‘The Canadian’: Thomas Meighan faces adversities in The Land of Promise
Thomas Meighan is The Star of William Beaudine’s The Canadian (1926), which screened at the 2012 San Francisco Silent Film Festival. The credits feature his name far above everyone else’s.
The basic story of The Canadian, scenario by Arthur Stringer from the 1913 W. Somerset Maugham play The Land of Promise, is similar in theme to Victor Sjöström’s later film The Wind (1928), but without the wind tempest and the murder. Instead, The Canadian concentrates on characterizations.
After her rich aunt dies, stuffy, uptight Nora (Mona Palma) travels from London to a wheat farm owned by her brother (Wyndham Standing) in Calgary. She looks down with disdain at the simple, rustic life he lives in the country, with his wife, Gertie (Dale Fuller), and farm hands – especially the independent-minded Frank Taylor (Thomas Meighan).
The Canadian starts out as an unpredictable and engaging tale. The first few scenes of Nora’s arrival on the farm are both humorous and touching. I particularly liked the hostile relationship between Nora and sister-in-law Gertie. I have noticed Dale Fuller in other movies before – e.g., Erich von Stroheim’s Greed – and found her look to be quite unique. Her impatience with Nora’s domestic ineptitude and their subsequent personality clash were delightful to watch. If only the second half of The Canadian was as entertaining as these first scenes.
The Canadian: The difficult life of a woman in the Great Plains
The key element of the story hinged upon the men seeking “mail order brides.” After the battle with Gertie, Nora offers herself to Frank as the wife he is looking for, to “cook, clean, and sew,” even though she can’t do any of those things very well. They marry and settle down in his small shack in the fields. On their wedding day, Nora returns the ring to Frank and locks him out of the bedroom, making it clear she is to be his wife in name only. This is where the picture falls flat and the plot becomes a predictable cliche. Her husband breaks down the bedroom door and forces himself on her.
Nora hates life on the prairie, and tries to escape. But Frank takes her back home and guarantees he will not try to touch her again, even giving her a loaded rifle to use if he does. Of course, this is all that is needed for them to fall in love. A storm destroys the wheat field and Frank is left in debt. When Nora inherits a small fortune from her aunt in London, she warms up to the good-natured Frank and gives the money to him. They finally find love that neither storm nor crop failure can destroy.
The Canadian ‘bastardized’ as The Purchase Price
Note from the editor: As The Land of Promise, Maugham’s play was first brought to the screen in 1917. Billie Burke played Nora and Thomas Meighan was Frank. Joseph Kaufman directed from a screenplay by Charles Whittaker.
Additionally, The Canadian has a number of highly suspicious similarities to The Purchase Price, a pre-Code 1932 Warner Bros. release directed by William A. Wellman, and starring Barbara Stanwyck and George Brent. Not coincidentally, The Canadian‘s screenwriter Arthur Stringer is credited for The Purchase Price‘s “story,” on which Robert Lord’s screenplay is based and which became the 1932 novel The Mud Lark (initially serialized in The Saturday Evening Post).
The Canadian (1926). Director: William Beaudine. Screenplay: Arthur Stringer, from W. Somerset Maugham’s play The Land of Promise. Cast: Thomas Meighan, Mona Palma, Wyndham Standing, Dale Fuller, Charles Winninger, Billy Butts.