North West Mounted Police (1940)

 

 

 

Director:     Cecil B. DeMille. 

Starring:     Gary Cooper (Dusty Rivers),  Madeleine Carroll (April Logan),  Paulette Goddard (Louvette Corbeau),  Preston Foster (Sgt. Jim Brett),  Robert Preston (Ronnie Logan),  George Bancroft (Jacques Corbeau),  Lynne Overman (Tod McDuff),  Akim Tamiroff (Dan Duroc),  Walter Hampden (Big Bear),  Lon Chaney Jr. (Shorty),  Montagu Love (Insp. Cabot),  Francis McDonald (Louis Riel),  George E. Stone (Johnny Pelang),  Willard Robertson (Supt. Harrington),  Regis Toomey (Const. Jerry Moore). 

Texas Ranger caught up in the Riel rebellion (or Northwest Rebellion)

 

"Canadian northwest. Here the first traders from the old world intermarried with the Indians of the plains and the forests to found a new race, the Métis of Canada. Here for two centuries these half-breed hunters and trappers multiplied and prospered, a law unto themselves. Then surveyors and homebuilders push westward bringing laws of land and property which threatened to end forever the free ways of the wild trails. In 1885, resentful and confused, the half-breeds under the leadership of Louis Rial, revolted against the advance of unwelcome law. In that hour a handful of hard riding men in scarlet coats, the Northwest Mounted Police, stood between Canada’s destiny and the rebellion that was being kindled across the American border."

In a little Montana school house Riel is teaching school. Two men from Northwest Canada, Duroc and Corbeau, ride up to the school house and enter the school room. Riel dismisses school early. Duroc tells him that Canada no longer belongs to the half-breeds. Surveyors have come in and the white people are stealing their lands. He says while the government takes care of the Indians, no one takes care of the Métis. He adds: "So we’re going to take care of ourselves."

The two men want Louie to return with them to Canada and lead their fight. Rial says that they tried that once already and it failed. But, says Corbeau, things are different now. The Blackfeet and Cree Indians will join them in the fight. Together they will be able to wipe out the whites in western Canada. Then they will set up their own government. Bartoche (near the confluence of the North and South Branches to make the Saskatchewan River) will be their capital.

There is, however, a big problem. Corbeau and Riel don’t like each other. Duroc tells them that they need each other. Riel will organize the half-breeds and Corbeau will bring in the Indians. Riel says: "Blood will run like water."

Two Mounties, Jim Brett and Ronnie Logan, go into Bartoche. The Inspector of the Mounties thinks that Riel has returned to Canada and the Mounties are to confirm or deny it. It seems rather obvious from all the men with weapons gathered in town that the half-breeds are preparing for war.

A pretty half-breed woman named Louvette comes up to talk with Ronnie. Ronnie tells her that they will meet at Fort Carlton tonight. Jim sees and hears this and tells Ronnie that he should forget the woman, because she is poison. He also tells Ronnie to go to the hospital to visit his sister, a commissioned nurse.

Jim rides over to Duroc. Duroc hands him a piece of paper that states what the Métis want from the Canadian government. The government has just twenty-four hours to reply. If the government refuses their demands, the half-breeds will form a new government for themselves. Duroc also reminds Jim that there are only fifty Mounties, while there are thousands of half-breeds under Riel and the Indians will also bring in thousands of warriors. Corbeau will make sure of it. Jim tells Duroc that Corbeau is nothing but a whiskey running killer. The half-breeds form a circle around Jim and start to hassle him. Jim tries to leave, but they block his exit.

From the hospital window Ronnie’s sister April tells one of the men that he has a brand new baby boy. That stops everyone in their tracks, as Shorty starts yelling about his new boy. He makes his way over to the hospital to see his boy.

Jim comes over to the hospital. He likes April, but she tells him that she has been transferred to Nova Scotia. April says that she does not want to love Jim, because she would always be worried that he might be killed while on his job. She says she is leaving next month. Jim kisses her.

Jim asks McDuff to be a scout for the Mounted Police. McDuff agrees. Duroc hears this and he objects because he and McDuff are good friends and he doesn’t want to have to fight his friend. McDuff keeps repeating that he cannot fight against the Queen.

At the palisaded Fort Carlton Ronnie asks his friend Jerry to cover for him tonight because he is going to be with his girl. A Texas Ranger named Dusty Rivers arrives at the fort and is taken in to see the Inspector. He has come to arrest an accused murderer from Texas who has escaped into Canada. The Inspector has Jim help Dusty fill out all the necessary forms for this. Ronnie sneaks off to see Louvette. She tells him that her father has come back home and that means some bad medicine. Dusty sleeps in the barracks with the police.

Two Mounties stops a wagon owned by Riel and Corbeau. They demand that the men let them examine the contents of the wagon. When the tarp over the contents is pulled back the men see a stash of rifles. Corbeau shoots the two Mounties and they go down.

At the fort Louvette gets into more trouble. She gets into an argument with McDuff and McDuff spanks her for her impudence and for threatening him with a knife. Jim sees this and tells Ronnie that Louvette is none other than the daughter Jacques Corbeau. April driving a wagon comes flying into the fort. In the back of the wagon is one dead Mounty and a wounded one. The survivor says one of his attackers had a foreign-looking saddle with a large silver horn. Dusty speaks up and says that it sounds like a Mexican charro saddle. He says the man he is after has such a saddle. What’s his name? Jacques Corbeau.

The Mounties start to move out after the killer  Jim sees Dusty talking with April and he doesn’t like it. When Dusty says that he wants to accompany the Mounties, Jim tells him that he can’t. Corbeau is their man. Dusty replies that Corbeau belongs to the man that catches him.

The Inspector has to cancel the mission because of orders from above about other priorities. He will, however, send Jim out by himself and McDuff will go with Dusty because Dusty can’t officially arrest Corbeau. Dusty and McDuff ride with April in her wagon to Bartoche. On the way Dusty tells Alice that he likes her a lot. They run into a group of refugees. The Burns family members say that the half-breeds just took over their trading post and threw them out.

Dusty and the two others arrive in Bartoche. Riel is talking with the Métis. He says that Corbeau has promised them to bring Big Bear into the fight. Dusty comes into the trading post and listens to what is being said. Riel asks who is this man and he is told that the fellow wanted to speak to the man in charge of the government, so he brought him to speak with Riel. Dusty explains that he wants a warrant for the arrest of Corbeau on a charge of murder.  Riel slips away and tells Corbeau that a Texas Ranger is after him. Corbeau isn’t worried. He tells Riel to give the Texan a warrant and then tell him he will find Corbeau at Big Bear’s campsite. He adds that he will kill the Ranger there.

Corbeau speaks with the Indians. He tells them that he wants them to take the war path with the Métis. Jim arrives and tells Big Bear not to go to war against the Queen. Dusty comes in too (with McDuff) and tells Big Bear that Corbeau will be hanged for murder. For that Corbeau knocks Dusty down. Since the chief seems to want to go to war, Jim pulls off a medal from the neck of Big Bear.  The medal was given in his honor from the Queen. Dusty tells the chief that he wants to challenge Corbeau, the big braggart, to a gun fight to prove the man is not as tough as he says he is. Big Bear is willing, but Corbeau refuses to draw on Dusty. Instead he shows the Indians the power of the Gatling Gun by firing its bullets through the tent making big holes in the structure. The Indians are impressed.

Jim and Dusty are allowed to depart. McDuff tells Dusty he was lucky he did not have to use his pistols against Corbeau. The Indians had taken out all the bullets from Dusty’s guns.

The Inspector tells Jim that he wants him to take two men as sentries and go out to Beardy’s Basin near Duck Lake. He is certain Rial’s troops will be coming through the pass there and they need to be warned when they do. Ronnie and Jerry are chosen for sentry duty.

April had fixed the broken leg of an Indian girl. Now her mother comes to warn April. Rial’s men are going to be setting up an ambush at Duck Lake. And, worse, they will kill her brother Ronnie tonight at Beardy’s Basin.

April goes to Louvette and tells her about Rial’s plans and the danger this represents to Ronnie. Louvette, however, doesn’t trust April. April becomes very angry at her and says that Louvette is still a savage, only out for blood and revenge. Louvette is insulted and says now that she will warn Ronnie.

At night Louvette goes to Ronnie and tells him that her father is chasing out of the area the only man that can marry them. So she wants him to come with her to Bartoche and get married tonight. When Ronnie says he can’t leave his post, Louvette says he doesn’t really love her because of the type of man her father is. Ronnie denies this saying that he both loves her and wants her. He goes with Louvette to prove it.

Corbeau kills Jerry on sentry duty with two arrows. Jerry drags himself all the way back to the cabin to warn Ronnie, but Ronnie has already left with Louvette. In Bartoche Louvette opens a cabin door to what she says is the priest’s house, but when Ronnie enters, three large Indian warriors grab Ronnie and tie him to a chair. When the warriors leave, Ronnie demands that Louvette release him. She says she will not because if she did, he would be killed. There is an ambush set at Duck Lake. Ronnie says that the men could all be massacred. He calls her a "dirty squaw" and says he will kill her once he is released. She says he can kill her once the danger is over.

Jim and Dusty find Jerry dead at the cabin. Jim sends the two Mounties with him to warn the other Mounties about a trap. Jim and Dusty read the written message Ronnie wrote explaining he will be back soon and will bring him some wedding cake. Jim finds Louvette’s necklace given to her by Ronnie. Dusty lights a cigarette and then burns the message. He doesn’t want Ronnie to get into any trouble.

The ambush is sprung on the Mounties. The Gatling gun does a good job of killing many of the Mounties. Jim and Dusty come riding fast into the group of Mounties. The Inspector is badly wounded. He gives Jim an order to get the men out of the cross-fire. Jim gives the order to retreat backward some fifty years.

Ronnie again begs Louvette to let him go. Back at Fort Carlton April hears the men talking about her brother. They say that Ronnie deserted the unit. April is very worried for Ronnie. The Inspector has been brought in to the hospital. April asks Jim to tells her where is Ronnie, but he won’t tell her anything.

The Inspector tells Jim to make sure he brings Ronnie to justice, then he dies. Jim tells McDuff to go to the river and bring up the boats for a get-away. McDuff starts sneaking through the woods, but is spotted by Duroc and his men. Duroc tells his men not to fire on the man because the fellow is all his. Duroc shoots various items off of McDuff. McDuff starts firing back and knocks Duroc’s belt off. Now the fellow can’t keep his pants up. While the two are playing this dangerous game, Duroc accidentally exposes himself to fire and he is hit two times from the fort. Duroc is shocked that McDuff would shoot him. McDuff hurries over to him telling Duroc that he didn't shoot him.  Someone else shot him from the fort. Duroc dies.

Dusty sees that April is very upset. She cries and asks where is Ronnie? Dusty tells her that love does funny things to people. But knowing Ronnie is April's brother, he knows that Ronnie wouldn’t do anything cowardly.

Jim comes in and tells Dusty that he has the job of getting April and the wounded down to the river to get them into the boats McDuff has gathered together. Jim tells April that he loves her. He also tells April that Ronnie deserted, running away with Louvette. Jim will accompany Dusty to the river. McDuff will set fire to the fort and the fire will help cover their escape.

Jim and the others make it to the river. Jim explains that he will go to Big Bear’s camp with the seven Mounties he has left. They may not make it back alive. April, McDuff, the wounded and Dusty get into the boats and start paddling to safety. Colonel Irving and his relief party are supposed to be arriving soon.

April says she knows that Ronnie is dead. Dusty asks her to come to Texas with him. She says that if she survives, he can take her to Texas. Dusty has them put him off the canoe onto the river bank.

Corbeau delivers the red jackets of the many Mounties that he and the half-breeds killed. He adds that the Sergeant is dead. Corbeau says that now he expects Big Bear to join with them. Big Bear says it’s war and the warriors start hooting and hollering in celebration.

Jim arrives at the Indian camp with six Mounties (one was hurt too badly to go with them). Big Bear points out that it seems that the Sergeant is not dead after all. Corbeau tells the warriors to kill the Mounties right now. Jim says that if they are hurt, many more red coats will come to punish the Indians. In the confusion, Jim grabs one of Cobeau’s wrists and slaps a handcuff on it. Big Bear does not intervene. Jim gives back to Big Bear the Queen’s medal.

Dusty plans an attack to capture and/or destroy the Gatling Gun. He pushes all the canoes into the river. The half-breeds see the canoes floating away and they run to retrieve them. Dusty uses their absence as a chance to act. He jumps on one of their horses, lassos the Gatling Gun and pulls it to the edge of a cliff. He and his horse fall to the ground and the Gatling gun keeps going and flies over the cliff and into the river.

Ronnie is with Louvette, but he fells very depressed. He says he can’t stand himself. He’s mad at Louvette, but madder still at himself. Dusty comes to talk with Ronnie. Louvette doesn’t want Dusty to interfere in their lives. She tries to grab her knife, but Dusty gets to it first. Dusty says that Ronnie is not a coward. He wants him to go to Bartoche to face what he did.

Dusty gives Ronnie his horse so Ronnie can get to Bartoche quickly. Meanwhile Louvette pays a warrior to assassinate Dusty. Louvette learns the change in plans and knows that Ronnie is now in danger. She runs after him and the assassin. When the assassin only sees one white man, he ends up killing Ronnie. Louvette arrives too late. She cradles his head in her hands.

Jim is still looking to arrest Ronnie when Dusty carries Ronnie’s dead body into the room. April cries over her brother. Dusty says that Ronnie didn’t desert. In fact, he captured the Gatling Gun and destroyed it by launching it off a cliff into the river. The sergeant apologizes for having misjudged a brave man. The two officers in the room also apologize.

Riel and Corbeau are under arrest in a guarded tent. Someone cuts a hole in their tent in the back of the tent and then throws the knife to the ground inside the tent. Corbeau grabs it and uses it to escape. Corbeau starts to run but Dusty soon captures him. He puts Corbeau on a horse to take back to Texas.

Writing out with his prisoner, Dusty is stopped by April and Jim. They ride with him and his prisoner for awhile. Jim smiles and tells Dusty that he is one of the biggest liars he has ever met. Dusty learns that April and Jim are plan to be together. April asks Dusty if she is free of her commitment from him and he says yes. Jim gets the girl and Dusty settles for the prisoner.

 

Good movie.  It kept my interest throughout.  The movie doesn't deal much with the grievances of the Métis.  It would have been interesting to learn more about the attitudes and lifestyles of the Métis.  Instead of dealing with these matters, they throw in a foreigner, a Texas Ranger.  Then the movie primarily deals with a love triangle between Dusty, Jim and April. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

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