10 March 2005 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
I just can't get Inuit.
I was able to screen an incomplete print of this early talkie, which features some impressive use of music and ambient sound. The star of the film is Lenore Ulric, who was a popular actress on Broadway (often co-starring with her husband Sidney Blackmer), yet who never caught on in movies ... probably because, although she possessed some glamour, she was not conventionally beautiful. The villain in this film is well-played by Ullrich Haupt, making this the only film in history to feature an actress named Ulric and an actor named Ullrich.
The action takes place in Alaska in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush. Lenore Ulric plays Talu (short for Tallulah?), the offspring of an Eskimo woman and a white man. Despite being half-caste, somehow she's managed to harpoon a husband: Lanak, a full-blooded Eskimo. Matters are not helped by the fact that Lenore Ulric wears neatly-tailored furs in this film while her fellow Eskimos clump about in crude skins. Also, she attempts an accent in some scenes but not in others.
Along comes a trading vessel, captained by Jones with Duke as his first mate. (Some weak comic relief from Louis Wolheim.) Talu, who hopes to get an igloo with a white picket fence, stows away on Jones's ship and then becomes his mistress. Little does she know that Lanak is in cold pursuit, following her by kayak.
There's a reel missing, but when the snow settles we're in Nome and Talu is now a dance-hall girl. I was hoping she would perform under the stage name Eskimo Nell. The other dance-hall gals shun her because of her mixed blood. The climactic showdown gave me frostbite.
Warren Hymer is one of my all-time favourite character actors: I was pleased to see him here in one of his earliest roles, but disappointed that he had so little to do. Based on what I saw, I'll rate this movie 4 in 10. Lenore Ulric's acting technique was better suited for the stage.