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).
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.