Sunday, September 16, 2012

Now I Don't Want Candy: "Dan Candy's Law" (1974)

This 1974 north western stars Donald Sutherland in the title role as Dan Candy, a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman on duty in the plains of Saskatchewan.

Beware, there be spoilers here. Candy is a little immature, a little annoying, and perfectly balanced by his family man partner Kevin McCarthy. The duo arrests Gordon Tootoosis for stealing one of the government's cows out of desperate hunger. Chief Dan George is Tootoosis' father. Sutherland takes the whole thing as a big joke, until Tootoosis escapes from jail and kills McCarthy. Sutherland spends the rest of the film tracking down the now dangerous criminal, with little help from his fellow constables or the native people.

At ninety minutes, the film is way too brief, and takes short cuts in its story to get to the action scenes. This means that Sutherland goes from party doofus to vengeful rogue cop in about twenty seconds. Tootoosis goes from hungry martyr-like Indian to cold blooded killer in record time. McCarthy is in just three scenes. When the film tries to be an action film, it fails as well. Sutherland is usually screaming as his superior for the umpteenth time, then rides out into the woods and is shot at...again and again.

The finale, when the criminal and friends are trapped in the woods, is equally puzzling. The RCMP higher ups do not seem to care about catching the killer of one of their own, but suddenly arrive with cannon to root out the villains. Even McCarthy's funeral scene is messed up, as Sutherland thinks about McCarthy's murder, even though he was not there.

Sutherland, for being given such an impossible part to play, does a good job. One amazing scene has him trying to tell McCarthy's orphaned son a funny story about crows and an outhouse roof while he slowly breaks down in grief.

Fournier catches some of the amazing vistas we are lucky to experience up here in the Great Plains, and his fog enshrouded opening credits are dazzling, but with the lousy editing and dull script, he is as creatively bound as Sutherland.

"Dan Candy's Law" should have been a rumination on revenge, and a comment about how the U.S. does not have a monopoly on mistreating its native peoples, but instead this film went for the cheap action thrill without an action thrill to exploit. (* *) out of five stars.