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Saskatchewan (1954)

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.

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Posted by on February 11, 2018 in Movies

 

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Anne of Green Gables (1934)

anne_of_greenThe Anne of Green Gables film that was released in 1934 is definitely not for purists. The author herself, L.M. Montgomery, said it was not her book at all. However, the film has a lot of charm and I thoroughly enjoyed it. And considering that the film is only 78 minutes long, it’s actually a pretty fair adaptation.

Anne of Green Gables is one of those stories that rarely needs an introduction. It’s like Little Women – Anne Shirley has a life of her own, just as Jo March does. L.M. Montgomery wrote the novel in 1908 and the book has had many adaptations – including during the silent era in 1919.

One year after releasing Little Women with Katharine Hepburn, RKO bought the rights to Anne of Green Gables and cast Dawn O’Day, a child actress who subsequently changed her name to Anne Shirley (and who I still associate with Stella Dallas and Murder, My Sweet).

Because the film is so short, the story becomes less about the life of Anne Shirley at Green Gables and more about her adoption, how she becomes part of the family and finds a home at Green Gables. Even Gilbert Blythe kind of ends up adopted at the end of the film.

The film begins fairly faithfully with Matthew Cuthbert (O.P. Heggie) and Marilla Cuthbert (Helen Westley) attempting to adopt a boy. They are sent a girl, however, who instantly captures the heart of the taciturn Matthew. Marilla takes a little longer to warm up, but you can tell she is more charmed than she lets on. Helen Westley does not look like L.M. Montgomery’s description of the angular Marilla, but there are few people who play a formidable curmudgeon with a warm heart better than Westley (I always liked her in Show Boat, too).

The actress Anne Shirley was sixteen years of age when she made the film and is suitably passionate, chatty, and imaginative. Gilbert Blythe (Tom Brown) seems little on the pipsqueak side of things, especially when the characters are supposed to be old enough to marry. It is definitely easier for an adolescent female actor to play an adult than it is an adolescent male actor.

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Helen Westley and Anne Shirley

The film is actually a compression of several books and even compresses some characters. Diana’s mother, Mrs. Barry, also becomes the nosy neighbor who says Anne is an unattractive child. The film, then covers Anne’s arrival to Green Gables and how she becomes part of the home and also her feud and romance with Gilbert Blythe and Marilla’s disapproval of Gilbert and Anne’s conflicting love of Marilla and Matthew and of Gilbert.

Spoiler Alert: Matthew even gets to live in the film (though I kept expecting him to die), but once again it actually makes sense in the context of the film. By the end, Anne gets Gilbert and Matthew and Marilla will have both Anne and Gilbert. Adoption and reconciliation.  End Spoiler.

Because the location of Prince Edward Island is so important to the book (and beautifully part of the 1985 series), the film is not as stage bound as many films made in 1934. It’s not Canada, but some scenes are filmed outside on occasion and helps provide that sense of a breath of fresh air which is so a part of both Anne’s character and the story.

As I said, devoted fans of the book (and of the 1985 series) might be a bit irked by this film, but I particularly liked the emphasis placed on adoption, mutual gratitude, and love. It makes for a sweet film. It also makes me want to go back and watch the 1985 film (and 1987 Anne of Avonlea – did you know Wendy Hiller was in that film? I am a huge Wendy Hiller fan, but the last time I saw Anne of Avonlea, I had no idea who she was ).

This was part of the “O Canada Blogathon,” hosted by SpeakeasySilver Screenings. Be sure to check out the recaps for days 1,2, and 3 for most posts.

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Posted by on February 3, 2017 in Movies

 

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