Each Monday, I continue to share Western movie reviews. I have now launched a podcast about the making of Westerns and the overall filmmaking process. Click here to listen.
Week 172: The Canadians (1961)
Surprisingly, Burt Kennedy’s directorial debut might be his most accomplished picture. Nearing the end of my way through his work (with five more out of his 22 Westerns to go), his first film stands out among the rest.
Perhaps it is not unexpected that The Canadians resembles the work Kennedy did as a screenwriter for Budd Boetticher more than any of his later pictures. Like The Tall T, it plays with complex motivations within its villain group. A campfire conversation between Robert Ryan and lead heavy John Dehner has echoes of the Scott/Boone talks in the latter film. Dehner’s antagonist isn’t evil; he has reasonable intentions even if his methods have been violent and unethical. At first his henchman feel like nothing but hired hands however Kennedy also gives them shades of complexity, especially in a sentimental conversation between two men about going to Sonora together when this is all over (we know already they probably won’t make it) and when the character Greer makes a moral stand against Dehner’s Boone.
The Native American characters are some of the best I have seen from the classic Western era. The captive woman is played without exaggeration by Teresa Stratas. Her scenes with Ryan are nuanced, touching, and make the tragic consequences of the final act all the more fitting. The Sioux are not presented in a one-dimensional way. Their actions in the finale are a refreshing alternative to the usual way pictures of this time reach their conclusions.
Another reason The Canadians works so well is that it basically fits the formula of a men-on-a-mission movie. By my estimation, Kennedy’s best films could be categorized in this subgenre from his underrated sequel to The Magnificent Seven to The Train Robbers and The Deserter. The Canadians is even stronger than those films, a Western with a simple story but filled with complex characters and ideas.
Watched on online at vk.com/video-83509032_456239047