Saskatchewan (1954)

11 Feb

Saskatchewan is the first western I have ever seen where a native tribe rides to the rescue of the cavalry. The first thing that is mentioned about the film by anyone, however, is the gorgeous location shooting done at Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. A typically entertaining Raoul Walsh directed adventure, Saskatchewan offers a chance for dashingly attired Mounties to take a scenic tour of the Rockies by way of avoiding the Sioux.

The second thing that is frequently mentioned about the film is that Saskatchewan looks nothing like Banff National Park, but is actually much flatter, so I am not certain if the title refers to the province of Saskatchewan, the Saskatchewan River (which does flow through Alberta), or if the fort in the film was called Fort Saskatchewan. Titles of films are often an enigma to me, but Saskatchewan does perhaps make a more catchy title than Alberta.

Alan Ladd is Thomas O’Rourke, an orphan who was raised by Chief Dark Cloud of the Cree (Antonio Moreno) and raised as a brother to Cajou (Jay Silverheels). He is now a Mountie, however, and his duty comes into conflict with his friendship with the Cree.

Early in the film, he and Cajou come across a wagon train that has been destroyed by the Sioux, who have come up through Montana after destroying Colonel Custer. The only survivor of the wagon train is American Grace Markey (Shelley Winters), who is fleeing a U.S. Marshall (Hugh O’Brien). But when the Cree are ordered to turn in their guns, leaving them without a means of hunting food for themselves, Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull see an opportunity to persuade the Cree to join them in war. The Mounties set out with guns and ammunition, but the Sioux attack, thus providing the Mounties with the opportunity to escape picturesquely through the mountains.

A little mutiny (though Alan Ladd is the politest mutineer I’ve ever seen; “May I borrow your glasses, Sir”), an exciting canoe chase, a few battles and explosions, negotiations with the Cree, a little romance, conflict between the jealous U.S. Marshall and O’Rourke over Grace, all follows apace, not to mention lots of riding through the Rockies and looking out on shimmering lakes, rivers, trees and snow-capped peaks.

And I must say that O’Rourke seems remarkably complaisant about Grace being an accused murderer. She may possibly be a murderer, but he is always a gentleman, unlike the Marshall, who pushes Grace around and shoots a Cree in the back. But in truth, all the Mounties are gentlemen. The script stresses that in Canada the First Nations tribes are treated fairly. The only reason there is trouble is because the Sioux, who were not treated fairly, are stirring up the Cree to war, aided by the unreasonable attitude of the Canadian authorities about confiscating Cree weapons.

There’s something of the British nobility in the Mounties in general. One Mountie is even Scottish and the commander is played by Robert Douglas, a British actor, thus enhancing the impression. Perhaps a little like those British colonial adventure films meets the western in Canada.

Another connection to Canada is actor Jay Silverheels, who plays Cajou. He was a Canadian Mohawk who achieved his most famous role with Tonto in the Lone Ranger TV series. Before he became an actor, he was an excellent lacrosse player and did some boxing in America. He began in films as a stuntman and gradually was given better roles in a number of ‘A’ Westerns, though was always remembered as Tonto.

While Saskatchewan was being filmed, Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum where also at Banff National Park, filming River of No Return. Shelley Winters evidently spent some of her off time with Monroe and they got along quite well. Banff National Park has been a relatively popular location for filming. Other films at least partially shot there include Days of Heaven and 49th Paralell. I actually have all three films – Days of Heaven49th Parallel, and River of No Return – on my list of films to see in the future (which admittedly is a somewhat unwieldy list).

Saskatchewan is definitely not a classic western, but I tend to find that nearly all Raoul Walsh films have a good pace and interesting action and Saskatchewan has that. There’s not much room for intriguing character development, but the setting in Canada is fresh and lovely. In fact, it is safe to argue that Banff National Park is the real star of the film.

This post was written as part of the “O Canada” Blogathon,” hosted by Silver Screenings and Speakeasy. For more entries, see the recap for Day 1, 2, and 3 of the blogathon.


Posted by on February 11, 2018 in Movies


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18 responses to “Saskatchewan (1954)

  1. Patricia Nolan-Hall (@CaftanWoman)

    February 12, 2018 at 6:33 am

    from Me and My Pal (1933) starring Laurel and Hardy.
    Oliver: “Now why did you get two tickets to Chicago when you know that I wanted to spend my honeymoon in Saskatchewan?”
    Stanley: “Well the man said there was no such place as Sus-Swee-S…”

    You are so right. If they had called the movie Alberta, we would have spent the movie waiting for that character to show up!

    I recently watched Saskatchewan and, geographical anomaly aside, it is a typically entertaining Walsh film that is beautiful to the eye. And I’m not just speaking of Alan Ladd and Jay Silverheels.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      February 12, 2018 at 12:17 pm

      It is a lovely film, isn’t it! And Raoul Walsh; it seems like he really had a knack for directing entertaining films. Few knew how to do it better.

      That’s a hilarious quote from Laurel and Hardy!


  2. jennifromrollamo

    February 12, 2018 at 8:24 am

    One of the tv channels I get was showing this summer a serial I had never heard of before, Sgt. Preston of the Yukon. It was only on tv for 3 seasons, in color, and sponsored by Quaker Oats. It was a pretty good show, often quite violent, I thought, for a show aimed at kids in the 1950s. Sgt. Preston, as a good Canadian Mountie, was often quoting Canadian and provincial laws to the baddies or the uninformed as to the treatment of the First Nations people and many of those laws were unknown to me. The show was set in the 1870s-80s, when Yukon was a territory, wild, and mostly inhabited by gold miners and the towns they created. Based upon a set of books and then a radio show, try to watch it for an interesting half hour of Yukon lore and Canadian Mounties doing their jobs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      February 12, 2018 at 12:30 pm

      That does sound like an interesting show! Especially about all the laws regarding the First Nations and what the duty of the Mounties would have entailed. There is something rather romantic about the Mounties.

      I used to not care for westerns, but all of a sudden in the past year I’ve developed a strong enthusiasm for them. Can’t get enough anymore. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Kristina

    February 12, 2018 at 8:36 am

    In the last couple years I’ve tried to see as many Alan Ladd movies as possible, and still haven’t got around to this one (for shame, I know lol). Great writeup, sounds interesting and not at all surprised that Banff steals the show! Thanks for joining us for this blogathon!

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      February 12, 2018 at 12:32 pm

      And thanks for hosting!

      I hope you get a chance to see it soon! 🙂 I actually only saw Shane fairly recently, but am quite eager to see more Ladd films, too…especially his westerns.


  4. Silver Screenings

    February 12, 2018 at 3:30 pm

    A famous Canadian writer once joked Saskatchewan is Hollywood’s favourite Canadian name, and so it would seem with the title of this movie. But I agree Saskatchewan is a much cooler name than Alberta.

    I like the thought of Alan Ladd as a polite Mountie. I can’t believe I haven’t seen this before, to tell you the truth.

    Anyway, thank you for joining the blogathon, and for bringing Banff National Park disguised as Saskatchewan!

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      February 12, 2018 at 10:21 pm

      That’s funny! Saskatchewan does have an excellent ring to it. Hollywood, though, is often so woefully unimaginative about anyplace outside of Hollywood. 🙂

      Thanks for hosting! It was a pleasure to visit Banff National Park, so to speak!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood

    February 13, 2018 at 7:08 am

    After reading your post, I remember seeing this film years ago. Now I’m looking forward to seeing it again. Once again, a great article.

    By the way, did you end up deciding on a topic for the Elizabeth Taylor Blogathon at the end of the month??

    And also, I’ve announced my Third Annual Bette Davis Blogathon. Would love to have you join in. Here is the link below.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. amycondit

    February 15, 2018 at 10:41 pm

    Sounds like another film I need to see! I must look out for this one. I enjoy Alan Ladd most in his film noir pairings with Veronica Lake! For those who live in the Twin Cities, there is a 35 mm triple feature of “This Gun for Hire”, “The Glass Key”, and “The Blue Dahlia” this weekend at The Trylon Theater in Minneapolis from Feb16-18!

    Regarding Shelley Winters visiting Marilyn Monroe on the set of “River of No Return” in Banff, Marilyn and Shelley were roommates and lived in West Hollywood together in 1951. They once had a discussion akin to asking, “why do men get to have all the fun and just sleep with whomever they want with no consequences”, and made a list of all the prominent men they’d like to sleep with (Yves Montand, Albert Einstein, etc.)!

    If you enjoy Shelley Winters, she wrote 2 autobiographies in the 1980s that are easy to get a hold of—they’re very dishy! The first memoir has some good information on her friendship with Marilyn. Also, there is a touching photo of Marilyn and Shelley together at the 1960 Golden Globes. Shelley was nominated that year for “The Diary of Anne Frank”, and lost. Marilyn won for “Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy” for “Some Like it Hot.” In the photo, Marilyn puts her hand on Shelley’s cheek and they look at each other warmly! Nice moment in time.

    I know you have “River of No Return” on your to-watch list and you like Westerns. I would suggest going into it with no expectations so you can be pleasantly surprised! As a Marilyn fan, I’ve seen it many times. But, I agree with Marilyn who said (paraphrasing) that “…the script came in third to the scenery and Cinemascope…” and that it was a “grade Z” western. “River of No Return” was really the beginning of the end for Marilyn in terms of her getting sick of her studio contract forcing her to appear in certain films, and taking the next steps of starting her own production company where she could choose better material.

    Thanks again for the good post (and for letting me blab on about Marilyn!) I’ll be on the look out for “Saskatchewan”!

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      February 16, 2018 at 1:13 pm

      It was wonderful to learn more about Marilyn! 🙂 I didn’t know Winters wrote two memoirs, but will have to keep an eye out for those! That is sweet that they had such a good friendship. It seems like female feuds are celebrated more than friendships in popular imagination, but it’s so much more special to have an accepting friendship.

      Thanks for the recommendation about how to approach River of No Return! I will definitely keep that in mind when I watch it. I’m number 4 on the wait list at my library for it (they recently acquired it).


  7. Le

    February 20, 2018 at 11:05 am

    I’ve watched Saskatchewan many years ago, and the locations are what I remember the most today. But I remember also that it was nice, entertaining and surprising inn many moments. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person


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