The Canadians (1961)

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Three members of the North-West Mounted Police (Robert Ryan, Torin Thatcher and Burt Metcalfe) are sent to go make peace and enforce conditions with Sioux who have moved North into Canada after the events of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Our three brave Canadians make a good enough impression on the Sioux Chief (Michael Pate) to be optimistic about the future, but then an American rancher (John Dehner) and his henchmen bring trouble. Dehner is after Indians who stole his horses, destroys the Sioux settlement, and murders many, including a small child. He also kidnaps a young woman, the “white squaw” (Teresa Stratas), who happens to be the long lost daughter of his neighbour, which gives Dehner convenient legal justification for his deadly raid. Now the Canadian lawmen are outnumbered by Dehner’s dangerous posse, whom they escort to town as prisoners, and shadowed by the vengeful Sioux who promise to break the peace and take matters into their own hands if justice isn’t served.

Written and directed by Burt Kennedy, The Canadians is very loosely based on real events involving these RCMP predecessors, and bends history to get all the events and figures (like Sitting Bull) into one story and time period. In CinemaScope this film must be a visual treat, since even in the less-than-vivid pan-and-scan version I watched, the scarlet uniforms and mountain and plains scenery of Cypress Hills, Saskatchewan was unique and striking and lent an authenticity that some Mountie movies lack. There’s a memorable shootout and standoff making good use of open prairie, wetlands and woods, and the climax happens at Buffalo Cliffs, a place with history as a deadly trap, nicely described by Ryan before it figures in a satisfying, poetic end for villain Dehner (thanks to his own horses).

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The movie starts with a National Film Board type of featurette showing many Canadian landmarks, set to the soaring tune of “This is Canada,” as sung by opera and Broadway star Stratas. She also sings a beautiful lullaby to her doomed child, and later a song around the campfire (all 3 songs in the movie were composed by Ken Darby). The cast is good and their characters are given just enough to do and argue about during their tense journey. Ryan is a fair, calm and steady leader who dreams of retiring, and he’s teamed with a green, idealistic constable who lectures the Americans on their use of guns, and a flinty Sergeant who complains about the youth’s cooking and inexperience. Dehner is a chilling villain who learns his men (including Jack Creley) have different plans, and ideas of loyalty. Stratas becomes love interest for Ryan and explains to him her past and bond with the Sioux, in what is part of a humane portrayal of the tribe. John Sutton has a small role as the Northwest Mounted Superintendent.

This post is part of the O Canada Blogathon I am co-hosting with Ruth of Silver Screenings. You can click here to learn more and follow both our blogs for nightly roundups with all the links.

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28 thoughts on “The Canadians (1961)”

  1. An opera singer in a Mountie movie! That is cool! Though now that I think of it, Jeanette MacDonald was an opera singer in a Mountie movie. I wonder what it is about opera and Mounties that goes so well together.

    This sounds fascinating! And interesting to see Robert Ryan as the hero. He’s been the villain in nearly all the films I’ve seen him in so far.

    1. True, it seems like they were trying to recreate that Jeanette magic in this, Stratas has a beautiful voice, pleasure to hear her sing. Thanks!

  2. Get out – Robert Ryan was in a movie about the NWMP? How did this escape my notice?!

    I love the fact that it was filmed in Saskatchewan. I can only imagine how great the Cypress Hills look on film. The story sounds interesting, and has a ring of truth to it. (Way back when I was in school, we learned about many American vs. Canadian escapades in our part of the country…)

    Great contribution to the blogathon, as usual. And thanks for being a swell co-host! 🙂

    1. Yes, Ryan is always worth watching and I really enjoyed the scenery, knowing it was filmed on location, it gives this western a nice unique look. Neat intro film too! Thanks and likewise to a great co-host, this blogathon is so educational and fun!

  3. I didn’t know that Stratas had appeared in movies. Interesting. I can’t imagine why I haven’t seen this before, Dehner, Ryan, Canadian locations. Geesh, I’ve got a lot of movies to catch up on.

    Thanks for the blogathon.

    1. Would really like to see this again in full CinemaScope glory, but nothing was lacking in the sound dept. and Stratas’ singing was great. Interesting western. Thanks!

    1. He really is good as a villain and the part where he murders the child is chilling–several years before the same kind of shocking moment from Fonda in Once Upon a Time… Thanks, looking forward to reading all the posts this weekend!

  4. I did not know there was a genre of mountie movies, but I’m always up for some classic film country scenery. What’s the best example of one of these films?

  5. I really like Robert Ryan, and I’ve seen quite a few films he’s starred in…but for whatever reason it’s kind of shocking to see him in an RCMP uniform! And how crazy that the story was based (somewhat) on an actual event! Neat review, Kristina, with some great background info!

    1. It is different, in a way the slower pace of this movie and Ryan’s calm manner totally fit the low key Mountie style. But it’s a western at heart. Try it sometime, and thanks!

  6. THE CANADIANS tops my list of my
    “most wanted” films on Blu Ray and for shame this
    has not even had a DVD release.
    I now refuse to watch pan & scan versions of
    CinemaScope films and if the wretched Fox
    Cinema Archives MOD series release this as a
    4×3 (as they have done with many CinemaScope titles)
    then a plague on all their houses!
    I have seen THE CANADIANS on the big screen at the time,
    and all I remember apart from the visual beauty was that
    Dehner’s bad guy seemed to be a throwback to
    Kennedy’s bad guys in the Boetticher films.
    Kino Lorber need to get their act together and release
    THE CANADIANS immediately.
    Thanks,Kristina for bringing this forgotten,unheralded
    film to everyone’s attention…very well done!

    1. I would love to see a nicer version of this, feels like I missed a lot of the great scenery and colour but enjoyed it anyway. Dehner is good, always like to see him and he’s so nasty here, his killing of the child is almost as chilling as Fonda’s in Once Upon a Time in the West! Thanks!

  7. This is a new one for me, though that cast and director suggest it really oughtn’t to be. You’ve got me really keen to see the film now so I’ll be on the lookout for it from now on.

    1. From my reading it seems to be a sort of a botched release, with Kennedy resigning himself to a box office failure after the studio insisted on selling it as an action-packed thriller when it isn’t. Cast and setting like this, even with flaws, is time well spent for me! Thanks.

    1. I had other more modern ideas in mind but once I remembered I had a movie with this O so Canadian title in my collection I had to check it out. Nice to spotlight westerns too, love them.

  8. THE CANADIANS is one of several Fox Fifties CinemaScope films that have
    never even had a DVD release.
    Others on the “missing” list:

    WAY TO THE GOLD Jeff Hunter,Sheree North,Barry Sullivan,Walter Brennan,Neville Brand
    THE FIERCEST HEART Stuart Whitman,Juliet Prowse,Raymond Massey-South African Wagon Train saga
    SEVEN CITIES OF GOLD Richard Egan,Anthony Quinn,Jeff Hunter,Michael Rennie,Rita Moreno
    THE DEERSLAYER Lex Barker,Forrest Tucker,Rita Moreno,Jay C Flippen
    HOUND DOG MAN Stuart Whitman,Fabian,Carol Lynley,Royal Dano,Claude Akins,L.Q.Jones Dir: Don Siegel

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