Wednesday 26 December 2012

Movie Review: Dan Candy's Law (1974)

A Canadian western barely a notch or two above an amateur student production, Dan Candy's Law tries for a few artistic touches in recounting a long-winded tale of pursuit in the Great White North. There is just too much vacuum where characters and plot are supposed to reside, and the film is eventually sucked into a black hole of uninteresting nothingness.

It's the 1800s, and Dan Candy (Donald Sutherland) is a member of the Northwest Mounted Police in frigid northern Canada. The Mounties keep an eye on a nearby community of Cree Indians, and when Almighty Voice (Gordon Tootoosis), a member of the Cree tribe, kills a government-owned cow without permission, he is imprisoned.

Almighty Voice escapes and kills Mountie Malcolm Grant (Kevin McCarthy), Candy's partner. Despite receiving no support from his supervisor Inspector Brisebois (Jean Duceppe) and no help from local tribal leader Sounding Sky (Chief Dan George), Candy insists on going after Almighty Voice, although the hunter and the hunted sometimes switch roles before a final showdown.

Inspired by apparently true events, the movie is also, incomprehensibly, known as Alien Thunder, a title astonishingly more stupefying than the content. The atrocious audio and video quality of some surviving prints in circulation do not help, but Dan Candy's Law was unlikely a pleasurable experience even in pristine condition. Director Claude Fournier, filming a script by George Malko, spends no time on character development or context setting. With choppy editing and clumsy, sometimes jarring transitions, the film simply offers an Indian who inexplicably kills a Mountie, with the dead man's partner launching a one-man year-long hunt for justice.

Despite displaying a could-not-care-less attitude for the duration of the long chase, Candy's superiors suddenly show up with an entire cavalry at the movie's climax, complete with artillery pieces to counter one holed-up Indian with a shotgun. To add to the confusion, Candy's character just as suddenly transitions from blood thirsty avenger to a champion for justice, abruptly demanding that Almighty Voice be captured and brought to trial rather than killed.

Donald Sutherland lends his talent to a home country project, but while he is grim with determination and grimy from the unforgiven terrain, the thin material gives him next to nothing to work with, and the few acting scenes, mostly Candy arguing with his superior, are theatrically stiff.

With a glacial pace suggesting a mammoth struggle to stretch out the material to 90 minutes, Dan Candy's Law frequently occupies itself with shots of snowy scenery from the Saskatchewan locations and close-ups of etched faces, attempting, and failing, to find meaning in almost static imagery.

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