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Randolph Scott stars as a surveyor battling to establish a railroad across Canada in CANADIAN PACIFIC (1949).
CANADIAN PACIFIC echoes DeMille's UNION PACIFIC (1939) of a decade earlier, telling the story of the establishment of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The Canadian Pacific was needed to connect British Columbia in the far west with the other Canadian provinces.
Mission completed, Tom turns down the offer by railroad head Cornelius Van Horne (Robert Barrat) to help spearhead the railway construction, and he instead heads home to his sweetheart Cecille (Nancy Olson), who's been patiently waiting for the past year for Tom's return.
Evil fur trader Dick Rourke (Victor Jory) rallies locals against the train, telling them it will mean the way of their end of life; facing conflict with Rourke and Cecille's father (John Parrish), Tom decides to return to work for the railroad. He asks Cecille to wait another year for him but, despondent, she breaks off their relationship.
Rourke stirs up Indians to sabotage the railroad, leading to all manner of struggles and delays in the railroad's completion. Tom is critically injured when Rourke causes a dynamite explosion, but he's saved by a pretty doctor (Jane Wyatt).
Tom briefly romances the doctor, but her unreasonable pacifist ideals cause considerable conflict with Tom; she even argues against fighting when an Indian enters her railroad car in the climactic battle, intent on killing anyone he can, including her!
Meanwhile Cecille has come to realize the violent plans of Rourke, her father, and others, and slips off, regardless of personal risk, to warn Tom of impending danger; she then joins Tom and the crew as they fight to survive an Indian attack.
CANADIAN PACIFIC was written by Jack DeWitt and Kenneth Gamet, based on a story by DeWitt. As Scott's late '40s/early '50s Westerns go, it's fairly middle of the road; it's not one of Scott's best, but it's engaging enough for fans to find it enjoyable. The storytelling is surprisingly bland at times, given the subject matter, but that's offset by extensive Canadian location shooting and a fiery performance by newcomer Nancy Olson.
To its credit much of the movie was filmed outdoors, shot in Alberta and British Columbia, which gives it a pleasing "fresh air," outdoorsy feel; it's especially nice that it was actually shot in Canada, which was shown on screen in comparatively few films of its era.
Fred Jackman Jr. in Cinecolor; while I'm rather a fan of Cinecolor's unusual color palette, it does not show off the majestic Canadian locations to best effect. It's a shame it couldn't have been shot in Technicolor, but according to a post last year at Greenbriar Picture Shows, this was a relatively low budget production by Nat Holt, who had a distribution agreement with 20th Century-Fox. Indeed, it sounds as though if the movie hadn't been shot in relatively inexpensive Cinecolor, it might have been in black and white, so in that light I'm grateful for the Cinecolor!
This was the first major role for 20-year-old Nancy Olson, whose previous screen credit was a scene at the end of PORTRAIT OF JENNIE (1948). She's so much younger than Randolph Scott that I'd perhaps rather not think about it (grin), yet that potential awkwardness is completely offset by Olson's warm, wild enthusiasm as the resourceful frontier girl. She's completely head over heels for Tom, barely able to keep her hands off him when he returns home, and so she also sells the audience.
Olson's Cecille repeatedly risks danger and being turned out on her own in order to help Tom; Tom, who finally seems to see her completely clearly toward the end of the film, praises her as "a brave woman."
Cecille is tough, standing up to all the men in her life at various times, but she's also loving, loyal, and willing to help Tom despite past disagreement. Her warmth stands in marked contrast to Wyatt's rigid, unforgiving doctor. One can infer a certain amount of bravery in the doctor's character, having become a physician at a time when not many women did, then taking her skills to the untamed West, but hers is a very uptight persona. Indeed, perhaps that "my way or the highway" spine is what got her through medical school, but it doesn't lend her any flexibility when it comes to assessing how Tom should deal with the significant, violent challenges he faces.
Scott's character is by turns genial and determined, as enjoyable to watch as usual. Besides Olson and the location work, the movie owes most of its appeal to his charisma.
The supporting cast includes J. Carrol Naish, Walter Sande, Don Haggerty, John Hamilton, Grandon Rhodes, and Chief Yowlachie.
CANADIAN PACIFIC was directed by frequent Scott collaborator Edwin L. Marin. It runs 95 minutes.
CANADIAN PACIFIC is not currently on DVD, but 50 Westerns From the 50s reports it's due on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber later in 2016. It's also shown from time to time on Turner Classic Movies.
Update: CANADIAN PACIFIC has now been released on Blu-ray and DVD by Kino Lorber.