One of my favourites screened at last year’s giornate del cinema muto in Pordenone, William Beaudine’s The Canadian — based on W. Somerset Maugham’s play, The Land of Promise — premiered at Toronto’s Loew’s Yonge St. Theatre on January 10, 1927.
Produced in 1926, The Canadian was released in a year that saw nearly twenty films, including another Famous Players-Lasky hit, Mantrap, set in Canada or involving aspects of the burgeoning Canadian identity.
Far from the “gay and glorious romance” stated in the above ad, The Canadian depicts the harshness of the Canadian West in the early 20th century, in which Frank (Thomas Meighan), a rancher, hastily married to Nora (Mona Palma), a recent emigre from England, share nothing but utter contempt for one another. The dryness of Frank’s wheat crops have nothing on the cold relationship between husband and wife.
Since the film’s action takes place within a twin-room ranch-house, Beaudine, one of the most talented directors of the silent era, is handed the daunting task of using minimal camera movement, free of flourish, to convey that sense of frontier alienation.
What’s most captivating, however, is that the film, shot near Calgary, never fully reveals the identity of the titular character: Meighan’s tough, no-nonsense rancher, working the land handed to his family by the Dominion Lands Act, or the stranger in a strange land that is Nora, who relinquishes her British identity for that of the subservient Canadian.