Northern Pursuit (1943): Walsh’s WWII Adventure, Starring Errol Flynn

Raoul Walsh directed Northern Pursuit, an adventure set in Canada during the early years of WWII, starring Errol Flynn as member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), who tries to uncover a Nazi plot against the Allied war effort.

A.I. Bezzerides wrote the first draft, based on a magazine story, under the supervision of Jesse L. Lasky, and later William Faulkner and Thomas Job contributed to the final script.

After a German U-boat drops off Nazi saboteurs, RCMP Corporal Wagner (Flynn) captures the leader, Colonel Hugo von Keller (Helmut Dantine), the only survivor after an avalanche wipes out the rest of the group.

Wagner persuades his colleague to go to report and allow von Keller to recover. Von Keller discovers that Wagner speaks German and is of German ancestry, and probes his views on the war.

Wagner appears potentially sympathetic to the German cause. However, the RCMP suspect Wagner of disloyalty and dispatch a patrol to bring both men in. Wagner, seemingly under suspicion of being a Nazi sympathizer, asks to be discharged from the force.

After being sent to a prisoner of war camp, von Keller leads an escape of other German soldiers. Wagner is then contacted by Ernst Willis (Gene Lockhart), an enemy agent, who hires him as a wilderness guide.

Wagner and his new confederate set out for the north by train, while a Mountie who makes contact with Wagner is killed by the agent. Wagner is taken to von Keller and convinces him that he is loyal to Germany and can guide him through the Canadian wilderness to a mysterious destination.

Meanwhile fiancee Laura McBain (Julie Bishop) is held as a hostage to ensure his loyalty but Wagner, acting as a double agent, manages to send a message to police headquarters to alert them of the Nazi saboteurs’ plans.

Mountie Jim Austin (John Ridgely) follows their trail, but is spotted and killed, along with Willis and a native Canadian porter, before the group reaches a mine shaft where bomber components have been hidden. The mission is to bomb the main waterway between the US and Canada to disrupt shipping of war materials.

In the last reel, Wagner escapes, climbing aboard the aircraft, and parachuting to safety before the bomber crashes. After recovering from his wounds incurred on board the aircraft, he and Laura marry.

A propaganda film, Northern Pursuit was sort of a companion piece to Flynn’s earlier Desperate Journey (1942).

Flynn had recently been embroiled in a real-life scandal, and his acquittal in a rape trial helped boost the feature’s box-office appeal. Warner made sure to emphasize that Flynn’s character is a faithful lover.  Nonetheless, after assuring fiancee Laura that she’s the only woman he’s ever loved, he turns away and quips, “What am I saying?”

Released on November 1, 1943, the film was commercially successful, earning $1.94 million domestically and $1.31 million internationally.

Black and white

Running time: 93 minutes.

End Note:

TCM enabled me to revisit the film, showing it on April 30, 2019.