Northwest Passage is one of the lesser-known great Epic pictures. Its budget was larger than the previously more costly epic, Ben-Hur. They would have spent more money, but the studio pulled in the reins. Northwest Passage was based on the book written by Kenneth Roberts in the ‘30s. It competed strongly with “Gone with the Wind” for the best-seller slot, but never managed to dethrone “Gone with the Wind.” MGM decided to cash in on the book’s popularity. Originally two movies were planned. The first movie, or “Book 1,” would cover Rogers’ Rangers’ various skirmishes at the time of the French and Indian war. “Book 2” would cover Rogers’ Rangers as they searched for the Northwest Passage. Kenneth Roberts accurately portrayed the thoughts and feelings of the settlers towards the Indians. It’s not pretty in the book and it’s not pretty on the screen. Even by 1940s’ standards, the racist stereotypes in Northwest Passage were a bit over the top. Roberts thought the fix was in for not making a sequel because one key character to both stories was left out of the movie. He was also very unhappy with how the movie was adapted. Maybe the fix was in, or maybe it became clear to MGM that Northwest Passage was not going to have a strong enough return to merit a second movie. Regardless, what we have is a grand epic that is an embarrassment to the populace that would like to think of itself as culturally sensitive—and a misleading title because the only mention of the Northwest Passage is at the end of the movie. So, if you can stand a grand Hollywood epic which depicts a massacre of Indians in outrageous Technicolor, this is the film for you.
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