Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Silver Horde

For those who find early talkies interesting, TCM are showing a particularly notable one early on Sunday: The Silver Horde, at 6:00 AM ET on August 30.

Top billing is given to Evelyn Brent and Louis Wolheim, both of whom had been popular silent film stars; two of the supporting cast were people relatively new to Hollywood, the new faces and voices for the sound era, who would go on to much bigger things: Joel McCrea and (in a relatively small role) Jean Arthur.

The plot is a fairly simple one. McCrea plays a man sent to Alaska to help start up a new salmon cannery. He has aspirations of a high place in society, and indeed has society girl Jean Arthur as his fiancée. However, this is rough-and-tumble Alaska, which is no place for a girl like Arthur. Indeed, Brent is probably the woman who can help him, as she has the experience dealing with the rougher edges of society that show up in a place like Ketchikan, Alaska. This is important, because there's already a cannery in Ketchikan, and McCrea has to compete with the people running that business, who naturally want to drive McCrea out of town. However, she's also a woman of questionable morals, the sort that McCrea naturally thinks is wholly unsuitable for him, despite the fact that he finds her "interesting" to say the least.

To be honest, in addition to being a simple plot, it's a fairly unadventurous plot, which ends up making The Silver Horde more a curiosity than anything truly great. It's a lot of fun watching the always sturdy and dependable McCrea early in his career, before he started doing all those westerns. It's even more interesting watching Arthur at the very beginning of her career, before she was given the chance to show off her outstanding comedy chops. And, there's some location footage of Alaska that shows up in documentary-style footage of canneries. Unfortunately, the story never quite gets to the level of, say, Red Dust a few years later. For those who aren't into 1930s movies, starting with something like Red Dust might be a better choice. But for people who are already movie buffs looking for something less-known, The Silver Horde isn't a bad choice.

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