SUSANNAH OF THE MOUNTIES(director: William A. Seiter; screenwriters: Robert Ellis/Helen Logan/story by Fidel La Barba & Walter Ferris/based on the novel by Muriel Denison; cinematographer: Arthur C. Miller; editor: Robert Bischoff; cast: Shirley Temple (Susannah Sheldon), Randolph Scott (Monty Inspector Angus Montague), Margaret Lockwood (Vicky Standing), J. Farrell McDonald (Pat O’Hannegan), Maurice Moscovich (Chief Big Eagle), Moroni Olsen (Supt. Andrew Standing), Martin Good Rider (Little Chief), Victor Jory (Wolf Pelt), Lester Matthews (Harlan Chambers), Leyland Hodgson (Randall), Herbert Evans (Doctor), Charles Irwin (Sgt. McGregor), John Sutton (Corporal Piggott); Runtime: 79; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Kenneth MacGowan/Darryl F. Zanuck; Fox Home Video; 1939)
“Adequate Shirley Temple vehicle.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
William A. Seiter (“Belle of the Yukon”/”The Lady Wants Mink”/”Four Jills in a Jeep”) directs this adequate Shirley Temple vehicle, her last successful film. It’s based on a novel by Muriel Denison and written by Robert Ellis, Helen Logan, Fidel La Barba and Walter Ferris.
It’s set in the Canadian West during the building of the Canadian Pacific railroad from 1882-84. The Indians resent the white man’s encroachment on their land (a subject which is never given further voice after being raised early on in the film). Susannah Sheldon (Shirley Temple) is the little girl who is the sole survivor of an attack by Blackfeet Indians on her family wagon train. She’s taken in by the Mountie officer Inspector Angus “Monty” Montague (Randolph Scott), who finds her when on patrol. Susannah easily adjusts to life on the army post and is befriended by Pat O’Hannegan (J. Farrell McDonald), Monty’s Irish orderly who sews for her a new cowgirl outfit.
Superintendent Standing’s (Moroni Olsen) attractive daughter Vicky (Margaret Lockwood) arrives in the wilderness outpost from Toronto and this sparks a romantic rivalry between Harlan Chambers (Lester Matthews), the head of the railroad camp, and Monty, and it makes Susannah jealous that all Monty’s attention is now going to Vicky. Though she still teaches Monty how to dance the waltz so he can woo Miss Vicky.
When a band of renegade Blackfeet steal the horses from Chambers’ camp, the superintendent calls a powwow with Chief Big Eagle (Maurice Moscovitch); he’s a friendly Indian who pledges to deliver the renegades, and to make sure he keeps his word he leaves at the army post his young son Little Chief (Martin Good Rider) as a gesture of good will. Little Chief and Susannah bond during his stay, as he teaches her about Indian customs.
The children one day while out riding witness the renegade Wolf Pelt (Victor Jory) trying to sell Chambers his stolen horses; this incites Chambers into threatening the Indians with war. Chambers’ threat incites the Indians to war when Wolf Pelt denies he stole the horses. Big Eagle demands the railroad leave or the captured Monty would die at the stake. In the unbelievable climax to this ridiculous tale, Susannah comes to the rescue as she convinces Big Eagle that Wolf Pelt was lying about the horse theft. When after an Indian type of lie detector is used to determine who is lying, Susannah is shown to be telling the truth and Big Eagle thereby frees Monty. Susannah then smokes the peace pipe with the Indians and white men, and ends up cutely getting nauseous.
The film has the gall to blame all the Indian and white problems on a few disreputable members of both cultures. This might be the case for this picture, but that’s certainly not true for the overall historical problem that smacks of racismon the part of the whites.
REVIEWED ON 1/20/2008 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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