Director: Clarence Brown
Starring: Dolores del Rio, Ralph Forbes
Plot: The Klondike gold strike of 1897 inspires fortune-seekers to head for Alaska. Joe and Jim, brothers from South Carolina; Lars, escaping a shrewish wife in Michigan; a poor farmer from Kansas; weathered prospectors from Nevada; and countless others leave San Francisco by ship. The overland route to Dawson City is hazardous and arduous. Each person must carry their own food, a ton of it. That means traveling 80 miles back and forth to advance one mile, carrying 50 pounds a trip. The Chilkoot Pass is one of the worst sections of the trail. In the spring the trekkers take to the rivers, swollen by melting ice. Whitehorse Rapids proves the last and biggest obstacle to reaching the gold fields. But that’s not the end of the hardships. Claim jumping, blizzards, fires, and other hazards are to be faced.
One of the last epic silent films, MGM spared no expense and filmed largely on location. Although almost forgotten today, this is a wonderful movie full of romance & adventure. Its most famous scenes involve the hideous climb over Chilkoot Pass, which separated the disembarkation point of Skagway from the Yukon River, where the gold seekers had to build their own boats and run the rapids down to Dawson. The shots of the long line of men & women, toiling like ants up the steep slope of Chilkoot, with the weak dying along the way, isn’t soon forgotten.
The cast is first rate: Dolores Del Rio, Ralph Forbes, Harry Carey, Karl Dane, Emily Fitzroy, Roscoe Karns, Tully Marshall & Doris Lloyd. Playing saints or sinners, they help make this film truly memorable.
Tragedy struck during the filming of the short river rapids sequence. A cord was strung across the river, but the safety loops hanging from it were allowed to become knotted & slippery, thus giving the stuntmen nothing to grab and cling to as they swept beneath it. Of the eight stuntmen shown in the film running the rapids, four were to drown; two of the bodies were never recovered.