Back to God’s Country (1919)

Back to God’s Country (1919)

Directed by David Hartford this Nell Shipman drama is about an animal-loving woman and her struggles against a murderous brute that invades the peaceful home she shares with her father and later a “back to nature” author in the Pacific Northwest. The print I saw on TCM is pretty bad quality-wise at the beginning but it does get better (even though some of the text one is supposed to be able to read is illegible). As far as the plot is concerned I think contrived might be the kindest thing to say though there is an advanced film technique to see during the dream sequence and there are some pretty good shots of animals.

An Eskimo and his dog enter an establishment where neither are welcome. The Eskimo is killed by a bully (Kewpie Morgan uncredited) and his dog is “adopted” by Blake (Charles Arling) who treats the dog cruelly using a whip on it to keep it in line. Elsewhere Dolores LeBeau (Shipman) has an idyllic life living with various woodland animals in and around their cabin out in the sticks of the Canada with her father (Roy Laidlaw uncredited). Author Peter Burke (Wheeler Oakman) seeking experiences for a book he’s writing comes upon their simple home where he’s invited to stay. Meanwhile in another part of the forest the murderer Rydal (Wellington Plater) is captured by a Mountie (William Colvin uncredited) who is then shot by a half-breed (Charles Murphy uncredited). Rydal dons the Mountie’s clothing and with the half-breed makes his escape deep into the country.

Burke has finished his manuscript and leaves to return to civilization. Shortly thereafter Rydal and the half-breed happen upon Dolores by a pool in the stream. She jumps into the pool to get away from them. The men walk a little further and arrive at the cabin where because of the Mountie uniform both are welcomed. Rydal conspires to get Dolores alone placing the half-breed on watch outside the cabin when her father goes out. Once alone Rydal attacks Dolores who struggles loud enough to be heard by her father who then fights with the half-breed outside. The half-breed is killed and Rydal decides to charge the father with the crime and marches him out towards civilization. The path he takes is high over the river so Rydal decides to push the old man over the cliff. Dolores who’d been tailing them rushes down to the river’s edge and jumps in to save her father. Burke who had forgotten his manuscript and returned was tailing Dolores so he comes to their aid. Rydal escapes.

Her father dies and Dolores returns to civilization and marries Burke though she longs for (dreams of) her former life in the woods with the animals. The two of them decide to return by ship. Once aboard and too far to turn back the Captain reveals himself to be Rydal (yeah right!). Not long after that Rydal has a crewman drop a sail on Burke disabling him. While he’s confined to recovering in his cabin Rydal makes advances on Dolores who gets him drunk to avoid his clutches. It turns out the ship’s destination is to a friend of Rydal’s who coincidentally is Blake. Dolores tries to get Blake to help her and her husband but of course he’s only interested in helping Rydal. However Dolores does have an opportunity to meet and befriend the “mad” dog Blake got from the Eskimo.

*** SPOILERS ***

The film’s climax is a harrowing chase through the snow covered sea and land by sled dog with Dolores and her prone husband trying to escape Rydal she’d shot Blake with the “mad” dog’s assistance. Somehow they make it through impossible conditions and another Mountie later catches up with Rydal who falls through the ice and drowns. Burke and Dolores live happily ever after in their former setting with animals which includes the former “mad” dog.

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