Prerelease titles: One Exciting Kiss, End of the Rainbow, and Will Tomorrow Ever Come.
Danish title: Hvor Regnbuen Ender (Where the Rainbow Stops)
Prerelease titles: Sun in the Morning, A Family for Jack
French title: Lassie Perd…et Gagne (Lassie Loses …and Wins)
Dutch/Flemish title: Lassie verliest, Lassie wint. (Lassie Loses, Lassie Wins)
Original Story: Angela Stuart. Screenplay: Elizabeth Meehan and Richard Sale. Adaptation: Laird Doyle. Assistant Director: Johnny Grubles. Musical Director: Robert Armbruster. Director of Photography: Reggie Lanning. Second Unit Director: Yakima Canutt. Sound: Earl Crain Sr. and Howard Wilson. Art Director: Hilyard Brown. Associate: Fred Ritter. Orchestrations: Ned Freeman. Costume Supervision: Adele Palmer. Set Decorations: John McCarthy Jr. and James Redd. Special Effects: Howard and Theodore Lydecker. Makeup Supervision: Bob Mark. Hair Stylist: Peggy Gray. Technical Advisor: Alexis Davidoff. Editor: Harry Keller.
Nelson Eddy (Captain Jim Laurence)
Ilona Massey (Natalia Alanova Savinova)
Joseph Schildkraut (Count Igor Savin)
Hugo Haas (Prince Nickolai Balinin, the Governor)
Elsa Lanchester (Princess Tatiana, “Tanya” Balinova)
Lenore Ulric (Baroness Kruposny, “Katushka”)
Peter Whitney (Volkoff, prison overseer)
Tamara Shayne (Olga, the maid)
Erno [Ernst] Verebes (Kyril)
George Sorel (Baron Kruposny)
Rick Vallin (Dovkin)
Countess Rosanska, Dina Smirnova, Antonina Barnett, Lola De Tolly, Myra Sokolskaya (Noble ladies)
Michael Visaroff (Captain Tikhonoff)
George Blagoi, General Sam Savitsky, Igor Dolgoruki, Nestor Eristoff (Noblemen)
The American G.I. Chorus (Chorus of prisoners)
Muni Seroff (Sentry)
Max Willenz (Peasant)
Nina Hansen (Princess Tanya’s maid)
Eugene Sigaloff (Priest)
Henry Brandon (Chinese junk captain)
Michael Mark (Small convict)
Dick Alexander (Large convict)
George Paris (Ship’s officer)
Ray Teal (Wounded trapper)
Zoia Karabanova, Inna Gest (Bit women)
John Bleifer (Groom)
Molio Sheron (Naval officer)
Gene Gary (Second sentry)
Gregory Golubeff (Bit man)
Nicco Romoff, Henry Kulky (Peasants)
Peter Seal (Bit man)
John Peters (Officer)
Jay Silverheels (Indian scout)
Constantine Romanoff (Convict)
Peter Gurs (Trumpeter)
Marvin Press (Young man)
Abe Dinovitch (Rough man)
Nicholas Kobliansky (Deacon)
Glenn Strange (Tall man)
Northwest Outpost was at one point entitled End of the Rainbow, and that would have been a fitting title indeed, for it was destined to be Nelson Eddy’s final film. In the three years since Knickerbocker Holiday, he had been approached on numerous occasions with proposals for a film. “It was always the same,” he said. “They had the producer, the director, and a list of talent available for the cast. A name composer would agree to furnish the score, but always one thing was missing. The story. Without that, it was all worthless.”
The film did have the germ of a good story. The hero was in love with a married woman. This intriguing premise was then padded with plot devices from four or five past Eddy vehicles, including a title suggestive of the Northwest Mounties, and furnished with the least memorable Friml score since The Lottery Bride.
Friml was always an erratic composer. Melodies poured out of him, but it took a strong collaborator to select and shape the great ones. Eddy recalled that Republic Studio (one rung above Monogram on the studio status ladder) was delighted to get a “name” like Friml, but couldn’t seem to get any finished songs out of him. They finally sent a recording crew to the home of the sixty-eight-year-old composer and made tapes of his endless improvisations at the keyboard. When they finished, they had tapes of—endless improvisations at the keyboard. Of the songs constructed of these, the only one that stayed with the viewer past the popcorn stand was the oft repeated “W-e-a-r-y.” It was not exactly the tone to set for the picture.
(An alternate version of this story is offered by Miles Kreuger of the Institute of the American Musical. He states that “Northwest Outpost is the film version of an unproduced stage musical called Russian River which Friml had composed with Angela Stuart. Apparently the plot was similar to the film. An agent named Spitzer brought the project to Herbert Yates, studio head of Republic, which purchased Friml’s 16-inch transcription disks of the score for $65,000. Friml did not work on the film.”)
In Northwest Outpost, Eddy was reteamed with his Balalaika costar, Ilona Massey. Her career never really developed after her brilliant reception in Balalaika, and so she is the surprise of the film, giving a fine performance, warm and womanly. Her fruity soprano had developed an unfortunate edge to it, but she succeeds in lighting up the dimmer moments of the film.
Hugo Haas as the Prince gives a droll performance, but Elsa Lanchester, as usual, is pretty much left to her own devices and pieces her performance out of past comic endeavors. Only in her compassionate scenes is she able to endow her role with her unique blend of humor and pathos.
Director Allan Dwan was a Hollywood veteran. He started with Gloria Swanson vehicles in the late teens, went on to Douglas Fairbanks epics in the twenties, Shirley Temple films in the thirties, and Dennis O’Keefe comedies in the forties. He worked chiefly at Republic after that, turning out action and comedy films, always competent and with occasional bright touches. His The Sands of Iwo Jima in 1949 brought John Wayne an Oscar nomination, certainly a testament to Dwan’s directorial skills. He obviously regarded Northwest Outpost as nothing more than a few weeks work, but there are still some nice moments.
Our story begins in 1838 at Fort Ross, a Russian settlement on the coast of what would later become California. The governor, Prince Nikolai Balinin (Hugo Haas), is awakened by his aide Kyril (Erno Verebes) at daybreak. Since he apparently fell asleep fully dressed, we presume he has been out quite late and is unhappy at being aroused. His displeasure dissipates when he learns that a ship is in the harbor, a Russian ship with a lady on board, a real lady.
The ship needs official permission to put its passengers ashore. Kyril can assure the governor that the lady is neither old nor plain, but he can furnish no information on whether or not she has knobby knees. The governor’s wife, Princess Tatiana (Elsa Lanchester), is suitably surprised to see him up at this hour, but assumes it is because he is interested in meeting the ship—especially since she is traveling with only a maid.
How can his wife think him so foolish? the Prince sputters. It is not his foolishness she objects to, she coos, but his remorse afterward. It seems the Prince’s peccadilloes in the past have caused him to be assigned to this wilderness outpost instead of Paris.
On board the ship, the beautiful Natalia Alanova (Ilona Massey), daughter of General Alanov, is greeted by an enthusiastic governor and his overly cordial wife. Princess Tatiana invites Natalia to stay with them and inquires why a beautiful woman would prefer the wilderness. “A matter of health, your highness,” Natalia replies coolly.
In her quarters at the governor’s house, Natalia prepares to dress for dinner. Her maid, Olga (Tamara Shayne), suggests one of her most devastating gowns. “It will arouse the men to thoughts of valor.” “And the ladies to thoughts of murder,” Natalia decides and chooses a plainer gown. Outside the window, a perfectly trained male chorus is heard singing in four part harmony. It is the convicts, trudging past in their shackles. Natalia searches their faces for the one she has come to find. He is not there, though he sailed before they did. Perhaps, Olga suggests, the convict ship is slower and has not arrived yet. In the meantime, the Prince may be persuaded to help. Already there is a gleam in his eye.
To keep it there, Natalia changes to the devastating gown and dazzles the after-dinner gathering with “Tell Me with Your Eyes,” getting the Prince to join her. The men of the outpost gather around the piano as the ladies gather around the Princess to discuss the intruder. Perhaps her “reasons of health” had something to do with a court scandal. Perhaps the Czarina asked her to leave.
In any event, the Prince is soon escorting Natalia to the garden. “It was your fifth tea, before you meandered among the camellias,” the Princess chides one of her husband’s former lady friends who has been casting aspersions on Natalia.
In the moonlit garden, Natalia thanks the governor for taking her in, especially since they know so little about her. Oh, the Prince assures her, he doesn’t like to know too much about anybody. Besides, his very efficient Captain Laurence will find out all that is necessary. Captain Laurence is an American who led the first wagon train west to Monterey and is now in the employ of the fort. Of course, his real employer is probably the American government which has territorial eyes on the west when Russia leaves. In the meantime, the Mexicans love and trust the captain, which is fortunate since they don’t trust the Russians. (This was during the period of disillusion with our wartime comrades and just before the McCarthy hearings.) Captain Laurence does all the work, leaving the Prince time for play.
However, the Prince warns when he sees the expectant gleam in her eye, the Captain could decorate the walls of his quarters with frustrated female hearts. “A man who collects hearts usually hasn’t got a heart of his own,” Natalia comments. Not at all, the Prince assures her. He has got a heart—for his horse.
This is the cue for the entrance of Captain Jim Laurence (Nelson) leading his men on horseback while singing “One More Mile to Go.” There are some effective if arty shots of the crowd surging toward the fort gate to welcome their hero. Captain Jim is handsomely weather-stained in fringed leather jacket (Naughty Marietta) and black cowboy hat (The Girl of the Golden West). He is greeted by an ineptly blown bugle call and the ceremonious presentation of a variety of scrolls and trophies. One of them is a handsome court sword from the Czar himself. The Prince leans toward the light, trying to read the exact title on the sword. “Damocles?” suggests Jim. “That will do,” smiles the relieved Prince.
The formalities over, the Prince affectionately welcomes his old friend and catches him up on the new arrival. He can’t praise Natalia enough. Her voice is like a silver bell, her eyes are like twin sapphires, her hair is like spun gold. “She is a woman you’d take to paradise!” “From your description, I’d rather take her to a pawn shop,” Jim replies.
Natalia’s laughter interrupts them. The Princess tactfully calls her husband away, and Jim and Natalia are left to make conversation. Champagne is sent in. Jim inspects Natalia’s papers and then toasts the official who signed Mademoiselle’s passport—who unfortunately died six months before the date on the papers. He returns her papers without further comment and they drink.
One of Jim’s first duties at the fort is to check up on the convicts. He comes upon the overseer, Volkoff (Peter Whitney), whipping an elderly prisoner who cannot lift a heavy stone. Snatching the whip from him, Jim orders Volkoff to lift the stone himself. Natalia rides up just in time to witness the scene. Volkoff strains at the rock while Jim lashes him as Volkoff had lashed the old man. “Don’t order a man to do something you can’t do yourself,” Jim tells him and hurls the forbidden whip into the bushes.
The movement startles Natalia’s horse. The beast rears and darts away over the stony terrain with the lady clinging frantically to its back. Jim gallops after her and manages to stop her horse just at the edge of a cliff. He apologizes and seats her on a rock so that she can admire the view—“if you can forget you nearly became part of it.” Natalia thanks him.
She is now doubly in his debt, first the passport business and now this. They discuss her reasons for forging a passport—her father, General Alanov, has enemies—and his reasons for working for the Russians—when American settlers come west, he wants to be sure the Russians have left things in “good order.” He is referring to the prisoners. “Don’t they ever escape?” she asks. Not often, he tells her. If they do, they usually succumb to the Indians, the wild animals, or the sea. If they evade all these, he brings them back “tamer and more philosophical.” Natalia shudders as the prisoner’s song is heard. She tells Jim that the Prince has referred to California as a ripe plum. Jim must not want any worms in it when America picks it. “When a plum is ripe, you don’t have to pick it,” he tells her, helping her onto her horse. She slides back into his arms for a long kiss. “I deserved that,” she murmurs. “You got it,” he replies.
After dinner that night, Natalia is still pensive. Jim invites her to see something from the stockade. The Princess takes advantage of their absence to speculate on Natalia’s past and future. She wonders what will happen if Jim falls in love with Natalia but she departs. Even more tragic, her husband comments, what if Jim gets tired of her and she stays?
Jim helps Natalia up the ladder to the stockade lookout tower and points to the prisoner ship that has just arrived in the harbor. On it are six peasants and, oh, yes, a Captain Igor Savin of the Imperial Guards. In a duel of words, Jim implies that she might have some romantic interest in the Captain, but she assures him she has sentimental ties to no man. Besides, she thought he was immune to women. Not immune, he replies, just cautious. Caution may make him a lonely man, she warns, and sings him the film’s love song, “Raindrops on a Drum,” a pleasant tune with an impossible lyric.
Jim is certain, despite Natalia’s carefully worded denial, that she has come to Fort Ross to find Captain Savin. He seeks out the only one who can understand both his official and personal problems—the Princess. She is in the garden, embroidering on a lace cloth stretched on a vertical frame. Much of the scene is filmed through the lace, giving a nice if slightly pretentious sense of intimacy to the scene. The Princess’s advice is to ignore the rules and make it possible for Natalia to speak to Captain Savin. That is the only way Jim will ever know for sure.
Alarm bells interrupt their conversation. Indians have attacked in the north and Jim must ride immediately. He summons Natalia and tells her there is a visitor for her in his office. If, after speaking with him, she still has no sentimental ties to Igor Savin, she is to take the next ship for Russia. “This is goodbye, Natalia Alanova. God bless you.” He rides off.
Natalia enters the dim office to face Captain Igor Savin—her husband. Igor (Joseph Schildkraut) is pleased to see that she has kept her word and followed him. Now, if she will help him escape, he will not betray her father, the only undiscovered conspirator in their aborted coup. To save her father, Natalia has bought Igor’s silence by marrying him. To save her “husband,” Igor suggests that she offer herself to Captain Laurence. With a bitter smile, Natalia informs him that Jim has gone to fight the Indians. Igor answers that he can wait.
The warm-hearted Princess finds Natalia crying and extracts the whole story from her. The Princess suggests that the easiest way to be rid of Igor would be to help him escape. Under the circumstances it would be quite correct to trick Jim. When a man breaks the law for a woman, the Princess says, he generally feels very noble about it. The Princess is sure Jim will take care of the uprising and be home in time for Easter.
Igor is making plans of his own. The detestable guard Volkoff also wants to escape and proposes that he and Igor go together. Volkoff takes the only valuable Igor has left, the jeweled Cross of St. George, to sell for food and horses. “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi,” comments Igor philosophically as he hands over his precious cross—and then obligingly translates for the peasants in the audience.
The fort gloomily prepares for an Easter without their men. Providentially, music is heard in the distance, and the men come riding home to great celebration. Now it will really be a happy Easter. Natalia runs out to greet Jim, but he deliberately ignores her. The Princess pats Natalia consolingly. She will be able to see him that night at the Easter service.
In a tiny chapel, the rich and poor of the fort stand holding the traditional candles of Russian Easter and sing the ancient music. Somewhat surprisingly, the American Jim sings the solo portions. Even the prisoners are present in their shackles. Igor takes this opportunity to pass a note to Natalia reminding her of the fate that awaits her father if she fails him. The bells ring to the announcement “Christ is risen,” and the congregation kiss each other in the traditional joyous celebration. Natalia turns expectantly to Jim, but again he avoids her.
Natalia’s maid, Olga, suggests that she send Jim a note asking to meet him at the Easter feast. Natalia sits, pen in hand and imagines first the voice of Igor threatening her father and then that of the Princess suggesting that she trick Jim to be rid of Igor. She hesitates, then writes.
Jim’s duties are going to keep him from the feast, that is, until he gets Natalia’s provocative note. In her room, Natalia selects her most seductive gown and takes a shot of brandy. Tonight she must be foolishly wise.
At the ball, she swirls through the dancing couples by herself, singing “Love Is the Time.” Jim follows her and she turns to find herself in his embrace. They waltz.
The Prince is romancing his new amour, Katushka (the great stage actress, Lenore Ulric), behind a bush in the garden when the Princess and two gentlemen appear on the terrace. One of the men is Katushka’s husband, Baron Kruposny (George Sorel). Urged on by the Princess, he has bet a fellow guest that he can shoot down two Easter eggs in a row. The Princess tosses them into the air, directly over the heads of the cowering couple. Bang. Bang. Perfect! Covered with eggshells, the Prince gets the message. He follows the Princess and begs her to help him retrieve some love letters. This husband can read…
It is a night for rendezvous. Jim and Natalia meet on top of the stockade overlooking the ocean where the full moon seems never to set. They make up, and Jim gives her an Easter present, his Cross of St. George presented to him by the Czar. As far as he knows, it is the only one in California. He takes up the song from the feast, “Nearer and Dearer,” and she joins him.
Natalia cannot bring herself to deceive him, so instead she slips into the jail and gives Igor her jewels to aid his escape. She even strips the rings from her fingers. For a moment she considers Jim’s cross on a ribbon around her neck, but decides she cannot bear to part with that. When she has gone, Igor passes the jewels to Volkoff who adds Igor’s Cross of St. George to the collection.
The next morning, the Prince finds that his beloved Princess has been able to recover the love letters he foolishly wrote the lady with the marksman husband. How did she do it? he inquires delightedly.
Simple, she replies. She has circulated a rumor that the full moon brings out the Prince’s homicidal as well as amorous nature. The Prince is horrified. What if the rumor got back to St. Petersburg? “Then half of Her Majesty’s ladies-in-waiting will boast that they have looked death in the face—time and time again.”
All during the day, Natalia and Olga await word that Igor has escaped. Everything is ominously quiet. At last Natalia decides to go to Jim’s office. She must know. She will tell him the truth and then return to Russia. “There is only one truth, Madame,” says Olga. “You love him.”
Natalia arrives at headquarters just as word reaches Jim that Igor has escaped. Jim leaps on his adjutant’s horse and orders two men to follow him, fanning out to prevent the escapee’s doubling back. Igor and Volkoff have a good start, but Volkoff’s horse falls, and he is forced to double-mount with Igor.
Soon their horse tires, and Volkoff sends Igor ahead while he waits to ambush Jim. A shot and Jim falls. Leaving him for dead, Volkoff takes Jim’s horse and sets off after Igor. Meanwhile, one of the soldiers finds some of the jewels that fell from Volkoff’s pocket when his horse threw him.
Republic’s familiarity with the western genre is here all too evident, for the chase sequence continues for quite a while, with the orchestra rising in ominous harmonics more suited to a Saturday afternoon serial.
Jim regains consciousness and returns to the fort. He confronts Natalia with the jewels. She has betrayed her country and, worst of all, she has betrayed him. Among the jewels is a Cross of St. George. He ignores her protests and tells her she will leave for Russia immediately. A Chinese junk is waiting to take her.
Igor, of course, has arranged his escape with the sinister Captain of the junk (Henry Brandon, the Fu Manchu of serials who looks only slightly Chinese.) When Natalia boards the ship, she finds Igor happy to renew her acquaintance on the long sea voyage ahead. The weeping Olga takes her leave from Kyril, the Prince’s valet, on the dock. Their romantic interlude comes to an end when Kyril spots Igor through a porthole and rushes off to tell Jim.
He learns that Jim Laurence has resigned, so he must convey this news to the Prince. The startled Princess finds the Prince loading his pistol to go after Igor. If he is successful, he will be able to unite a married woman with someone other than himself. The delighted Princess sends a messenger to find Captain Laurence.
On the Chinese junk, the Prince is soon overpowered by Igor. The Princess and Jim gallop up, and Jim performs a daring leap (obviously performed by a stunt man) swinging from the deck of the ship, out over the water and back in the window of the cabin where Igor is about to blow out the brains of the Prince. The Saturday matinee “shoot-out” syndrome takes over again amidst crashing, crushing orchestration.
Of course, Captain Laurence manages to save Natalia and the Prince. Igor is conveniently shot dead in the scuffle, and Jim can now escort the beautiful widow back to the fort. The Prince and Princess too are happily reunited. They follow the mounted Jim and Natalia in a carriage, surrounded by singing chorus. Natalia shows Jim his Cross of St. George still on the ribbon around her neck. “The Czar is entirely too free with those things,” Jim comments, and they sing a chorus of “Love Is the Time,” trotting along toward the camera in a Naughty Marietta finish.
Northwest Outpost is a pleasant film, but a distinctly minor note on which to end Eddy’s film career. As a “swan song” it was something of a personal triumph, for he looked good and sang better. But, like Garbo, he knew when to quit. He was forty-six. Europe and England have always had a definite veneration and place for their older performers, but America is consumer-oriented. Old products and old stars alike are generally cast aside in favor of the newer models. Each generation seeks its own unique self-image by discarding the favorites of its elders.
Thus in the late 1940s, Nelson Eddy recognized that he might not make another movie. Radio, which had made such good use of his talents, was about to be replaced by television and the “top forty.” The extensive concert circuits of fifteen years earlier had already succumbed to radio and the phonograph, which made music a part of everyday life. Nelson Eddy had to make a basic decision. Was he going to continue as a performer, and if so, what was he going to do?
“Apart from a strangely disturbing feeling that Northwest Outpost belonged to a distant, languid and more ingenuous past, this romantic musical seemed designed to neither stimulate nor greatly depress an interested viewer,” wrote A.H. Weiler in the New York Times. “It has been a proverbial month of Sundays since Mr. Eddy has raised his resonant baritone for the sound cameras.”
And director Peter Bogdanovich describes an interview with Northwest Outpost director Allan Dwan in his book Allan Dwan, The Last Pioneer, published by Praeger, 1971:
PB: I felt you were definitely making fun of the material in the film, and of the stars, particularly Nelson Eddy.
AD: Yes, of course. Nelson Eddy was the ham of hams—a nice guy, but he wanted to play a cowboy above all things. So he got as near to a cowboy as he could in this. But the whole subject matter was peculiar— Russian atmosphere up in California— which did exist—but we had an English woman playing a Russian Princess and a German playing a Russian—all kinds of dialects playing Russians. And a lot of White Russians. The best thing in the picture was the Easter episode in the church which was authentic because I just turned the Russians loose and said “I want a real Russian Easter” and they put it on. Even provided all the food and conducted the church services the way they should be. We got a hold of a good Orthodox priest of theirs who was hiding somewhere behind his beard. We had fun with that. But Nelson Eddy riding down the street into town with a lot of Cossacks singing “hullabaloo”— that’s for the birds.
PB: So you made fun of it?
AD: Why not? Why suffer?
Eddy recorded a 78 RPM album, “Northwest Outpost,” which contains six songs:
“Love Is the Time”
“Nearer and Dearer”
“One More Mile to Go”
“Raindrops on a Drum”
“Russian Easter Hymn”
“Tell Me with Your Eyes”
All music is by Rudolf Friml, all lyrics by Edward Heyman. In listing performers after each title, “and” denotes a genuine duet, while commas between names indicate a sequence of singers.
Overture: “Raindrops on a Drum” (The American G.I. Chorus)
“Weary” (The American G.I. Chorus)
“Tell Me with Your Eyes” (Ilona Massey, reprised by Hugo Haas)
“One More Mile to Go” (Eddy with the American G.I. Chorus)
“Weary” reprise (The American G.I. Chorus)
“Raindrops on a Drum” (Massey, Eddy)
Russian Easter Hymn (Eddy and chorus) – traditional, including “Slava” (Praise) and
“Paskha Nova” (New Easter).
“Love is the Time” (Massey)
“Nearer and Dearer” (chorus, Eddy, Massey)
“Weary” reprise (bass, American G.I. Chorus)
Finale: “Love is the Time” reprise (Eddy and Massey with chorus)