Thursday, April 23, 2009

Nomads of the North (1920)

Nomads of the North
Director: David Hartford
USA 1920
78 min

Nomads of the North is a heart tearing melodrama, with a lot of moments of comic relief, set in a little village called Port Forest O'God, "God's great wilderness fifteen hundred miles North and West of Montreal".
The plot is built around a classical triangle drama (or discussingly quadrat...) with a lot of hand waving actors. But I feel that the melodramatic, old-fashioned acting style cools off toward the second part of the film, and leaves you with an all-positive feeling about this film. And the photography work by Walter L. Griffin is really amazing.

This is another of my screenshot filled review posts, as I bet you've already scrolled down to see. I hope you enjoy it! I'll start describing the plot (I won't reveal the exciting ending) with the characters. The personality descriptions were so fantastic in the film that I simply quoted them:

"Duncan McDougall, Hudson's Bay Company Factor.
A tiger of the old regime, still ruling his primitive domain with a hand of iron and a heart of stone." - Melbourne MacDowell

"Bucky McDougall, his son.
A serpent polished with the veneer of years spent in Montreal, the deadliest and most treacherous of all the McDougall race." - Francis McDonald

Nanette Roland (Betty Blythe). The village beauty, who is adored by every single man.

"Corporal Michael O'Connor of the R.N.W.M. Police." - Lewis Stone

"Andre Roland, father of Nanette, fighting heroically his last great fight - against death." - Spottiswoode Aitken

The first dramatic situation appear soon.
Bucky follows Nanette to her mother's grave, where she was about to lay some flowers, only to violently try to kiss her (a scene that can't be read in any other way than a rape attempt). When she arrives back to her father's cabin to tell about the horrible event, the visiting town priest calmly tells her that "Love is impulsive, my dear. He did not mean wrong."
Remember that, dear female readers!

"Black Marat, a whiskey-runner, up from "civilization" with a cargo of smuggled fire-water."
We see Bucky McDougall entertain a friend over a bottle of forbidden liquid.
Nanette has promised to Bucky if she finds out that her great love Raoul (Lon Chaney) is dead. He and Black Marat decides to trick her, Marat telling her that he has seen Raoul die. Everything is allowed in love and war, right?

"Three hundred miles further north, Raoul Challoner, the "dead man", twelve months over-due from the edge of the Arctic Sea."
During the way he has picked up two friends - a puppy named Brimstone and a baby bear (who's mother he had had to kill in order to avoid starvation) names Neewa.

Lon Chaney is obviously the definition of "hardcore". He shaves against the hair direction with a knife!

"In the days that follow, Neewa and Brimstone face hunger and adventure in the big wilderness."
After a canoeing accident, Raoul is separated from Neewa and Brimstone. Before they find their way back to each other the animal duo have a funny little adventure of their own, facing the "monsters of the forest"together (they are hold together by a leash) and even have a couple of lines!

After an exhausting travel, Raoul arrives to his village, only to find out that a wedding ceremony starring his beloved Nanette and the McDougall brat is being performed that same moment. He arrives too late, but the newly wed wife doesn't care - throwing her arms around her dear Raoul when she realizes that she has been lied to.
Bucky McDougall and his companion Black Marat won't leave it at that. They soon start a fight with Raoul, ending with Raoul accidently killing Black Marat. He is thrown into a dirty cellar by the McDougalls until the police arrives. The description of his prison cell:

"The Fort O'God dungeon - a relic of the old days when Factors were kings."

Nanette toughens herself up a bit and goes out in the rain storm to rescue her lover from the McDougalls. After Raoul has been released, he and Nanette put the handcuffs on the McDougalls instead and run away together heading north.

Does anyone believe in the moustache to the left?

Three years pass and our beloved couple have built themselves a cosy little cottage in the northern woods. Neewa and Brimstone has grown and a baby has arrived. What a paradise!
However, Bucky McDougall eventually finds his way to their home to claim his bride by law. Raoul is out in the woods at the time and can't help out, but Neewa and Brimstone show to be of use. Bucky is chasen out, but returns with Corporal O'Connor who handcuffs Raoul to bring him back.
How is this going to end well?

As if the situation wasn't bad enough, a forest fire breaks loose and threaten the lives of everything living there, including our heroes.

And now I won't reveal any more.

I think you can agree with me on my photography opinions when you see the screenshots above. I can't imagine how much work it must have been filming all animals and the scenery.
The forest fire was really dramatic. I read that both Betty Blythe and Lon Chaney were burnt during the filming when a blaze unexpectedly popped up and blocked their escape. Fortunately, a tunnel had been built before, for situations like that, through which they could be saved. They had however have to stay in a hospital for ten days, postponing the continued shooting of the film.
The forest fire scene was prepared by building up a "phony forest" on the Universal lot, with fake trees trimmed with natural leaves, planted in the ground, barked and painted. They used six cameras for that scene!

I'll end this post with a nice film poster I found. Notice how much room the actor's names are taking up?


Jacqueline T Lynch said...

This was fun.

Lolita said...

Jacqueline T Lynch:
I thought so too!

Paul Brazill said...

Great post!

Anonymous said...

Keith said...

Hey there. Great writeup and pics. I quite enjoyed it. I hope you had a wonderful weekend. Cheers!

Lolita said...

Paul Brazill:
Thank you!

Oh, I'll snatch that one... :)

Great that you were pleased! Skål!