25 February 2006 | bkoganbing
United Artists did not proceed with caution.
Kenneth Roberts, newspaperman and writer of some marvelous historical novels about early America, got lucky in 1940 when two of his best selling novels were adapted into film. The first was Northwest Passage which MGM gave the A treatment with Spencer Tracy. And then there was this film adaption of Captain Caution which takes place in the opening weeks of the War of 1812.
Roberts's novels are long and complex and I got the feeling that a lot of character development was sacrificed for action. Certainly the action sequences were well done and Victor Mature in one of his earliest films made a dashing hero. And the film got an Oscar nomination for Best Sound recording.
Yet things seemed to move a little too quick. MGM when dong Northwest Passage wisely decided the novel was too long to make an entire film out of it. They concentrated on the first part about Roger's Rangers and their contribution to the French and Indian War. There were plans for a sequel, but they eventually came to naught. But they had a complete film in just what they used.
I got the feeling in Captain Caution that they tried to get the whole book in and did a slipshod job in adapting it. It's not a bad film, but it could have been a whole lot better.
Louise Platt was fresh from her triumph in Stagecoach and plays the lady owner of an American merchant vessel that gets attacked by a British navy frigate. The Americans don't know they're at war and get attacked by surprise. Louise's father, Robert Barrat, is killed and she develops an understandable case of anglophobia. And she's put out quite a bit that her intended Victor Mature isn't all fired up to turn their merchant vessel into a privateer. She gravitates towards the villainous Bruce Cabot who has his own ideas and they don't necessarily mesh with Louise's.
Alan Ladd has a small bit role as an American who was impressed into the British Navy. That was done quite a bit right before the War of 1812. He's a prisoner because he resisted the idea. I'm sure the folks at Paramount must have noticed this part because two years later, Ladd made his break out film for Paramount in This Gun for Hire.
I look at Captain Caution and wonder what might have happened if it had been done at MGM the way Northwest Passage was done.