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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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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.
Errol Flynn Foils the Nazis Up North
I won't bother giving a synopsis of the story, as everyone else posting here has already done so. This is a very watchable and somewhat typical WWII anti-Nazi Hollywood propaganda film. Errol Flynn is almost always fun to watch, and the film moves along in a fairly brisk manner. The main problem I have with it, is when you find out in the last 20 minutes or so what the goal of the Nazi's is. As an avid film buff, I understand that you have to often go along with a film, suspending disbelief at various plot devices, but this was, to quote the title of a more recent war film, "A Bridge Too Far" (sorry, I couldn't resist). The idea that the Germans, years before the start of WWII would ship bomber parts to Canada to be stashed away for use later, that a small handful of German POWs could be rounded up that know how to put it together (including hydraulics, electronics, etc.), well, you get the picture. If the big plot revelation at the end had been more believable, I'd have given it a higher rating, as it's well made and enjoyable, with Flynn giving yet another of his cheeky performances.
Mounties Versus Nazis, Top-Notch WWII Actioneer
Reading the other IMDb reviews of Northern Pursuit, I began to wonder if the monkey-see-monkey-do reviewers trashing it watched the same movie I did! Or if they watched it at all. This Mounties versus Nazis picture bears little resemblance, as claimed, to The 49th Parallel and even less to Across The Pacific.

From the opening scene with a German submarine breaking through the ice in Hudson Bay to the climatic showdown in a bomber aloft, Northern Pursuit is high-powered excitement all the way. Not surprisingly, with all the high-powered talent Warner Brothers threw into this enjoyable World War II action picture. Top action director Raoul Walsh directs top action star Errol Flynn with a script by popular western writer Frank Gruber and high class novelist William Faulkner. Solid support is provided by Helmut Dantine, reprising his ruthless Nazi officer from Edge Of Darkness (see my review), perky Julie Bishop, Tom Tully, John Ridgely, and Gene Lockhart in another of what was becoming his stock sneaky, Nazi sympathizer role. First rate camera work by Sid Hickox and the smooth editing typical in movies of this era blends studio sets and Idaho ski resort locations with skillfully dovetailed backdrop matting to so successfully convince us we were above the Artic Circle, it gave me a chill at times. The action is propelled along by one Adolphe Deutsch's better scores, enlivened by some input by the great Max Steiner. The story of German descent Mountie Flynn penetrating a Nazi-sympathizing Canadian spy organization co-operating with escaped German prisoners of war maintains suspense and interest throughout. The sharply directed action includes an avalanche, a prison camp breakout, a hair-raising ski chase, and a shoot-out in a mine shaft. Characterization and acting are top notch. Dantine's Nazi Colonel is particularly well realized. This Austrian refugee actor no doubt knew what real-life Nazis were like. He had had to flee his home country because because of his anti-Nazi activities.

While not a classic of the genre like Edge Of Darkness, Nothern Pursuit is a top "A" production war/intrigue thriller, effective WWII propaganda yet enjoyable, exciting, smooth entertainment from Warner Brothers' and Old Hollywood's Golden years.
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.
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.
Disappointing even for a Flynn fan
This movie tries very hard to be the "thrill-a-minute actioner" that the video cassette cover calls it, but fails on just about every level. Just as other reviewers have stated, the acting is cardboard and the plot is thin. I was once a big Errol Flynn fan, but I didn't care much for his performance either. The cover also touts the performances of Helmut Dantine as "excellent as the formidable Nazi leader", and Julie Bishop adding "high drama to the film" as Flynn's love interest, but neither make much of an impression in their roles. I watched it because of my interest in the genre and Errol Flynn, and I'm glad I saw it for those reasons, but I was disappointed.

I'm also disappointed that the link to submit goofs is disabled. There were a couple of funny ones, such as when Wagner (Flynn) picks up the ringing telephone and says "Hello" before the handset is close to his mouth.
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.
Quite entertaining
Quite entertaining but Dantine's evil Nazi is a much better, more believable and realistic character than Flynn's debonair, smooth wilderness expert Mountie. The other characters are just cardboard cutouts typical of the period.
Back in the 1900s folks knew little of geography . . .
. . . which is the main reason why Germany kept losing World Wars. During WWI they tried to win by digging a trench from Berlin to Buckingham Palace, not realizing that the English Channel was serving as a castle moat. Then, as NORTHERN PURSUIT documents, for WWII they thought they could assemble and fly a secret stash of airplane parts from the Yukon to destroy the strategic shipping locks at Sault St. Marie. In the unlikely event that such a bomber actually could be put together from an Erector Set in the Arctic of the Far North, it could NOT have reached even the halfway point to the Locks connecting Canada to Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Likewise, since the Nazis had burned all the history and geography books within their realm in the 1930s, they had no understanding of the vast distance from Berlin to Central Russia, and no way of knowing what a disaster Napoleon's Russian Campaign had been a century earlier. In NORTHERN PURSUIT, Errol Flynn plays a Keystone Mountie bumbler who keeps getting the other Mounties killed (including the Best Man for his upcoming wedding). Fortunately for the Allied Cause, the Nazis of this episode were even more bumbling.
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.
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