North West Mounted Police (21-Oct-1940)
Director: Cecil B. DeMille
Writers: Jesse Lasky, Jr.; Alan Lemay; C. Gardner Sullivan
From novel: The Royal Canadian Mounted Police by R. C. Fetherstonhaugh
Review by Kasey Lord (posted on 6-Oct-2007)
Much maligned De Mille epic of the early 40s.
Its plot, script and high-falutin' production values have provided easy targets for nit pickers and serious buffs blinded by the dazzle of its technicolour and the ripeness of its melodrama.
Cecil B De Millie made movies for the masses; this was his first in colour and he never shot in black and white again. There's no doubt about the breathtaking blaze of his colour canvases and the pictorial artistry of his compositions; here they're often lyrical and beautiful.
North West Mounted Police was apparenly shot on the Paramount backlot, although counter claims insist it was filmed on loaction in the Canadian Rockies.
This is doubtful, although one of two of the later action sequences indicate a broader sweep that could hardly be accommodated on a backlot.
De Mille loved stars and he uses them to great advantage in this film: He keeps Madeleine Carroll, Preston Foster and Robert Preston under tight rein. Foster's performance is dead straight, the epitome of the handsome leading man.
Preston is the over-sexed stud whose carnal urges betray his comrades. He was so effective in the role that De Mille enouraged its clone a couple of years later in Reap the Wild Wind.
Carroll is so delicious it hardly matters that the reading of her dialogue is surprisingly believable and intelligent.
Paulette Goddard as the half-breed temptress is fetching and fascinating. Her changes of expression and the delivery of her florid dialogue are mesmerising; the ultimate in high camp yet strangely magnetic.
Gary Cooper is mischevious. His tongue-in-cheek take on a Texas Ranger macho-footing around the Canadian landscape is close to parody; every time he opens his mouth there's a wicked gleam in his eye, and it's hard to believe that De Mille wasn't aware of it.
North West Mounted Police is an intriguing film. It was aimed at the box office and scored a bullseye but underneath its commercial facade there runs a serious undercurrent of nobility.
It surfaces in Walter Hampden's Indian Chief, in Preston Foster's level-headed sense of duty, In Madeleine Carroll's gentle humanity and in Robert Preston's tragic remorse.
De Mille presents his spectacle in pretty trappings that diffuse its ambiguity: Look deeper and you'll see something that isn't always what it appears to be.
Most movies are only for the moment. This one was wasn't and isn't. De Mille's showmanship can be truly haunting.
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