog-sledder who's hired by the Nazis to navigate the terrain and Canadian country.
Faded from Memory Immediately After the War Bond Effort
The Opening Scene of a Submarine Crashing through the Frozen Surface, and later, an Avalanche, are the Only Highlights in this Dull, Badly Acted, Poorly Written Propaganda Picture. One Guesses it was a Nod to America's Neighbors to the North for Their War Effort. A Handshake and a Friendly Slap on the Back.

But this Errol Flynn and War Bond Vehicle, Directed by His Friend Raoul Walsh, who was more Tolerant of Flynn's Drinking and other Non Professionalisms than most, is a Goofy Adventure that is Snowbound as well as Studio Bound but was Bound to make Money for the War Bonds.

Unintentionally Humorous at times and some of the Intended Humor is Embarrassing (the stereotypical miser McBain ). The Story is so Far Fetched Interest Wanes.

It's a Stiff Looking Film that despite its Wide Open Wilderness Setting, comes off as a Claustrophobic, Constrained Clunker that was Forgotten Immediately and remains in the Periphery when Propaganda, War, or Errol Flynn Movies are Considered.
A suspenseful movie
This is not a great movie, not Robin Hood or The Sea Hawk. But neither is it the bad movie some of the previous reviewers suggest.

I found it very suspenseful.

If you try viewing it as the original, intended audience did back in 1943, when the U.S. was not winning the war in Europe and there were fears of German infiltration everywhere, you can imagine how relevant this story would have been to audiences.

Tension is maintained for much of the movie by keeping us in suspense regarding Flynn's character's allegiances. No, of course we can't believe he's really a Nazi, but for the first half of the movie, it certainly seems as if he might be.

I was surprised, and thrown off guard, by the number of "good guys" who got killed in this movie. That made it seem more real to me.

The last scene is pure Hollywood, and pure corn. But up until then, there is a lot to admire and enjoy in this movie.
The sled dogs had it right
This is a real bow-wow.

Errol Flynn stars in "Northern Pursuit," a 1943 propaganda film directed by Raoul Walsh. It also stars Helmut Dantine, Gene Lockhart, and Julie Bishop.

Walsh told a story of how Jack Warner used to call him up to his office and tell him he had to direct a script for him. Warner would have no details, not even the cast. "Some bum," he would say, when Walsh asked him who was in it. This scenario might have been the case for "Northern Pursuit." Flynn and Walsh were very close friends, but they both might have been blind-sided into this one by dear old Jack.

The premise story concerns Nazis in Canada who are trying to get way into the Canadian wilderness, where parts of a bomber have been hidden. Once assembled, it's going to take out the St. Lawrence Seaway. More than a little preposterous. Flynn is a mountie whose character is of German descent, so he goes undercover and, knowing the area, helps the Nazis on their journey.

Even if you ignore this plot, and you have to in order to get through the movie, it's pretty slow going. There are some exciting scenes, but this isn't your usual Flynn adventure film. Helmut Dantine and Gene Lockhart give excellent performances, though, and handsome, charismatic Flynn does as well as he can given the circumstances.

A youngster on this board trashed this movie, the 1940s audiences, and propaganda films in general, making mention of the "special effects." Given that this was filmed on a Warner sound stage without benefit of CGI and a computer, the film looks pretty good, with some very effective effects. I don't think the 1940s audiences were stupid -rather, I think the audiences today have been dumbed down. Propaganda movies weren't so that audiences would hate the enemy. I have a feeling they already did. They were done to keep up the morale during a very difficult time in this country. "Northern Pursuit" isn't particularly representative of the genre. When you consider the number of films the studios put out, they had a very high number of excellent ones. Okay, so this isn't one of them.
Errol of the Mounties
Errol Flynn was a fascinating screen presence. Just look at how many books have been written about him including a couple he wrote himself. I found a good dozen on Amazon before I stopped counting. Some well-known actors and filmmakers often have only one biography or even none at all.

"Northern Pursuit" isn't the best of his movies, but it is Flynn at his best. He looks in great shape despite the fact that he had a dicky ticker, a bad back, tuberculosis, a couple of exotic diseases picked up along the way and a liver that was in more danger of destruction than any target of the Nazis in the film.

Set in Canada during WW2, Errol plays Steve Wagner, a Royal Canadian Mountie of German Ancestry whose loyalty is questioned when he comes across Nazi secret agents who are planning to bomb a canal that is critical to the Allied war effort.

Although the story feels cobbled together, the film looks good. Most of it was shot on the sound stage and no doubt a great deal of talcum powder and papier mache was employed, but the sequence where a U-Boat breaks through the ice and scenes such as the avalanche are brilliantly staged.

However the stars make the film. Although Errol was rarely upstaged, Helmut Dantine was Warner's go-to Nazi guy during the war years. He plays Colonel Hugo von Keller in this film. The reason why Dantine was more effective than many screen Nazis at the time was the degree of intelligence with which he approached his roles. He was no off-the-rack, monocled Nazi stereotype, he came across as vigorous, smart and fanatical; a formidable enemy, he was also good looking and often got the best lines.

If you like the stars, and Flynn was absolutely unique, then there is much to enjoy here. In fact the film was a bit of a turning point for him– he even got a laugh with an in-joke at the end alluding to his recent acquittal on rape charges. From that point on he went along with the joke about his sexual prowess although those who knew him felt that it hurt his desire to be taken seriously as an actor.

Finally, for anyone with a sense of history, "Northern Pursuit" is a fascinating insight into what audiences were watching during the war even if they took it all with a generous pinch of salt.
Ranges From Awful to Awfully Funny
First of all "Northwest Pursuit" is a propaganda film, although unlike "Saving Private Ryan" it at least has the excuse of having been made "during" the war. WWII propaganda films were painful viewing for anyone of even modest intelligence because their intent was to demonize the enemy and frighten the viewer, who ideally would rush out of the theater and begin manically buying war bonds.

Second it is a screenplay by Frank Gruber who wrote very bad western novels and detective fiction before inflicting himself on motion pictures and television. Which means that the target intelligence level is low even by the subterranean standards of propaganda films. Third it is over 60 years old so the moronic premise is even shakier than it would have been in 1943. Actually this might work in its favor if you just want a few laughs but my reaction was mostly embarrassment.

The premise is that prior to the outbreak of WWII the ever methodical Germans had the foresight to ship crates of airplane parts and a bunch of bombs to Canada and to hide all this stuff in a abandoned mine deep in the wilderness (the location shooting actually took place in Sun Valley, Idaho). Captured Nazi airmen are set free and cross-country ski to the mine. Once there they unpack the parts and in a couple days assemble a large "bomber" with which they intend to bomb the locks on the St. Lawrence Seaway. If your plausibility meter has just jumped off the scale remember that this was intended for an audience raised on "The Adventures of Tom Swift".

Errol Flynn plays a RCMP agent who infiltrates the Nazi network and is later forced to help with their scheme because they are holding his girlfriend (played by Julie Bishop) as a hostage. Helmut Dantine plays a fanatical Luftwaffe pilot and Gene Lockhart (June Lockhart's father) plays an undercover Nazi agent.

Unfortunately Gruber's goal was to induce hysteria rather than to script characters with logical motivations. This means that most of the actions of Dantine's logical and mission focused leader defy all logic (and mission focus for that matter), serving only dehumanize him. Lockhart's character does not come off much better, starting off as a sneaky murderer and then reduced to a sniveling coward. Propaganda films do not portray the enemy as a worthy opponent but as either a craven coward or a mad dog.

Lockhart's performance is the best thing about the film. Flynn can be excused for sleepwalking through this thing, as it would be difficult for anyone saddled with a script this bad to summon up much energy.

If you don't get some laughs from the premise or the dialogue you might still get some entertainment from the scene of the Indian Guide (played by Joe Herrera) trying to escape. These fake snow chase scenes should be pulled out whenever somebody complains about the quality of today's digital effects.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
Flynn kicks 'em in the Axis!
Although not quite as gripping as "Desperate Journey", or as marvelously sprawling as "49th Parallel", this slick film is everything you could ask for in a WWII actioner--even more, with Errol Flynn teaming up with Raoul Walsh. The acting is good, and the direction is taut and entertaining, with writers Bessie and Gruber providing a suspenseful story line concerning a nazi spy(Dantine) captured in Canada by a Royal Mountie(Flynn), the spy's escape from prison camp, and Flynn's efforts to thwart Dantine's nefarious mission in the great white north(and a dastardly mission it is, too--those dirty Nazis!).

Adolph Deutsch scores a cleverly subtle soundtrack to raise the suspense quotient, as he did for "High Sierra" and "The Maltese Falcon". Just the "Kick 'em in the Axis" kind of movie to watch, if you've already seen and liked "Tartu" and "The Commandos Strike At Dawn".
Terrible, Just Terrible
I can understand the purpose of propaganda movies during WWII. It would be good if they were at least accurately presented! Errol Flynn portrays an undercover RCMP Corporal in pursuit of a Nazi pilot ultimately intent on bombing the St. Lawrence Seaway.

This movie is set in "the frozen north" of Canada. We find out, eventually, that the setting is near The Pas, Manitoba in August of 1943 (a prisoner release document reveals this fact). If we are to buy into the story to start with, maybe we should deal with the credibility of the setting! The Pas is in the upper plains of Manitoba near the Saskatchewan border. So why do we see mushing huskies traversing mountainous terrain? There are no mountains within a thousand miles of The Pas and in August, the climate would be very summer-like. I'm sure Canadians who viewed the movie originally would have been quite amused! Throw in a paper thin plot, a laughable romantic red herring and you have a pretty awful movie. If the idea was to induce movie-goers to buy war bonds, I doubt if a nickle was collected based on this bummer!
The most believable fictional war drama ever! Oops! What am I saying?
As anticipated, Errol Flynn typically brought down the house with his last line: "What am I saying?", while glancing at the audience, after cheerfully agreeing that his new bride Laura(Julie Bishop) is the only girl he ever loved. This was part of a running gag, as Laura's notoriously frugal Scottish father (Alec Craig) had just done this line, after agreeing to pay for the expensive wedding reception.

How very ironic that Helmut Dantine: former leader of the anti-Nazi activists of Hitler's former hometown: Vienna, should be fated to play evil Nazi leaders in several war propaganda -slanted Hollywood films released during WWII.

Presumably, the take home message for contemporary audiences was that North Americans had better be wary of Axis spies and sabotage attempts, even in the heartland, which was directly reachable by Nazi U boats, via Hudson's Bay. Also, Americans and Canadians of rather recent German immigrants should be kept under surveillance as potential spies and saboteurs. In fact, there was a Nazi-worshipping organization in the USA, although it deemphasized its support of Germany after Hitler declared war on the US. Fortunately, history proved such fears unfounded. In fact, it seems remarkable that Nazi and Japanese attempts at sabotage in North America, either by residents there or by outsiders, were virtually non-existent. In this respect, the message of this film seems very dated, as of no real relevance to the war. The far-fetched details of the screen-play also don't help a possible recommendation of this film.

The screenplay begins with a Nazi submarine surfacing near an ice-choked western shore of Hudson's Bay, offloading a number of airmen, who somehow walk across the treacherous floating chunks of ice, to the shore, with skis, for a 5 day trip over snow to an abandoned mine shaft in northern Saskatchewan, where pieces of a bomber have been stored in crates since before WWII began.(Never mind that Hitler never expected to have to fight the British Commonwealth and France, in his goal to conquer the USSR!). Just how these crates were transported to this mine, hidden among mining equipment, is not apparent, as this area is now accessible overland in winter only by foot.

The fliers are soon met by a local contact, who brings them instructions from an agent from the US(Gene Lockhart, as Ernst Willis), as well as Native American guides, who are promptly dispatched when they refuse to guide the party over a dangerous pass in the Canadian Rockies(which have been magically transposed to near the shore of Hudson's Bay!). The Germans are served poetic justice when all except their leader and pilot, Dantine, soon die in an(unrealistically -staged) avalanche, as the NAs had feared. Dantine skis on until near death from exhaustion and cold, burying his instruction packet in the snow. Mounties Wagner(Flynn) and Jim, inexplicably wandering around in this wilderness, find Dantine and transport him to their cabin. Wearing a German flier's uniform, they arrest him as a prisoner of war. However, discovering that Wagner is of recent German decent, Dantine tries to recruit him as an accomplice. Wagner comes under suspicion at headquarters as he dallies in bringing Dantine in. Wagner quits the Mounties, since they are suspicious of his loyalty, and is arrested after flattening several Mounties and damning Canada. Meanwhile, Dantine is sent to an internment camp, from which he soon escapes with a fresh set of German fliers. Willis bails Wagner out of jail, then asks him to help guide him to the mine, first by train, which they jump off, then by foot. Later, it's clear that Willis and Dantine suspect Wagner is still a RCMP agent, pretending to cooperate with them(even though the regional RCMP don't seem to know anything about this!). Wagner's girlfriend unexpectedly shows up(arranged by Willis for his own purpose). Dantine eventually kills Willis and Jim, who is lurking near the camp. They move on to the mine and put the bomber together(mere child's play!). Wagner now starts stealthily killing the Germans, one by one, then masquerades as one of the crew(very unlikely!), killing the crew as they fly toward their bombing target, causing the plane to spin out of control. A wounded Wagner parachutes to 'safety', somewhere in the wilderness.(How he survives a walk back to an outpost of civilization is left unexplored!). The film ends with a celebration of Wagner's accomplishment and marriage to Laura.

It's difficult to give an overall assessment of this film. Obviously the screenplay has many gaping plausibility problems. If you're willing to overlook these, it's a cleverly assembled cat and mouse drama with a message. Although never specified, the clues given suggest the bombing target was the Soo Locks between Lakes Superior and Huron, far to the southeast of the mine. This was a complicated and very unlikely way to achieve that goal. A much simpler way would have been to load a ship with explosives and detonate them while in the lock(True, suicidal for the crew).

The light bomber shown was a Lockheed Hudson, many of which were shipped in parts to the RAF in crates and assembled there, mainly used for anti-submarine operations, training, and surveillance. One was previously featured in "Desperate Journey", also starring Flynn.
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