NOMADS OF THE NORTH is a 1920 adaptation, produced and with a script written by the man himself, of James Oliver Curwood's fan-tastic novel of the same name. For them that are unaware, Curwood is to the Mountie novel what Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett are to the Private Eye tale; his stories evoke the frozen north quite as well as anything that Jack London ever put to paper, but without the accompanying fame. Tragic. Philip Steele of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police, Flaming Forest, Honor of the Big Snows, & Valley of the Silent Men are some of his other excellent Mountie titles. I particularly enjoy the first on that list. Full of adventure and action, which is what we all enjoy, wot?
This is a wonderful film, and a clean, decent adaptation of the novel (with minor omissions and changes). It deals with a commercial town in the wild north called Fort O'God (yep, O'God), run by the stern Duncan McDougall, the factor of the Hudson's Bay Company..."a tiger of the old regime, still ruling his primitive domain with a hand of iron and a heart of stone". McDougall's son, the slimy Bucky McDougall, "A serpent polished with the veneer of years spent in Montreal, the deadliest and most treacherous of all the McDougal race", is in love with the lovely local flower Nanette Roland (played by Betty Blythe), who is unavailable, waiting for her lover, Raoul Challoner (played by the miraculous Lon Chaney) to return from the wild...but is a year overdue. With a little unethical convincing, though, Nanette is convinced to marry Bucky, and in a moment of ironic chance, the long-gone Raoul makes his appearance at the wedding. Bucky is outraged, fearing the loss of his long-awaited prize, and in the ensuing fight, his seedy underling Marat is mistakenly killed by Raoul, which sends him on the run.
It becomes the duty of the stalwart Corporal Michael O'Connor of the R.N.W.M. Police (played by Lewis S. Stone, who is most well known to me as Judge Hardy in the Andy Hardy films) to hunt Raoul down and to bring him to judgement!
This was an amazingly pleasant adventure. The acting really opened up that wonderful feeling of narrative space common to most of the best silents, and even between the inter-titles the story stayed even and fresh. The story was clear from beginning to end, which isn't always certain from silents from this early date. James Oliver Curwood's involvement was, I'm sure, the reason for this; a master of a strong streamlined plot. Typical of early silents, it had that wonderfully stagey melodramatic flair (which always reminds me of THE PERILS OF PAULINE, for some reason), with all those (sometimes amusingly) unambiguous and simple facial expressions that make the emotions of each character quite certain.
I recommend this for silent film fans. Though it might not be the best to begin your silent film journey with this one, it's good enough that you'll still enjoy it with no background in the silent art. The Mountie content is plentiful, too. Lewis S. Stone really projects all the fairness and devotion that one has come to expect from the classic Mountie myth.