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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Postwar Independents Play It Safe With Westerns


Randolph Scott Rail-Splitting For Canadian Pacific (1949)

A real background novelty here was shooting in Canadian wilds, that seldom done by US filmmakers till independent Nat Holt sent cameras northward. Canada was allied with Euro nations for objecting to dollars flowing out (apx. twelve million a year to US distribs), and little or nothing coming in. Hollywood answered to effect that it was lack of adequate facilities and manpower that kept Great North location off limits (there were only three lots in the whole of Canada where films could be made), but did extend olive branch in terms of features, and especially shorts, extolling beauty of Canada outdoors, this enhancing tourism to the area. What US companies feared was Canada freezing funds after overseas example. Gestures toward greater cooperation were made during 1948-49, but came largely to naught, Canadian Pacific the highest profile pic shooting on Canada soil, with Eagle-Lion's Northwest Stampede a recent wrap by time Nat Holt arrived with star Randolph Scott to build their railroad. Holt had a deal with 20th to supply three so-called "B pix" the company would distribute, another to come via producer Edward Alperson. Fox was not in a habit of handling outside product, so this was out of ordinary policy for the major.


Canadian Pacific was Nat Holt's first indie venture after four years staff producing for RKO. He told Variety that financing came easy with the right story and star, in this case western stalwart Randolph Scott. The Canadian Pacific railroad got aboard with tech advise, period equipment, and all-ways extend of cooperation. There was indication that they kicked in some financing as well. All CP wanted in return was approve of the script. Producer Holt put together an attractive package for loaning banks to consider: a first railroad saga since the hit that was Union Pacific in 1939, Cinecolor on board to enhance visuals, and a 33-day schedule under direction of vet Edwin L. Marin, all of which got Canadian Pacific nearest to a sure profit thing. I think the action picture is the only answer for the small independent, said Holt to Variety, Gallopers have always been the backbone of the industry, and the public still wants them as much as ever. The (action) pictures are the easiest kind an independent can make. The producer who turns them out has a better chance of survival in this industry than he ever had.


Cinecolor had its biggest earnings year in 1947, according to an excellent article in the Film History journal by John Belton, though by 1949 release date of Canadian Pacific, the company's stock value was in freefall. The two-color process was, despite obvious limitation, helpful to a project shot almost wholly outdoors. Canadian Pacific did well in first-run, with domestic rentals of $1.7 million and foreign $489K, the best performer of three Nat Holt/Randolph Scott actioners distributed by 20th Fox (the other two were Fighting Man Of The Plains and The Cariboo Trail). The team worked to pull their westerns out of formula rut, and to large extent succeeded. Randolph Scott in particular did interesting things with his independent set-up and partnerships with capable vets like Holt and Harry Joe Brown. The star viewed movies as business pure and simple, but kept eye always on quality of output. Ownership of the TCF distributed negs reverted to Holt, and what's extant of Canadian Pacific does not do justice to locations and Cinecolor that decorated them. Still, it's a handsome Northeastern, scarcely a "B" whatever Fox's designation, and a show one could wish to see properly restored. TCM plays Canadian Pacific occasionally, a worthwhile look even if diminished print-wise.

Today and tomorrow's post are Greenbriar contribution to Toby Roan's Randolph Scott Blogathon at 50 Westerns From The 50's, that fine site that celebrates just what its title suggests. Go there for links to other writers participating in this Scott-worthy celebration (the Blogathon officially begins Friday, 1/22/15).

7 Comments:

OpenID fiftieswesterns said...

Wow, that standard 8 Canadian Pacific sure brings back memories. Thanks for joining in -- I'll get this on the "hub" thing once it cranks up in the morning!

12:11 PM  
Blogger Randy said...

Ownership of the TCF distributed negs reverted to Holt, and what's extant of Canadian Pacific does not do justice to locations and Cinecolor that decorated them.

Unfortunately, that seems to be true of many features that reverted to independent hands later in their life. Always makes me wonder where the negatives to so many of these things ended up, or how many of them survive only as shabby dupes.

5:06 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

The three Nat Holt productions were co-produced by none other than Moe Howard (under his given middle name of Harry) and I think it's safe to assume that Moe brought stuntman Jock Mahoney and character player DIck Wessel into CANADIAN PACIFIC.

7:06 PM  
OpenID livius1 said...

Lots of great background here on a Scott western that's managed to elude me so far.

Colin

6:24 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

An odd Scott entry in the romance department as I think Nancy Olson was the youngest of his leading ladies at this time. Nonetheless, I get a kick out of Scott in Canada, especially when he plays one (Corvette K-225).

10:51 AM  
Blogger opticalguy said...

How good were those Castle Films cut-downs of westerns? I've never seen any of them … I only collected the horror/sci-fi film cut-downs.

12:45 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

The only Castle western I had was "The Spoilers" with John Wayne and Randolph Scott. The eight minute reel was made up almost entirely of the fight scene from the end, and it was great.

2:12 PM  

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