Monday, July 18, 2016


I've been watching some vintage westerns lately thanks to both TCM (July is Westerns month) and the StarzEncore Westerns cable channel. I've always liked westerns and while I've seen most of the major, key works of the genre, there are a lot of 'em out there that I haven't seen.

CANADIAN PACIFIC (1949) is one of them. This Randolph Scott vehicle was shot on location in the Canadian Rockies in Banff National Park, Morley Indian Reserve in Alberta and Yoho National Park in British Columbia. The on location cinematography is stunning. The film was shot in Cinecolor, a color process that gives everything a slightly pastel look, rather than the vivid, robust and super-saturated palette of vintage Technicolor. The film has recently been fully restored (except for one shot near the end that remains in black and white) and it's a real treat for the eyes. However, the interior scenes shot on studio sets resemble episodes of BONANZA. They all have a fake look that is slightly jarring when juxtaposed with the magnificent outdoor vistas on display in the rest of the film.

Still, that's a minor quibble about what is a very entertaining film. Scott stars as Tom Andrews, a surveyor for the Canadian Pacific Railroad. He's tasked with finding a pass through the Rockies for the railroad to reach the Pacific Coast. He does so and announces his retirement from the railroad at the beginning of the film. He wants to marry his true love, Cecille Gautier (the lovely Nancy Olson) and settle down. But Cecille's father is part of a group of trappers, led by the sinister Dirk Rourke (Victor (THE SHADOW) Jory), who oppose the railroad because it will open up their territory to competition. The rift between Tom and Cecille's father causes them to break up. Rourke and his men begin a campaign of sabotage against the railroad which leads Tom back to work  on the railroad to oversee security.

During one sabotage attempt, Tom is injured in a dynamite blast. Dr. Edith Cabot (Jane Wyatt), gives him a transfusion of her own blood and nurses him back to health. They fall in love and Edith demands that Tom hang up his guns and live a peaceful, non-violent life. He does so for a time but when the railroad is threatened by both Rourke's men and the local Indian tribe, he must take up his guns. There's a well staged attack on the single remaining rail car in which Tom and the defenders win the day. Cecille returns to help repulse the attackers and she and Tom reconcile their differences.

In addition to the gorgeous cinematography by Fred Jackman, Jr., CANADIAN PACIFIC has a rousing score by Dimitri Tiomkin and a good supporting cast including J. Carrol Naish as Dynamite Dawson. John (ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN) Hamilton looks out of place as French-Canadian priest Pere Lacombe. Director Edwin L. Marin keeps things moving at a good clip while the screenplay by Jack DeWitt and Kenneth Gamet has an interesting sub-text regarding the use of violence. Tom can only bring civilization to the wilderness by the use of force, yet once the territory becomes civilized, men like him will no longer be needed. He allows himself to be emasculated by Edith (who represents civilization) but he ultimately has to resort to dealing death to save lives.

CANADIAN PACIFIC is a good old-fashioned western adventure, made even more enjoyable by the magnificent scenery and the rugged heroics of Randolph Scott. Thumbs up.

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