Northwest Passage, which hit a negative cost of nearly $2 million, is a fine epic adventure. The picture carries through only the first half of the novel [by Kenneth Roberts] and is so designated in the main title. The title is misleading from an historical standpoint as it only covers the one expedition through upper New York state to the St Lawrence territory where the village of a hostile tribe is wiped out.
Spencer Tracy is brilliantly impressive as the dominating and driving leader of Rogers’ Rangers, a band of 160 trained settlers inducted into service to clean up the hostile tribes to make homes and families safe. Robert Young, as the Harvardian who joins the Rangers to sketch Indians, has a more virile role than others assigned him and turns in a fine performance. Walter Brennan provides a typically fine characterization as the friend of Young.
There’s a peculiar fascination in the unfolding of the historical narrative and adventure of the inspired band on the march to and from the Indian village. It’s a continual battle against natural hazards, possible sudden attacks by ambushing enemies, and a display of indomitable courage to drive through swamps and over mountains for days at a time without food. It’s grim and stark drama of those pioneers who blazed trails through the wilderness to make living in this country safe for their families and descendants.
1940: Nomination: Best Color Cinematography