The Force in the North

Hollywood Heroes

The first, but not the last, Mountie motion picture was Rider of the Plains, made in 1910 by the Edison Moving Picture Company. There are well over 200 Hollywood movies featuring the RCMP, or their predecessors, and many more that show Canadian Mounties in their distinctive red uniforms. For American movie audiences, that uniform was the best clue of a Canadian location. The courteous, brave and trustworthy police became clichéd national characteristics; all of Hollywood's Canadian heroes were members of the RCMP.

In the middle of the 20th Century, the RCMP was always the good guy and the Mounties always got their man. In O’Mally of the Mounted, made in 1930, Sergeant O’Mally was a “veteran of a thousand trails and a man who never failed." The movie begins with a criminal’s lament when he realises that the RCMP are on his trail.

A main theme of early RCMP movies was that of duty and honour over love and friendship. This classic plot development was followed closely in all three very different versions of Rose Marie. In the 1936 version, Nelson Eddy is tasked with bringing his sweetheart’s brother to justice. Rose Marie is most famous for Nelson Eddy’s warbling rendition of "Indian Love Call."

The superhuman qualities of the movie Mountie were toned down after a former mounted police officer, Bruce Curruthers, was hired as the technical advisor for some big budget films. Curruthers was able to correct some of the common errors in Mountie flicks. However, for Wildcat Trooper, the studios disregarded Curruthers advice about the proper RCMP uniform.

In some cases, the RCMP movies were based on books and the authors were considered expert enough. The films Murder on the Yukon and Yukon Flight were both loosely based on Laurie York Erskine's book Renfrew Rides North; RCMP officer Kermit Maynard investigates rival fur traders in Murder on the Yukon; the owners of a flight service skim gold from their cargo in Yukon Flight.

In Renfrew of the Royal Mounted, there are few things right about the detachment of singing Mounties galloping their way to a community barbeque. This film was made without technical advice from the Mounties, although the RCMP initially liked how the Force was depicted in the film.

The singing Sergeant Renfrew (James Newill) was at the opposite end of the spectrum from the galloping, gun-toting Mountie shown in Wildcat Trooper. The hero, Kermit Maynard, usually acted in American westerns and in this movie the action remained Wild West. The actual sober, peaceful Canadian officer was just too tame for most American movie directors.

Bruce Curruthers was an adviser on the Shirley Temple classic Susannah of the Mounted, a movie based on Muriel Denison’s book, A Little Girl with the Mounties. The book was reasonably accurate and Curruthers did his best with the movie. The little pillbox hats are accurate for 1883, but the attack on the wagon train came straight out of American, not Canadian, history. After Curruthers left the set, the director added a scene where the Blackfoot chief burned the Mountie hero at the stake.

When Curruthers was hired as a bit actor in King of the Royal Mounted, the director told him that he had no money for expert advice. Curruthers did the extra job without extra pay but the story line remained fantastic. Sergeant King uncovered a plot by enemy agents who were searching the north for the valuable “Compound X” that would make their mines effective against Britain. King fights the valiant fight to keep “Compound X” at home where it will be used instead to cure infantile paralysis.