I love old movies and stayed up way too late last night watching Northwest Passage (1940) in which Spencer Tracy leads Rogers’ Rangers across the rough Pacific northwest to avenge the scalping of homesteaders by the Abenaki Indians.
(The movie title is a little misleading. The film ends as the Rangers set out to find a then-mythic northwestern route to the Pacific.)
The Rangers are a hardy bunch, 142 strong they dodge the French while fording rivers, wading through mosquito-infested swamps, sleeping in trees and walking day after day on a handful of corn and the promise of smokehouse hams when they meet the British at Fort Wenworth.
The day comes, of course, when the Rangers’ strength wanes. Legs broken, weakened by wounds, exhausted from hunger, one after another is left behind with a musket, dry powder and a chaw of tobacco. No sentimentalities; no funerals.
In time, half-starved, they are reduced to cannibalism, wandering dazed into the wilderness or splitting up to hunt or fish. Some are found by hostiles, who use their heads to play ball. Others are captured by the French.
About 50 souls survive to rendezvous with the British – only to find the fort empty with no provisions. Tracy dissolves in tears, his hope gone. Then, brought to the end of himself, he remembers God.
“Wasn’t there somebody in the Bible who went without food?,” Tracy asks a Ranger educated at Harvard College. The reply: Moses, 40 days, no food or water.
Not much of a praying man, Tracy encourages his men with a few scraps of memorized Scripture. One by one, the starving men remove their hats and bow their heads.
In remembering God’s promises, Tracy finds hope again. As he speaks, there’s the sound of the British approaching carrying hams, vegetables, food of every description.
Late movie, but it’s never too late for a morality tale.
Human strength can accomplish much, but eventually all our strength dissolves in weakness. Then what? At the end of ourselves, if we are wise, we will remember God and the truth of His word. In them alone, we find a hope that does not disappoint.