James Houston’s 1971 book, subtitled An Eskimo Saga, is the springboard for this production. Both limn the tale of how a trio of whaleboaters, stranded in the late 1890s near the North Pole, interact with and nearly destroy the band of Eskimos who saved their lives. But while the book had a logic and sensitivity of its own, the film version emerges as a static narrative.
Essentially, the three whalers bring familiar baggage to the pristine setting of the Eskimo village – they find ways of making booze, they gamble, they take advantage of village women, they steal, etc. Although each member of the trio is by no means uniform in his misconduct – Billy (Warren Oates) is easily the most nefarious – collective behaviour is at first accepted by the Eskimos, then tolerated and then viewed with a deepseated displeasure.
Oates is properly blustery as the roistering older sea hand.