Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Canadian Pacific (1949)

NOTE: This post on CANADIAN PACIFIC (1949) is my contribution to the O Canada Blogathon being sponsored by Kristina of Speakeasy and Ruth of Silver Screenings from February 1-5, 2016. Please take the time to click on the blogathon link and enjoy the many interesting contributions by a large number of classic film bloggers!

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.

As the movie begins, Tom Andrews (Scott) treks through the Canadian wilderness, mapping out the prospective route for the new railroad.

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.

The downside is that the movie was shot by cinematographer 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.


Blogger Silver Screenings said...

Can't believe I haven't seen this movie, even though the story of the Canadian Pacific Railway is one I find fascinating. Glad to hear so much of it was shot in Canada – alas, it's too bad they couldn't use Technicolor. However, if the film is half as enjoyable as your insightful review, I know I'll like it.

Thanks for bringing Randolph Scott and Canadian Pacific to the party!

1:54 PM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

Very fine review, Laura!
Any post-WW2 Randolph Scott is a pleasure for me but obviously degrees of success vary as one would expect. I agree with you that "CANADIAN PACIFIC", whilst enjoyable, is lesser Scott. It is also the least of the films he made at that point for Nat Holt, most of the others being really excellent.

2:28 PM  
Blogger Stephen Reginald said...

I've never heard of this movie, but now I want to see it, if only to see Nancy Olsen early in her film career. Good job as usual!

7:07 PM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

I think Nancy was the youngest of Scott's leading ladies once he settled into his westerns from the late 40s onward. I do agree that she is totally engaging.

One glaring error in the movie annoys me no end. You will recall Victor Jory rallying his people, the Metis, against the railroad. He pronounces it met-is, instead of the proper, may-tea. Surely somebody working around the set must have been from Canada and could have set them straight. Maybe somebody tried to and was ignored. It's particularly disturbing because Victor Jory was born in the Yukon. Maybe he moved south when he was very young.

7:24 PM  
Blogger john knight said...

I totally agree with Robert Nott in his very fine book "Last Of The Cowboy Heroes"
that this film is the least of Scott's Westerns.
Mr Nott also states that Scott was paid $130,000 a piece for the three Holt/Fox
Westerns a considerable amount of money in those days.
Nancy Olsen far too young to be Randy's leading lady she looks even younger than the
twenty year old that she was at the time.
There is also an incredibly silly scene where Randy is given a blood transfusion
on a fast moving train. Even sillier is the very non p.c scene where J Carrol Naish
gives sticks of dynamite to the "stupid" Indians-passing them off a cigars they then
blow themselves up.
I don't care too much for director Edwin L Marin who lets too much "hokey" nonsense
to drift into his Westerns-I much prefer Andre de Toth or Ray Enright-these Fox
Holt's would have been far superior with those guys at the helm.
In spite of all this I'm thrilled that Kino Lorber are releasing this film on
Blu Ray-I cannot wait to see how Cinecolor looks in High Def.
I have just submitted a lengthy piece over at Toby's on another Scott
Cinecolor Western GUNFIGHTERS-the French imprint Sidonis have just released it
on DVD and it's the best Cinecolor transfer that I have ever seen.
Luckily a friend sent me a copy with those wretched "forced" subtitles removed and
I do wish Sidonis would stop doing this.

5:08 AM  
Blogger Kristina Dijan said...

Good one to pick for the blogathon, I want to see this. You're right, I can imagine how spectacular the scenery would've been in Technicolor. Thanks so much for joining in the Canada movie fun!

6:48 AM  
OpenID vienna said...

I call myself a Randolph Scott fan, yet I havent seen Canadian Pacific. Must correct that! Thanks for your review.

10:18 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Wow, so many great comments on CANADIAN PACIFIC! Thank you all so much!

Ruth, I did see comments that the "history" in the film isn't that much like reality, but since that's so often the case with movies I'm sure no one will be surprised (grin). Hope you get to check it out! And thank you so much for cohosting the blogathon!

Thanks for your feedback, Jerry! Even lesser Scott is worthwhile Scott. :)

Stephen, if you're a Nancy Olson fan I think you'll enjoy it. Thanks for stopping by! Hope to see you in April!

Caftan Woman, glad to know you also found Nancy engaging. She's a very appealing actress. Thanks for sharing that very interesting info on the Metis, it's great to have knowledgeable input from a Canadian on that!

John, enjoyed your take on this too, though you cared for it less than I did. I do agree with you on the two scenes you cited (the transfusion and "smoking" the dynamite), they were silly. Just read your comments on GUNFIGHTERS at Toby's and we completely agree -- I was very impressed by it starting from the beautiful opening credits sequence, and in fact it made my "runners up" list on my Favorite Discoveries post over at Rupert Pupkin Speaks. Great to hear it's out looking great!

Kristina, thanks to you as well for cohosting the blogathon, I hope O Canada will become an annual event! Among other things it's rather educational for those of us in the States -- I've been interested to learn how many favorite actors were Canadian born! Hope you'll enjoy this when you catch up with it.

Vienna, would love to know where you fall on this film when you catch up with it!

Best wishes to all,

1:52 PM  
Blogger Maricatrin said...

Laura, I liked what you had to say about the problems and virtues of the two lady characters. I was really pulling for Cecille, and was happy and relieved with her when Tom jumped off the train.

I actually liked this one much more than SUGARFOOT or ABILENE TOWN, also directed by Marin. I think FIGHTING MAN OF THE PLAINS and COLT .45 are probably the strongest of the Marin/Scott teamings I've seen, but this one is certainly a good mid-range film in my estimation.

J. Carrol Naish seemed to be channeling Raymond Hatton (in full B-western sidekick mode) here. And since I enjoy seeing A-Western elements in B's, I don't begrudge the odd B-Western moment in an occasional A ... which the "smoked their head's off" scene certainly was! I'm not ashamed to say that I got a laugh out of it ... admittedly, I have a rather warped sense of humor ;-)

I wasn't bothered at all by the Scott/Olsen age gap, Randolph Scott always looks at least ten years younger than his actual age, which would give his character about 20 years on Nancy. Back in the day, this would not be considered an unacceptable age gap at all for husband and wife.

Regarding the transfusion, I'm not very medically knowledgeable, so I didn't really notice it at the time... "I'm a movie fan, not a doctor!" (lol)

There is one scene in the film that hasn't been brought up yet, and which I find borderline ridiculous. Is it true what they say about dynamite not blowing up the person standing right next to it??? For all I know, this might be true, but it sounds crazy to me. Any demolition experts out there who can verify or discount this?

5:22 PM  
Blogger Terence Towles Canote said...

I remember Canadian Pacific very well. I think it is one of Randolph Scott's lesser efforts and it definitely does play fast and loose with history, but I still find it a whole lot of fun. It's sort of a popcorn one movie where one can just shut his or her mind off and enjoy the show. :-)

4:55 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Maricatrin, Thanks so much for your detailed comments. I was glad to know you enjoyed my takes on the two female characters, they were a big part of what made the movie interesting for me.

You also make a good point that it was more common in that era for a man to have a wife who was quite a bit younger. (In fact a man might marry a younger woman more than once, due to it being relatively common for women to die in childbirth in that era...)

I wonder about that dynamite!

Terry, I agree, if you put aside the "history" and some of the odd stuff, it's just a fun movie. :) Thanks for stopping by!

Best wishes,

7:50 PM  

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