The Spoilers (1942) is a film about staking and defending gold claims. It’s also about Stealing and Muscling In on claims, because that’s how gold affects some folks.
Every man in Nome is half in love with her, it seems, and Why Not. She owns a prosperous business, she has an unbelievable collection of designer gowns, and she’s Marlene Dietrich for pete sake.
Although she’s groomed to a glittering T, Dietrich is an extraordinarily tough dame. In one scene, a fight breaks out in her saloon, and Marlene quickly puts an End to it. “There’ll be no fights here,” she quips, “unless they’re over me.”
Her heart belongs to John Wayne, an ambitious but honest prospector who loves mining as much as he loves her. His friend and business partner, Harry Carey, is a decent, cynical man who trusts and respects Wayne – as long as the gold remains intact.
But look! Here’s a new man in town, the chiseled-jawed Randolph Scott, Gold Commissioner. Scott is a Take Charge kind of fellow, much like Wayne, and, like Wayne, he’s fallen for Dietrich.
Added to this mix is another newcomer in town, Margaret Lindsay, who only has Eyes for Wayne, and she’s arrived with her uncle, a judge who’s come to Lay Down the Law on these gold-fevered hooligans.
So. We have Scott and Wayne wanting to claim Dietrich, Dietrich and Lawrence wanting to claim Wayne, and everyone wanting to claim gold. But Randolph and the judge (Samuel S. Hinds) have Ideas of their own.
This bureaucratic pair aim to establish the legitimacy of claims in the region, once and fer all, because a good bureaucrat knows Red Tape always makes things better. So Scott and Hinds start with the lucrative Wayne-Carey claim.
Carey is immediately suspicious of this sudden legal interest, but Wayne wants to cooperate. After all, authorities only ever have people’s best interests at heart, and Wayne gives them permission to temporarily confiscate their property until the court session the following week.
Alas, Scott and Hinds take Wayne’s gold to the bank for “safe keeping”. This means Wayne and Carey can’t access their capital, nor can they obtain a loan from the bank to hire a lawyer.
Also: The judge delays their case for 90 days until he can properly, um, consider the evidence. And what can Wayne and Carey do about it? Nothing. The clever bureaucrats have, er, reallocated this mine + assets in a Bait And Switch, and then called it The Law.
Memo to Bureaucrats: See what you can accomplish when you convince people you’re the Ultimate Authority? They will believe you! Suckers! Now get out there and figure out how to best profit from it.
Also: Don’t be put off by people calling you a “Spoiler”. It just means they’re jealous of your power and ingenuity.
It’s a compliment, really.
The Spoilers is adapted from the 1906 novel by American author Rex Beach, who loosely based the story on his real-life experiences in the Nome Gold Rush. Even though some critics were less than enamoured with Beach’s overall body of work, this novel was adapted to film five (5!) times.
You should know the 1942 version has some racial stereotyping, which is too bad, because the film has a lot of funny lines, and makes good use of supporting characters, who are always spinning yarns about gold prospecting.
If you’re in a mood for a Western disguised as a well-dressed Alaskan adventure, give The Spoilers a go.
The Spoilers: starring Marlene Dietrich, Randolph Scott, John Wayne. Directed by Ray Enright. Written by Lawrence Hazard & Tom Reed. Universal Pictures, 1942, B&W, 87 mins.