Silver Horde, The (1930): Pre-Code Melodrama, Starring Joel McCrea and Jean Arthur

Shot on location in Ketcikan, Alaska, The Silver Horde is a pre-Code romantic melodrama, starring Joel McCrea at his most handsome, as a fisherman torn between two very different women, played by Evelyn Brent and Jean Arthur before she became a star.

Directed by George Archainbaud from a script by Wallace Smith, it is the second adaptation of the 1909 novel of the same name by Rex Beach, a follow- up to his earlier novel, The Spoilers. The first version was a silent 1920 film also titled The Silver Horde.

The title refers to the salmon fishing industry, and the color of the fish.

Boyd Emerson (McCrea) and Fraser (Raymond Hatton) arrive in town by dog slade to a chilly welcome from its inhabitants. Frustrated, Boyd gets into a fight with George Balt, which is broken up by Cherry Malotte (Evelyn Brent). She invites the newcomers to dinner, noting the bitter struggle between two rival fishing groups, hers and Fred Marsh’s.

Boyd, ready to give up his search for gold, is persuaded by Cherry to join her side. She sends him, Fraser and Balt to Seattle to get a loan of $200,000 from Cherry’s banker friend, Tom Hilliard, to rebuild a cannery.

Boyd goes to see his socialite fiancée, Mildred Wayland (Jean Arthur) who is determined to marry him, despite her father’s objections. When Marsh provokes him, Boyd blurts out his plans. Wayne, Wayland and Marsh then succeed in having Cherry’s financing withdrawn.

Cherry has fallen in love with Boyd, but he explains that the young man already has a girlfriend. Cherry then secures the loan by taking up Hilliard’s offer to go to his apartment. Boyd assumes, however, that it was due to Mildred’s influence with her father.

Returning to Alaska with new machinery and Balt’s crew, Boyd gets the cannery running in time for the annual salmon run. When Marsh sends his men to wreck their equipment, a brawl breaks out.

Marsh tells Mildred that Cherry is a notorious prostitute. He also lies, saying that Cherry got the loan by spending the night with Hilliard at Boyd’s insistence, and that she is more than Boyd’s business partner. Mildred ends her engagement, despite protests from Boyd, who, meanwhile, breaks up with Cherry.

Concerned about Boyd’s happiness, Cherry contacts a friend in her former trade, Queenie (Blanche Sweet in her final screen role). The two board the Wayland yacht, where Cherry proves that Queenie is Marsh’s wife. Cherry then convinces Mildred that, while she loves Boyd, nothing happened between them.

When Boyd shows up, Mildred is eager to take him back, but in love with Cherry, he tells her that he cares only about their future.