Northwest Passage


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From the book of the same name by Kenneth Rogers

1759: An artist accompanies Rogers’ Rangers to the Indian fort at St. Francis to destroy it.

This is a book that I have loved since I was 12. I was in 8th grade when I read it, and have reread it every few years since, and still love it. As the title of the movie in IMDB makes clear, this is only the first half of the book, since the second half mostly takes place in London ten years later. But it’s all a thunderin’ good read.

Langdon Towne (the artist) gets into trouble and has to leave town, falls in with Rogers and is taken along on this expedition. The problem is, not only are they out of supplies when they reach St. Francis, and now have to come back overland without food or water, but the French and Indians (1759, it’s the French and Indian war, which didn’t mean they were fighting each other, it meant they were allied against the British, which is the army that Towne has joined was because it’s pre-Revolution. Got it?) So they’re going through hell trying to get back, starving, freezing, wet and miserable AND being hunted down by the bad guys. One of the most thrilling books ever.

And they did a worthy job of making it into a movie, I have to say. They kept as much of the action and characters as they could (aside from casting Walter Brennan to play a gap-toothed Hunk Marriner for comic relief, and some big guy as tiny wiry red-headed invective-spewing Sgt. McNott.) I recognized whole chunks of dialogue, and the scenes were good. Seeing it on the screen wasn’t nearly as edge-of-my-seat as reading it, even re-reading, but that’s the difference between books and movies for you.

And Spencer Tracy. He was good. He was very good. He had personality. But he just wasn’t big and charismatic enough to be Rogers, unfortunately. He was in there trying, but you really couldn’t see why any of these guys was following him to the death…he just didn’t seem to inspire that kind of fanaticism.

Still…a good effort, and I’m glad I saw it. Soon it will be time to reread the book, and THAT’S what I’m really looking forward to.

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