Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Gotta love those French-Canadian accents!

The Fox Movie Channel showed the entertaining biopic Hudson's Bay this morning. But don't worry if you missed it. Thanks to FMC's policy of repeating the movies they take out of their vault a bunch of times in a fairly short period, you can catch it tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM, as well as a couple of times in November.

Paul Muni stars as Pierre Esprit Radisson, a real-life person who was born in France around 1640 and raised in French Canada (the name for Québec at the time). That part of his life isn't covered; the movie starts off with Radisson having been driven out of French Canada for reasons that aren't really made quite clear. But being persona non grata with the French, Radisson decides to throw in his lot with the English. Radisson was captured by the Algonquins in real life and raised to an extent, such that he had fairly good relations with them (this is only mentioned in passing in the movie). It also made him familiar with the parts of interior Canada unseen by any other European, so he knew all about the riches of furs available. Anyhow, in the movie, he tries to convince the English governor in Albany to fun an expedition to the Hudson Bay area, but the governor says no, and throws Radisson and his companion Gooseberry (Laird Cregar) in jail. There, they meet Lord Edward Crewe (John Sutton), who was dispossed in England and banished to the American colonies. John needs money to get to France, from where he'll try to get to his fiancée Barbara (Gene Tierney, getting second billing from a relatively small role). But Pierre impresses upon John that getting the money by engaging in fur trapping is probably the best way to go about things.

They escape from the jail in Albany, go to Canada and with the help of the Aboriginals get a lot of furs, at which point they go to England: Pierre tells John that perhaps King Charles (Vincent Price early in his career) can be convinced by the promise of money, and more territory in Canada, to grant John his freedom. From there it's on to getting a charter for the Hudson's Bay Company, and back to Canada. But Barbara's brother Gerald screws things up by getting the natives all liquored up, leading to tribal warfare. You know, though, that a movie like this is eventually going to have a happy ending....

I have no idea how historically accurate any of this is. Large portions are probably made out of whole cloth, but Radisson was a real historical figure who did escape to Albany fairly early in his life. Apparently Radisson and his business partner (a fellow Frenchman in real life) did lose a lot of their first furs to the French governor of Quebec, a scene which is shown in the film. But the partner was French (and Radisson's brother-in-law); there doesn't seem to have been any Edward Crewe in real life. Still, the movie is fast and entertaining, even if Muni and Cregar have terrible accents. It's also interesting for its highly sympathetic portrayal of the native peoples. Considering Radisson's real life experiences, however, this is probably closer to accurate than one might otherwise think. Muni's performance is about as over-the-top as you might expect, but Cregar looks like he's having a blast playing a role something like Alan Hale would have played in The Adventures of Robin Hood. All of the actors playing characters in England (I haven't mentioned Nigel Bruce playing Sutton's benefactor) are competent and take nothing away from the proceedings. The one big disadvantage that Hudson's Bay has is that it cries out for brilliant Technicolor.

Hudson's Bay doesn't seem to have gotten a DVD release in North America, so you'll have to watch the FMC showings before they put it back in the vault.

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