Canadians (1961) 

 

 

 

Director:  Burt Kennedy.

Starring:  Robert Ryan (Inspector William Gannon), John Dehner (Frank Boone), Torin Thatcher (Sergeant McGregor), Burt Metcalfe (Constable Springer), John Sutton (Superintendent Walker), Jack Creley (Greer), Scott Peters (Ben), Richard Alden (Billy), Teresa Stratas (The White Squaw).

Americans as the bad guys in more peaceful Canada

 

Spoiler warning:  below is the entire story.

An o.k. movie.  1876, Cypress Hills, Saskatchawan, Canada.  This a true story of the Northwest Mounted Police where three gallant men faced the entire Sioux nation.  The Sioux had recently come from the Custer massacre at the Battle of Little Big Horn to head north into Canada. 

At a police encampment, we learn that the Northwest Mounted Police have recently left Fort Steel and are on their way to Battleford.  Inspector William Gannon has been instructed to select two men and head south to meet the Sioux nation and tell them that they are welcome to stay in Canada as long as they can maintain the peace. 

Gannon chooses Sergeant McGregor and Constable Springer to accompany him.  They travel south and find the Sioux.  They talk with their spokesman Four Horns and deliver the message that the Queen will protect them as long as they don't cross from north to south and as long as they can live in peace. 

The peace is not broken by the Sioux but by four Americans who attack a small Sioux village, killing men, women and children.  Under the leadership of Frank Boone, a rancher, the group has come north from Montana in order to recover 40 horses of theirs who were stolen by the Sioux.  They find out a little later that the horses are not theirs, but as Boone says "What difference does it make?  They stole them from somebody."  They have captured a Sioux woman, whose child they killed.  Boone is certain she is rancher Seth Anderson's girl stolen by the Sioux five years earlier.  They will take her back to Montana.  

The Mounties find out about the killings when the body of a Sioux warrior flows downstream to their encampment.   They set out to find the cause of the death.  They sneak up on the four Americans and arrest them, despite their protest that "Since when is killing Indians a crime?"  Gannon answers with "Since you crossed the line into Canada."  They then start the trek to Battleford. 

There is an interesting conversation between two of the bad guys and Constable Springer where they ask the Canadian about the Mounties' habit of wearing their guns in a covered holstered where it is not easy to get at it in a fight. 

"We don't have gunfighters up here."

"No. How Come?"

"There's no need.  That's the difference."

"Between what?"

"This side of the line and yours. . . . Doesn't it ever make you think though?  The way you have to tie a gun to your leg everywhere you go."

"You mean you don't here?"

"No."

"Why?"

"The force.  See we were riding this territory long before any whites moved in.  The law got here first, you might say.  It's the other way around in your country.  Settlers come, crime gets out of hand.  They pin a star on a man.  Like as not, he gets the job done, but it sure makes for a lot of dead men in the street.  Sure is a shame."

One thing funny about the Canadian Mounties was that they did not keep the bad guys tied up.  They were just asking for trouble and it comes.  In the first incident, one of the bad guys knocks out the sleeping Constable Springer and then tries to rape the young woman.  She screams and Gannon is able to overcome the bad guy in a fight. 

The second incident is when Boone gets the drop on the sleeping Gannon with a scatter gun he has hidden in his slicker.  They get away.  The Mounties come after them.  The bad guys try to way-lay them, but the only outcome of the encounter is the murder of the young woman when she tries to run to the Mounties. 

The Sioux have set a trap for the bad guys.  They are not allowed to kill any white men, so they use the wild horses as bait for the bad guys and then they stampede the herd and the bad guys wind up falling over one of the cliffs or being crushed to death by the horses' hooves.  When the Mounties arrive, Four Horns is able to tell them that they had not expended one cartridge in killing the four men. 

What makes the movie interesting is the difference between the American wild west attitude and the more controlled and sensible approach of the Canadians.  American culture has an aggressive streak in it that Canadian culture seems to lack.  

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

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