Northwest Passage (1940)



Director:  King Vidor.

Cast:  Spencer Tracy (Maj. Robert Rogers), Robert Young (Langdon Towne), Walter Brennan (Hunk Marriner), Ruth Hussey (Elizabeth Browne), Nat Pendleton (Cap Huff), Louis Hector (Rev. Browne), Robert Barrat (Humphrey Towne), Lumsden Hare (Lord Amherst), Donald MacBride (Sgt. McNott), Isabel Jewell (Jennie Coit), Douglas Walton (Lt. Avery), Addison Richards (Lt. Crofton), Hugh Sothern (Jesse Beacham), Regis Toomey (Webster), Montagu Love (Wiseman Clagett).

Deals with Rogers' Rangers and its leader.


Good movie.  The year is 1759, Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  Langdon Towne has just been kicked out of Harvard where he had been studying to be a clergyman.  But he would prefer to become a great painter.  Back in his hometown he finds his friend Hunk Marriner in the public stocks for speaking out against town official Wiseman Clagett. 

When he tells his family about what happened they are disappointed.  And when he tells the father of his girlfriend Elizabeth Browne, the reception is even cooler.  Father Browne suggests that Langdon get a regular job with some kind of security rather than attempt to become an artist.  Disgusted, Langdon leaves their house.  We next find him at the town tavern getting plastered.  He is so drunk that he starts openly to criticize Wiseman Clagett and the Indian agent, the famous Sir William Johnson.  When Clagett overhears the drunken Langdon, he tries to arrest him.  But with the help of Hunk, who has escaped from the stocks, they are both able to get away. 

They travel out-of-town to the Flintlock Tavern where they meet a soldier, who proceeds to get them drunk.  The two friends wake up at the fort at Crowne Point and find themselves in Rogers Rangers.  It turns out that the soldier they had met earlier was Robert Rogers himself and that it was who had brought them to the fort.  It seems that Rogers needs a mapmaker and that Langdon is the man for the job. 

General Amherst gives Rogers his assignment.  He is to proceed up Lake Champlain to attack the Abenaki Indians at St. Francis.  The journey is going to prove very difficult to say the least.  It soon becomes a test of the survival of the fittest.  They have to avoid contact with the forces of the French and their Indian allies so they have to take the roughest, out-of-the-way routes.

The plan is to attack and destroy the Indian village and then return heading south east to Fort Wentworth (where, supposedly, food and supplies will be awaiting them.) 

Will they be able to reach the Indian village to destroy it?  And will an artist such as Langdon be able to survive this rugged assignment, when men are falling out with exhaustion and sickness?   

This a good old-fashioned action flick.  From my youth I remember seeing the movie.  I especially remembered the hardships and struggle the rangers had to go through to accomplish their mission.  That's a pretty good testament to the lasting quality of the movie.  Spencer Tracey is terrific as the leader of the rangers. 

The actual title is misleading.  There is no search of a Northwest Passage in the movie.  The screenwriters adapted the first half of the book about the rangers and there were plans to make a second movie to cover the second half of the book where there is a search for such a passage to the northwest of the future USA, but a second part was never made.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

1731 – Robert Rogers born in Methuen, Massachusetts of Scotch-Irish parents.

1746 – he was on scouting duty in the Merrimack Valley under Captain Ladd.

1749 – his father, James Rogers, moved to the woods of Dunbarton and settled in a section named Montelony.

1749 – scouting duty under Captain Ebenezer Eastman.

1753 – scouting duty under Captain John Goff.

1755 – his father was killed by a neighbor, mistaking him for a bear in the woods.

1755 – the British recruited New Hampshire farmer Robert Rogers for service in the French and Indian War (1754-63).

1756–1763  --  the French and Indian War. 

1756 – Rogers created Rogers' Rangers (the first Rangers) with green uniforms. They served in the upper Hudson River Valley.

by 1758 – the British placed him in charge of all colonial Ranger companies.

During the war, the Abenaki Indians, who lived midway between Montreal and Quebec, attacked a British unit under a flag of truce. With a force of 200 Rangers, Rogers destroyed the Indian's village.

Rogers' Rangers took part in General James Wolfe's expedition against Quebec.

1760 - the Rangers took part in the Montreal campaign.

General Jeffrey Amherst sent the Rangers to take possession of the northwestern posts, including Detroit.

1763 – the Rangers participated in Pontiac's War (1763-64) in the Battle of Bloody Bridge.

After the war, Rogers went to England to write of his adventures.

1766 – Rogers asked King George III to fund an expedition from the Mississippi River to the Pacific. The King refused. He did, however, grant Rogers command of the northwest post of Michilimackinac.

Rogers proved to be a poor fort commander. He was involved in some shady operations, including treasonous correspondence with a French officer. Rogers also conducted his own expedition and for this, was sent to England to face charges of treason. He was acquitted.

1775 Sept. 22 – he was arrested by the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety following his arrival, but was afterwards paroled upon his promise that on the honor of a soldier and a gentleman he would not bear arms against the American United Colonies.

1775 – former members of Rogers' Rangers fired upon the British at Concord and Lexington.

Rogers offered his services to George Washington, but the American commander feared that Rogers might be a loyalist spy.

1776 – because of his apparent duplicity, the New Hampshire House of Representatives passed a formal vote recommending his arrest.

Rogers joined the British and organized and commanded the Queen's Rangers, which served around New York City. Later the Queen’s Rangers became the King's Rangers.

1777 – he returned to England.

1795 – death of Robert Rogers.


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