Clash of the Wolves / Where the North Begins Blu-ray Review: A Rin Tin Tin Double Feature

Kino Classics and the Library of Congress present a Rin Tin Tin double feature with Clash of the Wolves / Where the North Begins, now on Blu-ray. As the opening title cards for North states, Rin Tin Tin was a German Shepard found on a WWI battlefield. He was brought to California and became an international movie star who, as legend has it, saved Warner Brothers from bankruptcy. This release presents two of the dog’s most notable films.

Selected for preservation in the National Film Registry, Clash of the Wolves (1925) has been restored in 4K and given a new musical score composed and performed by Ben Model. Rin Tin Tin plays Lobo, a half-breed wolf that combines the strength of a wolf with the intelligence of a dog. First seen rescuing his pups from a forest fire in the High Sierras, he leads his pack into the desert.

A romance brews between Dave Weston (Charles Farrell), a tenderfoot prospecting for borax, and May Barstowe (June Marlowe), the daughter of rancher Sam Barstowe (Will Walling), who is against their romance and is angered that his cattle is being eaten by Lobo’s pack. William Horton (Pat Hartigan) is a conman who wants to steal Dave’s land claim and May.

Lobo’s paw is pierced by a cactus thorn. Worried that the pack will turn on him in his weakened condition, Lobo ventures off to die alone. Dave find him and removes the thorn, leading Lobo to become his dog and help against the villain Horton, bringing to mind Aesop’s “The Lion and the Mouse”. Heinie Conklin plays Alkali Bill, the comic relief who has the ridiculous idea to disguise Lobo with a beard so no one will recognize him. Somehow it works.

Rin Tin Tin is well trained and vary athletic, making huge leaps and fighting with humans, although there are a few moments where it’s obvious the human actor is wrestling with a dummy. It’s also impressive how he pretends to have an injured paw. (Hope that was acting, although I’m not sure how active the ASPCA was in Hollywood at this point.) The film is less interesting when he isn’t on screen.

The video has been given a 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. A good variety of grays, but blacks lack in richness. There are multiple frame-length vertical scratches. A scene with Lobo’s family suffers emulsion loss. There is occasional soft focus, which is a source issue. The title cards experience jitter.

Restored in 2K with a musical score composed and performed by John C. Mirsalis, Where the North Begins (1923) is Rin Tin Tin’s first starring role. Set in Canada, a young pup is being transported by dogsled, but when the crate he is traveling in falls off, he is raised by timber wolves.

Shad Galloway (Pat Hartigan) offers Gabrielle Dupree (Walter McGrail) $500 to transport furs, a dangerous task that no one has survived, but he accepts so he can marry Felice McTavish (Claire Adams) and together raise his late friend’s orphaned child. It turns out that Shad has been having the men transporting the furs killed by “The Fox” (Charles Stevens), so Shad can make all the money from selling them rather than the company. Shad also sees this as a way to get Felice for himself even though he already has Marie (Myrtle Owen).

Dupree is attacked and left for dead. Before a wolf attacks an unconscious Dupree, the Wolf-Dog (Rin Tin Tin) saves him. Together, they return to the outpost. Shad comes up with another way to get rid of Dupree and works to frame him for the loss of furs. The Wolf Dog is instrumental in revealing the truth, although his jealously towards the child complicates his relationship with Dupree.

The video has been given a 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The image has been tinted, the beginning is sepia and then becomes pink. There is a lot more damage in this print, with some scratches so big they are gouges. The emulsion loss almost creates a light flicker in scene where Dupree returns and meets with authorities. There are soft focus issues. When Dupree is trapped in the snow, a hair can be seen and the frames judder vertically.

The only Special Feature is a commentary on Clash by film historian Anthony Slide.

Clash of the Wolves / Where the North Begins serves as a wonderful snapshot of a bygone star and era. Although the films are in need of restoration, the Kino Classics Blu-ray provides a great service in preserving these important pieces of Hollywood history. Fans should be pleased and this disc makes a great introduction to those new to Rin Tin Tin.

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Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site. "I'm making this up as I go" - Indiana Jones

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