William Beaudine’s “The Canadian,” a film from 1926, stars Thomas Meighan and Mona Palma as reluctant newlyweds on an Alberta ranch. Meighan plays Frank Taylor, a friendly but unsophisticated ranch hand who’s looked down upon by the newly-arrived Nora March (Palma). Nora spent most of her life living in luxury in England before financial struggles forced her to relocate to her brother’s ranch in Canada. Of course, on the ranch, womenfolk are expected to cook and clean, but the pampered Nora can do none of that. As a result, a major conflict develops between Nora and her sister-in-law, Gertie, a no-nonsense farm woman played by Dale Fuller.
To escape the bitterness between her and Gertie, Nora proposes marriage to Frank, but makes it clear that the union will not be physical; she’ll work as a farm wife in Frank’s isolated cabin. The rest of the picture explores the relationship between Frank and Nora, which never seems destined to bloom into true marital love. Bad weather and crop failure threaten to drive Frank to financial ruin.
Paramount filmed the exteriors in Alberta, which gives an epic quality to the film. Meighan enjoyed a long and illustrious silent film career, and I fondly remember him as Captain McQuigg in Lewis Milestone’s “The Racket” from 1928. Despite a starring role in this film, Mona Palma made only one more film (“Cabaret” in 1927). Dale Fuller impresses as Gertie; she plays well in the pivotal dinner scene with the ranch hands and Nora. She’s not well known today, but Dale Fuller appeared in over 60 motion pictures spanning both the silent and sound eras.
William Beaudine enjoyed an amazing directing career that started in 1915 and lasted until 1979! Anybody who can last that long in films deserves to be a cinematic icon. The late director, with members of his family in the audience, was saluted with a showing of The Canadian at the 2012 San Francisco Silent Film Festival on July 14.