THE SPOILERS.  Selig Polyscope Co., 1914; Colin Campbell, director; William Farnum, Tom Santschi, Kathlyn Williams, Wheeler Oakman. Shown at Cinecon 41, September 2005.

   The first filming of Rex Beach’s Alaskan adventure novel, with a fifth version released in 1955. A knockdown fist fight is the high point of the film, with the fight between John Wayne and Randolph Scott in a 1942 version still fondly remembered by filmgoers of my generation.

   In this first silent version, William Farnum (a big man with a pummeling technique) goes at it with Tom Santschi. The fight is filmed in a small interior set that doesn’t give the actors much room to maneuver but heightens the scene’s excitement. The print was a bit light but this doesn’t detract significantly from the atmospheric staging.


   Sets seem (at times) makeshift, although this gives a realistic look to the Alaskan frontier setting at a time when towns went up almost overnight as goldhunters poured into the region.

   Tempers flare frequently, the corporate and political villains haven’t a decent bone in their bodies, and the screen seems at times to explode from the vitality of the almost primitive action and emotions.

   A vibrant example of early feature length filmmaking that’s no lost masterpiece but still a very entertaining take on a historical period.