A remake of a 1920 silent film of the same name (AFI catalog), The Silver Horde is as much about the business of salmon fishing in Alaska as it is a romance. In a fairly detailed sequence, we are shown the details behind the salmon that arrived on the shelf of consumers from the moment the fish are caught until the can is sealed and labeled. And just to be sure that the viewer knows that this is a part of the film, we see both Joel McCrea and Raymond Hatton working on the assembly line. Salmon fishing (in this case, coho salmon) is a major industry in Alaska - school children are taught about the five kinds of salmon, it is that important - and this one episode emphasizes that. More to the point, the industrialization of the salmon fishing would have been an exotic and unique process to the general filmgoer; this segment proves both educational and a quick glimpse of the past of an important food industry. The film, by the way, was actually shot on location in Ketchikan, Alaska (TCM article).
This was the first teaming of Joel McCrea and Jean Arthur (they would do two more films together). However, Ms. Arthur is not the star here. Evelyn Brent (Cherry Malotte) is. Ms. Brent had long experience as a silent actress - she started in films in 1914. She's quite good in this film, playing a tough and knowing woman, who has made her money in Alaska working as a prostitute, and is now the owner of a successful copper mine. Ms. Brent worked steadily, well into the 1940s, though she did most of her later work in B films, or at Poverty Row studios. When she retired from acting in 1950, she became an agent (she would make one television appearance in 1960 - on an episode of Wagon Train). Married three times, she died of a heart attack in 1975 at the age of 75. Unfortunately, many of her silent films have been listed as lost.
This was Joel McCrea's second major role and he was pretty much on an upward trajectory for the rest of his career. He's sincere and attractive as Boyd; he manages to keep your sympathy and interest even after he is verbally cruel to Cherry. Mr. McCrea was always an interesting actor AND an interesting man. While many actors who were not in the military played soldiers in movies, Joel McCrea refused to wear a uniform in any of his films. Unable to serve in the Armed Forces, he felt that for him to appear in uniform was disrespectful to those who were serving (TCM article). He loved westerns, and in his later years would only appear in them. After his retirement, he worked on his ranch, where he lived with his wife, Frances Dee (they had three children, and were ultimately married for 57 years) until his death at 84 in 1990.
Blanche Sweet, who plays Queenie, was a notable silent actress, but her career just didn't take off in sound films. She's quite sassy as Queenie, serving to tie up some plot loose ends and to give us a tiny glimpse into Cherry's past. This film, was in fact, her last until 1959 when she appeared in an uncredited role in The Five Pennies (she also did a few television appearances around this time). She continued to work in radio, and on stage. She had married Raymond Hackett in 1935; after his death, she moved on to a new part of her life - she worked on film preservation. She served on the Board of Directors of the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures was a consultant to the Department of Film of the Museum of Modern Art. (New York Times obit). She also appeared in Before the Nickelodeon: The Early Cinema of Edwin S. Porter (1982). Ms. Sweet died of a stroke in 1986, at age 90. Her ashes were scattered in the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.
The New York Times review was not particularly complimentary in their evaluation of the film, though they were very enthusiastic about the work of Blanche Sweet. While not a great film, The Silver Horde really has a lot going for it, especially the opportunity to see two future stars before they got their starts. We'll leave you with this scene of Joel McCrea, looking rather hunky as he fights for his place in the community: