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Saskatchewan (1954)

Break out the bright red uniforms of the Canadian Mounties because Alan Ladd has come north and enlisted. He’s sure to tangle with an incompetent commander, a blood brother who has turned his back on him and according to his scout J. Carol Naish who quips “Where did you trap the pretty beaver?”, he has to contend with an unlikely blonde in the form of uncouth Shelley Winters.

saskatchewan half sheet

It’s 1877 in the beautiful backdrop of the Canadian wilderness. Ladd and Jay Silverheels begin our journey as brothers on a hunting excursion. Their peaceful existence is about to take a serious turn when they encounter the remains of a few wagons burned to the ground and bodies left to rot. It seems that there is one lone survivor hidden under a canopy. Yup! It’s Shelley Winters.

Cree Indian Silverheels proclaims that the Sioux are on the warpath. They’ve moved into Canada after the destruction of General Custer’s army. The trio move back to the Mountie command post where we learn that Alan is a member of the red coats. Time for introductions as the script unveils scout Naish, Richard Long utilizing the cliched Irish brogue, and a stern Robert Douglas who is instantly at odds with Ladd over the treatment of Indians.

ladd as mountie

While Jay and Alan were on their hunting trek, Douglas has had the peaceful Cree Indians stripped off their guns and rounded up. Silverheels storms off and all too quickly blames Ladd, thus setting up their falling out a little too conveniently. Cramming perhaps too much into the 87 minute running time, U.S. lawman Hugh O’Brian turns up with a warrant for Winters. Apparently she killed a man back in Montana who happened to be O’Brian’s brother. Ladd and O’Brian are soon to be vying for Miss Winters affections.

Instantly I found myself saying aloud to no one in particular other than Ladd on my TV screen, “Let him have her.” There I go again hinting that yes, Shelley does grate on my nerves just a bit. Oh, well. Back to the show.

Long time off screen Ladd pal and frequent co-star Anthony Caruso does duty here leading the warring Indians against the red police force. His Sioux warrior is pressing Silverheels’ people to join them in the fight and wipe out Ladd and his crew. When company commander Douglas takes the men on Patrol and right into the heart of danger, he refuses Ladd’s expertise and experience leading to Ladd’s mutiny and taking the command by force. Like Winters he’ll become a fugitive when and if they return to the fort and safety.

saskatchewan4

Raoul Walsh served as director here on this familiar western plot conveniently moved north to the Canadian wilderness for a picturesque backdrop. From the opening when Ladd meets Winters and Silverheels storms off in a rage, the story is set with the usual outcome more or less. It’s just a matter of who is going to be standing when the final reel plays itself out.

Every inch a movie star, Ladd looks impressive photographed in color wearing the bright red of the Northwest Mounted Police. Having said that he still found the time to appear in his very Shane looking buckskin duds. Winters does her best to look appealing and desirable thanks to a very low cut top for the majority of the picture. I sure hope it wasn’t mosquito season during the filming.

Saskatchewan3

In Winters autobiography she has kind things to recall about the production and working with Ladd. During off days she apparently spent a fair bit of time on the set of River of No Return palling around with Marilyn Monroe. The Otto Preminger production was filming around the same parts of Canada during the same season.

It’s character player extraordinaire J. Carrol Naish who has the best lines and easily steals many of his scenes. Lines like the earlier beaver quip and when Ladd suggests he take a bath in the river he responds, ” Me in water? I don’t even drink it.” Naish is one of those great faces who made even Monogram titles that much better and helped turned “A” budget productions into classics.

Saskatchewan8

This is the fourth of five westerns I have caught up with that were released as part of the excellent TCM Vault package Western Horizons. The other previously visited titles are Backlash, Dawn at Socorro and Horizons West.

9 Comments »

  1. I enjoy your posts very much. May I ask a Canadian history question? There are no mountains in “Saskatchewan”. In the poster and photos Alberta seems to be the backdrop. Does the story take place in Saskatchewan or Alberta? Or did the Saskatchewan Territory include the Rocky Mountains back then?

    • Hi George. Most of the movie is pretty vague about actual locations. At the 20 minute mark, the movie displays a vague map and the commanding NWMP officer says “here we are in Saskatchewan 2 or 3 days march from Fort Walsh (northwest of the Fort Walsh). I propose we lead an expedition there across the flat country (flat country which is never shown).

      2 or 3 days march would be what, 60 miles distance? 100 miles? Which would mean the expedition travels almost entirely on prairie northwest of Fort Walsh near the Saskatchewan-Alberta border. That route would mean no mountains at all, and no forest until they were within a few miles of Fort Walsh.

      Near film’s end, the story shifts to the NWMP outpost at Fort Walsh, with Ladd and several characters loyal to Ladd ending up in its jail. Fort Walsh still exists in Saskatchewan’s Cypress Hills in southwest Saskatchewan. I hike there every summer, and I can assure you there are no mountains near Fort Walsh or anywhere else in Saskatchewan. The Cypress Hills are forested and hilly but have no mountains.

      A couple of comments about the film – its history and geography are rubbish, but I think the film is good fun in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way, looking back at the liberties taken telling this story. I’ve tried in vain for over a decade to find a widescreen version of the film to fully enjoy its cinematography, but have never been able to find one.

  2. This is a fairly routine western, nothing all that special but entertaining enough all the same. Ladd, Naish and director Walsh were always guys you could count on for classy and professional work though and the fantastic location shooting really helps elevate the movie.

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