Tag Archives: Mounties

North West Mounted Police

Nicholas Chennault ~ June 27, 2014

North West Mounted Police—Gary Cooper, Robert Preston, Madeleine Carroll, Paulette Goddard, Preston Foster, Lynne Overman, George Bancroft, Montagu Love, Akim Tamiroff, Robert Ryan, Lon Chaney, Jr., Wallace Reid, Jr. (1940; Dir: Cecil B. DeMille)

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This is a typical Cecil DeMille production for its time, with a large cast and shot in Technicolor at a time (1940) when that was still rare for westerns. Gary Cooper stars in the second of his three DeMille westerns. The first was The Plainsman (1936), and the third would be Unconquered (1947), set in colonial times. Cooper was a big star, and, although he initially made much of his reputation in westerns, he only made a handful of them in the 1940s. (See The Westerner, 1940, and the western comedy Along Came Jones, 1945.)

It is 1885, and the Second Riel Rebellion is brewing among the mixed-ancestry Metís (pronounced “meet-us” in this movie) people of Saskatchewan in Canada. Louis Riel (Francis McDonald) is retrieved from Montana, where he has been teaching school, by Dan Duroc (Akim Tamiroff) and Jacques Corbeau (George Bancroft, who had played the good-hearted sheriff in Stagecoach the previous year).  Riel has reservations about any association with the rough Corbeau, who has a history of running liquor and guns to the Indians, but Duroc persuades him to go along because Corbeau has a gatling gun which will equalize things with the Queen’s forces.

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Ronnie Logan (Robert Preston) and the fiery Louvette (Paulette Goddard).

Two red-coated Mounties, Sgt. Jim Brett (Preston Foster) and Ronnie Logan (Robert Preston) discover in Batoche, the Metís capital, that the rebellion has reached dangerous proportions, with Big Bear’s Crees on the verge of joining the Metís. Romantic interests are established for both of them, Logan with Metís maiden Louvette Corbeau (daughter of Jacques Corbeau, played by Paulette Goddard as kind of a dark-skinned, blue-eyed Gypsy) and Brett with Logan’s sister April Logan (Madeleine Carroll), a selfless nurse among the Metís in Batoche.  She doesn’t seem convinced that Brett’s for her.

Into this cauldron of brewing rebellion and budding romance rides a Texas Ranger, Dusty Rivers (Gary Cooper), who is looking to arrest Corbeau for a murder in Texas.  He is received dubiously at Fort Carlton, especially by Sgt. Brett, when he develops an immediate attraction to April Logan. Brett goes off to persuade Big Bear to remain allied to the Queen, but when Corbeau promises to bring him red coats covered with blood, Big Bear gives him three days to do that before he will join the rebellion.

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Sgt. Brett (Preston Foster) negotiates with the Crees for Rivers (Gary Cooper) and a Scottish scout (Lynne Overman).

Ronnie Logan and another Mountie are sent off to remote guard duty at Duck Lake.  When April hears of the seriousness of the rebellion, she sends Louvette Corbeau to warn Ronnie.  Instead of warning him, she lures him into a situation where she can take him prisoner.  In his absence, a column of Mounties are mostly massacred at Duck Lake, including the commander (played by Montagu Love).  His dying command to Brett is that he get Ronnie and make him pay for his desertion.

While Sgt. Brett takes command of the few surviving Mounties left at Fort Carlton, heading on an apparent suicide mission to Big Bear, Rivers helps April flee the burning fort and heads for Batoche, where he distracts the defenders by cutting their canoes loose and destroying the gatling gun.  He helps Ronnie escape the clutches of Louvette, only to see him cut down by an Indian assassin hired by Louvette to get Rivers.

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Rivers liberates Ronnie Logan from his scheming captor Louvette;  River woos nurse April Logan (Madeleine Carroll).

At Big Bear’s camp, Brett is improbably successful at retrieving the Crees’ loyalty and the rebellion seems to be over, with Duroc dead and Riel and Corbeau captured.  A Mountie tribunal is on the verge of convicting Ronnie of desertion, until Rivers comes in and attributes to Ronnie his own efforts in destroying the gatling gun at Batoche, saving Ronnie’s reputation.  At the end, he abducts Corbeau to take him back to Texas, but as he leaves with his prisoner, Brett and April find him and announce that April is marrying Brett.  But Brett allows Rivers to take Corbeau and leaves Rivers’ version of Ronnie’s heroism to stand even though he suspects otherwise.

Joel McCrea had starred for DeMille in Union Pacific in 1939 and was the first choice to play Rivers.  But he dropped out to do Alfred Hitcock’s Foreign Correspondent and was about to be cast in two Preston Sturges films (all included in the best work of his career), so the role went to Gary Cooper.  English actress Madeleine Carroll had made her reputation working with Alfred Hitchcock as the first of his cool blondes (The 39 Steps, Secret Agent) and in costume dramas (Prisoner of Zenda, Lloyd’s of London).  By 1938 she was said to be the highest-paid actress in Hollywood.   After her sister Marguerite was killed in a London bombing raid, she spent the rest of the war as a field nurse and in other war efforts.   She became a U.S. citizen in 1943, but her career never revived after the war.  At this stage of his career, Robert Preston often played the friend or brother who went bad (Union Pacific, Blood on the Moon, Whispering Smith), and his character usually died because of that.  Several young actors, including Robert Ryan, Lon Chaney, Jr., Regis Toomey, Rod Cameron and Wallace Reid, Jr. (son of a silent star who died of drug addiction) play young Mounties or Indians.

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DeMille directs Carroll and Cooper as they flee Fort Carlton in a canoe.

One of the screenwriters here is Alan LeMay, author of the novel The Searchers was based on.  But the dialogue is clunky, and Cooper’s, in particular, is excessively of the aw-shucks homespun variety.  Between that and his character’s too-precious name, it’s not one of his more successful performances.  He could play frontier characters naturally and was doing so convincingly at this time in his career (playing western in The Westerner the same year, and playing Appalachian backwoods in Sergeant York, for which he won the Best Actor Oscar the following year), but it doesn’t work well here.  Neither the abrupt end of the rebellion nor the abrupt change of heart by April Logan are entirely convincing, either.  After the opening scene, Riel largely disappears, and we never discover why he’s essential to the rebellion.  He certainly has little charisma as depicted here.

This is one of the fifty movies listed in The Fifty Worst Films of All Time (and How They Got That Way) by Harry Medved and Randy Lowell (1978).  It’s not that epically bad, but is it worth watching? It is if you are interested in either Cooper or DeMille, not to mention the beautiful Carroll.  For another (and better) story of an American gone north, see Gunless (2010).  For another story of Mounties and Indians, see Raoul Walsh’s Saskatchewan with Alan Ladd (1954).  If you’re interested in the background of Canada’s Second Riel Rebellion, see Strange Empire by Joseph Kinsey Howard (first published in 1952).

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In color, at 126 minutes.  Shot principally around Big Bear Lake in California, San Bernardino National Forest.  The movie won an Oscar for Best Editing.

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The Wild North

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 22, 2014

The Wild North—Stewart Granger, Wendell Corey, Cyd Charisse, Ray Teal (1952; Dir:  Andrew Marton)

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Swashbuckling Englishman Stewart Granger (real name:  James Leblanche Stewart) at the height of his American film career made this movie, the same year as The Prisoner of Zenda and Scaramouche. 

Here he is French-Canadian trapper and outdoorsman Jules Vincent; Wendell Corey is Constable Pedley, the Mountie sent to bring him in for killing another trapper.  Cyd Charisse has a non-dancing role as Vincent’s Chippewa romantic interest, with not a lot to do.  Basically, this is a tale of wilderness survival.  Pedley goes after Vincent in the wilderness and captures him, but getting him back to civilization is another matter.  Vincent is much better in the frozen wilderness than Pedley is.  Ultimately Pedley gets lost and loses his mind, and Vincent rescues him both physically and mentally.  In the end, of course, Vincent gets off, since he’s good-hearted and didn’t mean to kill the guy anyway.  The movie depends on Granger, and he’s reasonably charming here. 

WildNorthGranger2Granger as Vincent.

Pedley:  “You’re not a bad guy…for a murderer.  Why’d you kill the man?

Vincent:  “I shot at his shoulder.  The canoe swayed.”  (Shrugs.)

Pedley:  “You fought with him the night before, over the girl.”

Vincent:  “That was no fight.  It was nothing.”

Pedley:  “Is that why you ran away?”

Vincent:  “You don’t believe me, do you?”

Pedley:  “I don’t know.”

Vincent:  “That’s it, Pedley.  See?  You’re a man who should understand–and you don’t believe me.  What chance would I have in front of a jury of ribbon clerks?”

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Ray Teal is part of another trapper pair that has lost its own outfit, and he offers to help Vincent escape or kill the Mountie.  The Boulder Mountains of Idaho (not far from Sun Valley), the filming location, pass convincingly for the rugged Canadian northwest, apparently.

For other westerns involving survival in frozen conditions, see Jeremiah Johnson (1972) and Seraphim Falls (2006).  For stories of lawmen bringing in sympathetic outlaws and developing relationships, see The Ride Back (1957), 3:10 to Yuma (1957) and The Comancheros (1962).  For other westerns with Mounties, see North West Mounted Police (1940), Saskatchewan (1954) and Gunless (2010).

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The antagonists face off, with an Indian princess between them.

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Saskatchewan

Nicholas Chennault ~ March 20, 2014

Saskatchewan—Alan Ladd, Shelley Winters, Hugh O’Brian, J. Carrol Naish, Jay Silverheels.  (1954; Dir:  Raoul Walsh)

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The very blond Mountie Inspector Thomas O’Rourke (Alan Ladd) has been raised by Cree Indian chief Dark Cloud and is now stationed at Fort Walsh about 20 miles north of the Canadian border with the U.S.  Jay Silverheels is Cajou, his Cree foster-brother.  The post-Custer Sioux under Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse are moving into Canada, threatening to overthrow the peace and lead a general Indian uprising.  They’ve wiped out the group of which Montanan Grace Markey (Shelley Winters) is part, but she’s rescued by O’Rourke. 

It turns out she’s wanted for murder back in Montana.  O’Rourke’s troop of Mounties has to get back to Fort Walsh to warn his commanders there about the Sioux, although they don’t believe him and O’Rourke’s in trouble for refusing to obey due authority.  Hugh O’Brian plays Carl Smith, a malcontent Montana lawman with the troop, who’s always trying to get them to leave a wounded Mountie behind.  It turns out that Smith is (a) a U.S. marshal taking Grace back to Great Falls, (b) the brother of the murdered man, and (c) the actual murderer of his brother.  That gets sorted out on the way to Fort Walsh.  Banks, the Mountie commander, leads his men into a Sioux ambush, and it looks like Custer’s fate will be repeated north of the border.  O’Rourke is able, with the help of the Crees, to save his commanders from the Sioux anyway, despite being locked in the stockade with his men. 

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Inspector O’Rourke (Alan Ladd, out of uniform), Grace Markey (Shelley Winters) and Cajou (Jay Silverheels).

J. Carrol Naish is particularly good as a French-Canadian trapper and scout.  Problems:  There’s very little chemistry between the Ladd and Winters characters, who supposedly are fascinated with each other.  Saskatchewan is actually a plains province and doesn’t have mountains like these.  Sitting Bull made it to Canada for a couple of years (Crazy Horse never went there), but he had neither the resources nor the disposition to cause much trouble before eventually being forced back to the U.S.  The Mounties have very clean red coats, and wear anachronistic Smokey the Bear-style hats that weren’t regulation until after World War I.  O’Rourke wears one of the bright red coats while sneaking up to spy on the Sioux without much cover, and surprisingly enough they fail to spot him.  Filmed beautifully in color in Banff National Park (in Alberta, not Saskatchewan).  Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe were said to be filming The River of No Return (actually located in Idaho) in the same locale at the same time.

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Colorful Mounties, great scenery.

For another movie about Mounties, see Cecil B. DeMille’s North West Mounted Police (1940), with Gary Cooper, or The Wild North (1952), a manhunt in the frozen wastes with Stewart Granger, Wendell Corey and Cyd Charisse.

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Gunless

Nicholas Chennault ~ January 2, 2014

Gunless—Paul Gross, Sienna Guillory, Dustin Milligan, Tyler Mane, Graham Greene (2010; Dir:  William Phillips)

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This is another western in which the beautiful hills and mountains of southern Canada stand in for… the hills and mountains of southern Canada?  Yes, this is a northern western, and a comedy.  And it’s pretty successful as a western comedy.  Now, this is a movie of which few have heard, so it didn’t make much of a splash on its initial release in 2010.  It opened 11th in Canada, and as a Canadian-funded, Canadian-set and Canadian-made film, it would have been expected to do as well there as it could anywhere.  Although it had a small budget ($10 million Canadian), it has good (not great) production values, decent writing, and, above all, good acting, especially in the leads.

As the film opens, a horse with a filthy rider sitting backwards and trailing a rope and branch slowly enters Barclay’s Brush, a town on the Canadian western frontier.  As the horse comes to a stop, the rider slides off the horse upside-down, and it is apparent that he is tied up.  After a brief conversation with a Chinese girl, he is extracted from his bonds and buys some bullets at the local store.  He comes from the States, where he was in the process of being hanged.  He is the Montana Kid. 

GunlessDirtyKid The filthy but possibly deadly Montana Kid.

Wandering back outside, he looks for his horse, which has disappeared.  It turns out the horse is with the local blacksmith, who is fixing it up.  There are words between the two, and the gunman calls out Jack the blacksmith (Tyler Mane), who doesn’t have a pistol.  After due consultation, a woman rancher, Jane Taylor (Sienna Guillory), offers the Kid a broken pistol in exchange for help putting up her windmill.  And a medical alert:  “Your bottom is bleeding.”   The doctor removes a bullet from the Kid’s gluteous maximus, free of charge.

The Kid (played by Paul Gross, who was brilliant in the Shakespearean comedy series Slings and Arrows on Canadian television) slowly gets to know the townsfolk, who are rather taken with him, partly because of his dime-novel notoriety and partly because they seem to be genuinely friendly, if a bit quirky.  The local Mountie constable, Jonathan Kent (Dustin Milligan), a very stiff and rulebound young man, comes round to meet the Kid and have him sign his ledger—with his real name, Sean Lafferty.  Kent’s cosmopolitan Indian guide Two Dogs (Graham Greene) has to redirect him a time or two.  The Kid is invited to dinner at the doctor’s house, and regales them with tales of his killings, eleven of them.  Everybody calls him Sean—a name he apparently hasn’t used for years. 

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Rapacious and loathsome bounty hunters, and N’kwala, otherwise known as Two Dogs.

Meanwhile, he’s on the lookout for pursuit from the States, bounty hunters who have been after him for ten years.  He plans to leave as soon as his horse is recovered, his deal with Jane is complete and he fulfills his obligations as a gunfighter by having it out with Jack the blacksmith.  Meanwhile, he attends an RCMP dance where Kent seems enamored of Jane, and the rest of the Mounties are not so enamored with the Kid.  As they try to intimidate him by beating him up, he is rescued curiously by the stiff Kent, who points out that the Kid has broken no laws and has no outstanding warrants in Canada, and that is not the Mountie way.

His clothes are being cleaned and repaired by the local Chinese tailor and laundryman, and meanwhile he’s wearing Chinese clothes around town.  He takes part in an evening of intellectual discussion about Aristotle led by the local schoolmarm, Alice.  And he thinks it’s time to leave when Jane shows signs of falling for him.

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Jack has repaired a broken piece of the pistol (a big old Navy .44) and given it to the Kid, even though he knows the Kid plans to use it to force him into a gunfight.  And the bounty hunters draw ever nearer and demonstrate their lack of character by gratuitously killing a dog.  The question is not really whether they’ll catch up, but what will happen when they do.

The shootout is surprising, as are Sean’s new philosophical misgivings about his lifestyle, apparently triggered by Aristotle.  As the movie ends, we see young Kent’s romantic attentions turning to Alice, the blushingly receptive schoolmarm.

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The Kid, back at his cleaned-up gunfighting best. Or is he?

The humor is dry Canadian, not broad Mel Brooks.  This might be the closest thing to the Support Your Local Sheriff movies made by James Garner in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  It’s not as quickly paced as those, and the humor is quieter.  The pacing and the tone are not perfect.  It should have a better title.  Given Canadians’ sensitivities about their larger neighbor to the south, you can see why a Canadian production would not want to call itself The Montana Kid.  But that is its title in Australia, and it works better. 

With all this, Gunless is very worth watching.  It depends on Gross’s ability to project confused decency under filth and to develop believably and sympathetically, and he is charmingly up to the task, even if he occasionally mutters his lines.  His horse performs well as a confidante with a mind of his own.  And Sienna Guillory is fine as the feisty rancher Jane, with a lovely British accent.  This movie deserves to be much more widely seen.  Be sure to watch the outtakes with the credits; they contain some dubious language that was missing from the film, though.  Filmed at Fort Langley, British Columbia.  Short, at 89 minutes.  The DVD of this film was recently (Dec. 2013) on sale at Amazon for $3.62, and it’s hard to beat that.

It may or may not be significant that the writer-director of this movie is William Phillips.  That is also the name of a man in Spokane in the 1920s and 1930s who was rumored to have been Butch Cassidy, returned from Bolivia and not killed by the Bolivian army.

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William Phillips of Spokane, and William Phillips of Canada.  What is the beard hiding?

For a younger Paul Gross in a made-for-television romance set in modern Alberta, see Getting Married in Buffalo Jump.

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