Canadian Pacific (1949)
Director: Edwin L. Marin.
Starring: Randolph Scott (Tom Andrews), Jane Wyatt (Dr. Edith Cabot), J. Carrol Naish (Dynamite Dawson), Victor Jory (Dirk Rourke), Nancy Olson (Cecille Gautier), Robert Barrat (Cornelius Van Horne), Walter Sande (Mike Brannigan), Grandon Rhodes (Dr. Mason), Don Haggerty (Cagle), John Parrish (Mr. Gautier), Mary Kent (Mrs. Gautier), John Hamilton (Pere Lacomb), Howard Negley (Mallis).
1881-1885, building of the Canadian Pacific Railway heading through a pass through the Canadian Rockies
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
"The Canadian Pacific Railway. Two bands of steel pass through the most spectacular scenery on the face of the earth. From the Atlantic to the Pacific, a mighty link in the chain of transportation stretching from Europe to the Orient. The Northwest Passage of today. The building of this modern railroad is synonymous with the building of a nation: the Dominion of Canada. In the early 80s Canada was uncertain of a future of a united country. British Columbia isolated beyond vast mountain ranges threatened succession. Only a railway could make this far western province a dominion. Explorers penetrated into the mountains, scaled rocky peaks and fought their way through roaring gorges. The government spent millions of dollars in surveys. Regions of breathless beauty were discovered and mapped. But the great barrier, the Rocky Mountains, kept locked within its vast silence the one secret which would make this railway possible. A pass through which a railway could be built. A crisis arose. Workmen lay down their tools. Progress ceased. Supplies lay unused on the prairie and the rails came to an end. A special committee of the Canadian Parliament was forced to meet in an emergency session."
The representative from British Columbia says that the people of British Columbia are sick and tired of waiting for the railway to come out west so east and west could become united in a Canadian nation. He adds: "Unless we get a railway, British Columbia will become a separate dominion. We shall secede." An uproar against secession is heard. The chairman now introduces their guest and says when the representatives hear his report on the railway, they will be quite satisfied. He introduces Mr. William Van Horne, General Manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway. He assures the representatives that the Canadian Rockies can be crossed. As they speak, a surveyor is charting the route through the Rockies. "I promise you. That man will find a pass."
The surveyor is Tom Andrews. He is studying the lay of the land for his route through the Rockies. He sees beautiful waterfalls and fast flowing rivers. He reaches another large waterfall. He stars working his way up the side the the gorge. Two men see the surveyor and decide to shoot at him. The one in charge is Dirk Rourke. His henchman fires at Andrews, but doesn't hit him. They step back from the cliff, but return moments later to check on Andrews. Tom now shoots at them. The henchman is going to go for the kill, but Rourke tells him all he wants to do is make Mr. Andrews feel uncomfortable. Tom uses his binoculars to get a good look at the bushwhackers.
Tom packs up all of his equipment and supplies and goes back to the railway. Along the way, Tom stops at the Rourke Trading Post to inquire where is Mr. Rourke? The fellow there doesn't really know.
Back at the railway, some of the guys welcome Tom back. A foreman asks him if they are ending the line here, or are they going on west? Tom says that depends on Mr. Van Horne. An old friend of Tom's, Dynamite Dawson, drives his wagon over to speak with Tom. They talk for awhile, Tom sees somebody, goes up to him and knocks him out. He tells foreman Brannigan to throw this man out of camp. Brannigan starts to comply when a woman doctor, Dr. Edith Cabot, comes forward. She scolds Tom for socking this man for no reason. Dynamite Dawson tries to speak up for Tom, but Tom doesn't want to be defended. He tells the doctor he goes crazy when he sees a man in a red shirt and he just has to attack them. Everyone except the doctor laughs at this.
Tom now goes to speak to Mr. Van Horne. Van Horne tells Tom that he's three days late. Tom comments that the boss is lucky that his surveyor is here at all, but he doesn't mention that Rourke and his man tried to bushwhack him. Van Horne asks if Tom found the passage route through the Rockies? Tom says he sure did. And he will draw up a good map of the route for the boss. Tom then mentions that he will be leaving the railway and going out to a place a little west of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Van Horne insists that Tom stick with this job until the job is finished.
Dr. Edith Cabot and Dr. Mason come into the headquarters car. It's now that Edith learns that the man she scolded is none other than the company surveyor, Tom Andrews. Dr. Cabot says that Tom's job requires a man who is fast with his fists and fast with his gun. Edith says she is so anti-gun because her father was killed when he chose to use the gun to approach a man, instead of trying to reason with him. Tom says he's sorry to hear about her father. Tom still says he is quitting the job and moving on.
Tom rides out to the little place west of Calgary. He has a girl there he loves. She runs out to welcome him home. Her name is Cecille Gautier and she's been waiting a year for the return of Tom. Inside his room Cecille tells him that he will probably be going back to the railway fairly soon, but Tom says no, he's settling down here. He also talks about their future honeymoon place, which makes Cecille a happy woman. The two people hug each other. Cecille mentions that Dirk Rourke has been coming around the place a lot. He says it's because of the new trading post he built in the area, but she knows that Rourke is sniffing around because of her. This remark upsets Tom. Tom tells Cecille that Rourke took a couple of shots at him up in the canyon in the Rockies. He says he had thought at the time that this probably had something to do with Cecille.
Cecille also tells Tom that Rourke is holding a meeting of the people in the area interested in stopping the train from going through their town. Tom is definitely going to that meeting. Cecille doesn't want him to go because there could be gunplay there. She tries to hide his guns behind her back, saying that Tom could get hurt. Tom hugs her and says maybe he will go to that meeting without his guns, because he just wants to talk to the people.
Tom leaves the house and Cecille follows him. At the trading post he listens as Rourke denounces him for being the surveyor of the railroad. After awhile, Tom shouts out to Rourke why doesn't he tell the whole story? The story where he tried to shoot Tom in the back. Rourke and Tom start a debate between themselves over the railroad being good or bad for the local community. Rourke says that his only interest in this is his interest in the community. Tom replies: "The only thing you're interested in is that string of Rourke trading posts. Because those big profits you've been taking from these people will go out the window. . . . You're the only man who will suffer from the railroad." Rourke gets carried away with his rhetoric and Tom has had enough. He starts a fight with Rourke that he wins.
The local priest tells the men to stop fighting. Tom gives Rourke one more hit and knocks him out completely. The priest scolds the men for again fighting about the railroad. The father then tells Tom that he wants to speak with him. It appears that Cecille went over to get the priest to stop the fighting at the trading post. Father says he's surprised that Tom is thinking about quitting the railroad. He warns Tom about Rourke working up the local men against the railroad. And the unrest is spreading throughout the area. He's worried that this will lead to very serious trouble.
When Tom returns he teases Cecille about her going to see the priest. He then tells her that he's going to back to work for the railroad. "If trouble comes, I've got to be there." She gets very mad at Tom saying that she spent a whole year waiting for him and now he wants another year from her and then the following year he will asks for still another year. "My people don't want it [the railroad] and neither do I. And I don't want you either." She yanks off her necklace and throws it at Tom.
A group of Indians watches the railroad being constructed. Tom talks with Mr. Van Horne. All of a sudden Dynamite Dawson and his dynamite wagon comes roaring down alongside the tracks. Everybody runs away from the wagon as it looks like the horses have gone crazy. Tom jumps on his horse and rides out there to stop the horses. He does and then Dawson says this little trick was the fastest way he figured he could get to talk to Tom. He says someone has been stealing dynamite from his wagon. In all, about a case and a half has been stolen. He found moccasin prints all around his wagon. Tom says he will investigate the situation.
Tom rides over to the Indians by the track. He tells the chief it looks like he's got two white men amongst his Indians. Upon hearing this, the two men start running. Tom shoots both fellows. One of the fellows tries to fire back at Tom, but Dr. Cabot knocks the gun out of his hand. She tells Tom: "You again. I might have guessed." Tom gets a bit frustrated with her and asks if it ever occurred to the good doctor that he might have had a good reason for shooting these men? Just then a dynamite explosion damages one of the flat bed cars and sends its iron rails raining down on some of the workers.
Everyone rushes over to pick the iron rails off the injured men. Tom gets Dr. Cabot and shows her the damage done by the dynamite explosion. This is the reason he had for shooting the two men.
Tom gets two men and they walk over to the medical car. He grabs the two men he shot and tells his men to take these two fellow into Calgary and hold them for murder. As he passes Dr. Cabot he is about to say something to her, but decides not to say anything.
Dynamite Dawson tells Tom that he has 1,000 sticks of dynamite missing. Tom goes to visit an Indian tribe and discovers boxes of dynamite buried just below the ground. He speaks with the chief about it saying that some young bucks have probably been paid by white men to steal the dynamite from Dynamite Dawson. Tom shows the chief where the dynamite is buried and the chief has some of his braves put the boxes onto Tom's wagon.
Tom is returning with the dynamite to the railroad, while Rourke and his henchman watch him. Rourke wants the shooter to wait for Tom to stack up all the dynamite cases and then fire at the bottom stack. The shooter does just that. Tom is hurt by the huge explosion. He is taken to Drs. Cabot and Mason. Edith volunteers to give blood for a transfusion for Tom.
Cecille comes home late one night and hears the voices of her father and Rourke. She slowly moves closer to the house to hear what is being said. She can make out that they are talking about stopping the railroad. She goes in to protest this kind of talk, but her father says it's his house and they will stop the railroad. Rourke brags that a couple of sticks of dynamite can blow things up making railway progress very difficult. Rourke says that he is going to stir up the Indians against the railroad. Cecille tells the men that they can't stop the railroad for good. They are just listening to Rourke's lies so they can all get killed. Dad tells her to get out.
Rourke comes to talk to Cecille. He mentions that Tom is now under the care of that doctor that he likes. He was hurt in an accident when a bullet hit one of the dynamite boxes. Cecille realizes that it was Rourke who engineered this "accident". She gets on her horse and rides to the end of the railway. She tries to get in to speak to Tom, but the doctor and Dawson won't let her. Dawson talks with her and gets her to tell him what she was going to tell Tom. She tells Dawson that it was Rourke who set off that dynamite explosion that hurt Tom. Dawson now tells her to go back home and find out as much as she can about the plans of Rourke and her father.
The foreman is talking to Van Horne when a series of dynamite explosions starts knocking out some of the railway tracks. Still another setback. Van Horne goes in to tell Tom just how bad things are for them now. And the worst of it is that they are preventing the payroll from getting into camp. That's one sure way to get the workers upset. While talking, Van Horne mentions that Dr. Cabot gave her own blood so Tom could have a transfusion. Tom is impressed by that act of kindness toward him. Van Horne says the woman saved Tom's life.
Dawson comes in to tell Tom that Rourke was behind Tom's little "accident". Now Edith comes in. Tom thanks her for the blood transfusion. She acts as if it was nothing and still plays hard-to-get.
And now the snow starts up. Nothing will happen until next spring.
Spring comes again and a lot of changes have happened. Tom is now healthy and roaring to go after the bad guys. Edith is now extremely fond of Tom as she has seen another side, the kinder side, of Tom.
The railroad engine and car return to the camp. Tom and Edith kiss.
Rourke is back out stirring up the Indians. He has quite a bit of success with his efforts. Cecille is aware of Rourke's successes . In order for her to survive, she plays along with their schemes telling the Indians to go stop the railway. Cecille decides she must warn Tom. She sneaks out of the house, gets on her horse and heads for the railway camp.
The workers are really getting angry about not being paid. The men decide to confront Van Horne about their money. Tom talks with the men from the back of the hospital car. The leader tries to get the men to start tearing up the place. Dawson tells Tom to come down and teach this fellow a lesson. But with Edith standing there so opposed to violence, Tom doesn't fight and the bad guy laughs at him. So the men decide to stop work and go into the tent saloon owned by a man named Bailey.
Dawson says he's disappointed with Tom. He's being too influenced by the lady doctor.
Cecille sees an Indian tribe preparing for battle.
Bailey offers some free whiskey to the men. One man says that the whiskey came from Rourke who wants the men to get drunk and stay drunk so the railway doesn't go through. The strike leader doesn't like this remark. He shoots the speaker dead. Then another man shoots the strike leader. Then the bartender shoots the man who shot the strike leader. This stops the men in their tracks. Once they are all quiet the bartender says the drinks are on the house. Dawson rushes over to tell Tom what happened. Edith hears him and grabs her doctor's kit to go attend to the wounded. Dawson tells Tom to get his guns on. Tom straps them on. Dawson says: "Now you look like a man."
Edith asks about any wounded men and gets accosted by the drunken men. Tom comes in and tells the drunk holding Edith: "Get your hands off her!" He pushes the fellow over a table and onto the floor. He now tells Edith to get out of here. Tom now tells the bartender that he is taking him in for the killing of a railway worker. The bartender pulls his rifle out, but Tom plugs him before the fellow can get a shot off. He disappears behind the bar. Edith hears the shots. She turns and goes back to the hospital car.
Now Tom has Dawson round up the men's pistols. He tells the men that he is keeping all the guns for awhile until they sober up and start listening to what he tells them.
Cecille sees more Indian tribes readying for battle. Tom has the engineer use his engine to pull down Bailey's Saloon. Tom now speaks to the men and gets them to go back to work. And here comes Cecille riding fast. She tells Tom that hundreds of Indians are coming right now. Tom whips the men into shape to fix a defensive barrier between the men and the Indians.
Tom rushes over to the telegram operator just to learn that the wires are down. So Tom gives a rifle to the operator and tells him to get on the defensive line. Dynamite now rides out to go get help.
The fighting starts. Rourke and his henchman are shooting from behind the rocks in the mountains. He hears that someone has gone for help and he says he has Indians watching all the roads and the messenger will never get through.
Indians knock Dawson off his horse. As they are deciding what to do, Dawson asks if they want to smoke some cigars. So he lights a cigar for everyone of them and as they try to smoke the dynamite, the sticks explode killing them. Dawson rides off to get help.
The Indians use flaming arrows to try to burn down the defensive line. One Indian climbs onto the roof of the hospital, drops down from the window and scares the hell out of Dr. Cabot. Tom shoots the fellow and then tells Dr. Cabot to be careful because the Indians can be treacherous. Dr. Cabot says he's just a wounded man. Just then the Indian flips over with a knife in his hand, Tom slams his foot down on the Indian's hand, thereby preventing anyone from getting hurt.
Cecille's father is brought in wounded. And now he's not so tough. He says that he didn't realize this operation was going to get so out of hand. And he says that Rourke is going to give a signal from behind some pine trees indicating that the full attack will now begin. Tom decides to stop Rourke. In the dark he crawls over to the mountains and starts working his way over to a clump of pine trees. There he sees Rourke and his henchman as they are just about to light the signal for the final attack. Tom kills the henchman, but he manages to throw his torch onto the tinder before he dies. The fire starts roaring away quickly.
Rourke and Tom fire at each other, while the Indians start moving up for the big attack. Rourke wounds Tom in the shoulder, but Rourke also has a wound in one of his legs. He runs out of bullets and tries to crawl over to get one of his henchman's pistols. Tom is just about to plug him, when a huge, burning branch of the signal tree falls onto Rourke and he is burned alive.
And here comes Dawson and Van Horne with lots of gunmen coming to the rescue via the railroad. When the train arrives, Tom tells the men to start firing at the Indians at a faster pace. Men come pouring off the recently arrived train driving the Indians back. Tom is awfully glad to see Dawson and Van Horne.
In the morning the chiefs come to speak with the white boss. The spokesman throws his hatchet into the ground and tells the white boss that they want peace with the white man. They want go home in peace free from any worries of retaliation from the whites. Van Horne agrees.
The train starts pulling out taking Dr. Cabot away. Tom rushes over and gets on the train. Cecille watches helplessly as Tom leaves. As she continues to watch, Tom gets off the train and walks toward Cecille. She runs out to him and gives him a big hug. That night they camp out near the railway and together they watch the trains go by.
The film is okay, but you don't learn a lot about the building of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. And toward the end it becomes a kind of cowboy and Indian film. You do learn some things historic, but it's not that much. And where are the Chinese fellows who helped build the Canadian Pacific? The only minority are the Indians. Randolph Scott is good at being Randolph Scott. He always seems a bit stiff to me, but he was a good cowboy actor. Other actors I recognized were J. Carrol Naish (as Dynamite Dawson) and Victor Jory (as the bad man Dirk Rourke). For a moment I got Jane Wyatt (from Father Knows Best) mixed up with Jane Wyman (Reagan's first wife). The film is a pretty standard western, but lots of people love this type of western.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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