4 March 2008 | JohnHowardReid
Scariest Forest Fire Ever!
One of the studio's most expensive pictures of the year, you'd think this super-exciting Universal production would rate more than a footnote in "The Universal Story". But that's the way it goes. Critics rarely take northerns seriously.
Admittedly, this one takes a while to get going. But as it turns out, that's all to the good, as we don't see the first half of the movie in its original sepia format but in a black-and-white dupe. But wow! That second half is where all the action is, and Grapevine's DVD has the most exciting tints I've ever seen in my life, including, for the most part, a really scary double layer of blue and red. Easily the most realistic, suspenseful and hideously realistic fire sequence ever!
Universal publicity claims that Willat and company set a real forest on fire. I hope not. But it sure looks like it. Willat was once renowned as the supreme master of spectacular action movies like "All the Brothers Were Valiant", "Wanderer of the Waste Land", "North of 36", "Back to God's Country" and the 1929 "Isle of Lost Ships". But mention the name, Irwin Willat, at a film buffs' convention and nobody gives a hoot. Say, "Sam Wood!" and ears prick up everywhere.
It's true that Conrad Nagel is not exactly a charismatic hero, but neither is the hero of Beach's story. Nagel is exactly right for the part, as is Whitlock for the heavy, and Miss Adorée for the vacillating heroine.