Vito Rizzuto was buried a few days ago in Montreal, Canada. The man known as the ‘Canadian Godfather’ had died of pneumonia at the age of 67. Besides the widespread speculation about what this means for organized crime north of the U.S. border, this was an opportunity to get a glimpse into a shadow world that is hidden behind the stereotype of the ‘mild, boring Canadian’.

When I saw Claude Fournier’s Dan Candy’s Law (1974 – also known as Alien Thunder) free via FilmOn’s On Demand service, I could not help but be reminded of another instance of this self-perpetuating myth. Here was a film the portrays the Canadian West (it was filmed in Saskatchewan province) as a place just as violent and lawless as the American West as shown in such films as McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971) and Heaven’s Gate (1980).

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In fact, one of the principals, Chief Dan George (who plays ‘Sounding Sky’), had also had a lead role in Arthur Penn’s anti-Western Little Big Man (1970), which was filmed just to the southwest across the 49th Parallel in Montana.

For Dan Candy’s Law, in a performance Nicholas Cage would appreciate, Donald Sutherland goes over the top as Canadian ‘Mountie’ Sgt. Dan Candy (although not quite as wild as his hippie-ish visage on the film’s poster from what appears to be some other film). Sutherland’s character is determined to hunt and bring to justice Cree renegade ‘Almighty Voice’ (Gordon Tootoosis) after the killing of his friend and colleague Sgt. Malcolm Grant, played by Kevin McCarthy (director Philip Kaufman, who himself was simultaneously filming his fascinating Eskimo-meets-whaler adventure White Dawn far to the northeast of Canada on Baffin Island, would soon re-unite Sutherland and McCarthy, albeit briefly, in his next film, the re-make of Invasion of the Body Snatchers in 1978).

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Dan Candy’s pace and vistas sees it rest comfortably, if forlornly, with the films mentioned above, as well as Terence Malick’s Badlands (1973) and Days of Heaven (1978)Jim Jarmusch obviously was a big fan, as his Dead Man (1995) with Johnny Depp will attest. The final showdown also recalls British anti-military films such as Charge of the Light Brigade (1967)as well as the later Zulu Dawn(1979). For those of you getting snowed in on the East Coast at the moment, there are a number of bleak and snowy scenes that make you feel grateful you’re in a heated apartment building.

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Classic Westerns are streaming on The Western Channel on FilmOn:

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