Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

THE SPOILERS. Universal Pictures, 1942. Marlene Dietrich, Randolph Scott, John Wayne, Margaret Lindsay, Harry Carey, Richard Barthelmess, George Cleveland, Samuel S. Hinds. Based on a novel by Rex Beach. Director: Ray Enright.

   The Spoilers stars John Wayne, Randolph Scott, and Marlene Dietrich in a tale about claims jumping and legal corruption during the Alaskan gold rush. Based on a Rex Beach novel and directed by Ray Enright, the film is a slightly above average period Western. There’s some great onscreen chemistry between Wayne and Dietrich, a beautifully filmed scene of a locomotive at night, and one of the most extensive saloon fight scenes that I’ve come across in recent memory.

   Set in Nome, Alaska, the story follows the conflict between miner, Roy Glennister (Wayne) and a corrupt gold commissioner by the name of Alex McNamara (Scott). The two men also each have their eyes on saloon owner beauty, Cherry Malotte (Dietrich), who has yet another suitor in the lovesick Bronco Kid (Richard Barthelmess).

   McNamara’s underhanded attempts to achieve title to Glennister’s gold mine sets the story in motion. Aiding him in his task are corrupt Circuit Court Judge Horace Stillman (Samuel S. Hinds) and his lovely niece, Helen Chester (Margaret Lindsay), who grows increasingly ambivalent about her role in the whole sordid scheme.

   Both Wayne and Dietrich are quite good in their roles. More importantly, each of them appears to be having a good time working on the project, making their screen time together a fun experience for the viewer. It’s Scott, however, who steals the show in his portrayal of the villainous McNamara. There’s just something so incredibly devious about his character. He’s sort of what you’d imagine a frontier claims jumper would have been like — a bit genteel, at least on the surface, but also ruthless and more than willing to get his hands dirty should the need arise.

   Maybe that’s why in the film’s final sequence, when he and Wayne’s character get into a lengthy, brutal bar fight, you both want to see him get his butt kicked and to see him get in a few good punches himself. He’s a bad guy all right, but not one without his charms.

   Given that The Spoilers benefits from great cast, a decent plot, and a good amount of rugged frontier action, you’d think that it would have more of a critical reputation than it does. Part of this likely stems from the fact that the two male leads, John Wayne and Randolph Scott, each went on to much bigger and better projects, leaving affairs like this in their dust.

   The fact that The Spoilers can feel considerably dated at times doesn’t help matters, either. Case in point: the film’s blatantly transparent attempt to utilize racial humor. This is exemplified in a scene in which Wayne’s character is effectively wearing blackface and fools Cherry’s maid into thinking he is Black. It was surely intended to induce guffaws from the audience, but now it just falls flat. While I do recognize that there was likely no conscious decision to be derogatory toward Blacks in the film, I don’t believe most audiences today would find value in the movie’s usage of blackface for comedic relief or think Wayne in blackface was particularly humorous.

   In conclusion, The Spoilers is a solid frontier Western with some very good scenes and a notably strong performance by Randolph Scott. It’s by no means a bad film. It just doesn’t stand the test of time that well.