Watching 1939: Susannah of the Mounties (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult.

susannah21939 film:
Susannah of the Mounties (1939)

Release date:
June 23, 1939

Shirley Temple, Randolph Scott, Margaret Lockwood, Martin Good Rider, J. Farrell MacDonald, Maurice Moscovitch, Moroni Olsen, Victor Jory, Lester Matthews, Leyland Hodgson, Herbert Evans, John Sutton, Jack Luden, Eddie Big Beaver, Chief John Big Tree, Charles Iron Breast, Chief Victor Coward, Chief Thunderbird, Tom Spotted Eagle

20th Century Fox

William A. Seiter

Set in the 1880s, the Canadian Pacific Railway was being built, which upset the Native Americans as the railroad threatened their land. The Northwest Mounted Police had to keep the peace between the Native Americans and the railroad. After an attack on a wagon train, Susannah (Temple) is the only survivor. She is rescued by the Mounties and cared for by Inspector Angus Montague (Scott). While staying with the Mounted Police, Susannah befriends Blackfeet Native American, Little Chief (Rider).

1939 Notes:
• First and only film of Martin Good Rider. This was also the only film for many of the Blackfeet Tribe Members.
• By the numbers:
– Shirley Temple was in two films released in 1939.
– Randolph Scott was in five films released in 1939.
– Margaret Lockwood was in three films released in 1939.
– Moroni Olsen was in 13 films released in 1939.
– J. Farrell MacDonald was in 11 films released in 1939.
– Maurice Moscovitch was in six films released in 1939.
– Victor Jory was in 10 films released in 1939.
– Chief John Big Tree was in five movies released in 1939.


Shirley Temple and Martin Good Rider, a Blackfeet Native American

Other trivia: ,
• Some cast members were of the Blackfeet tribe from a reservation in Montana. In the credits it notes “The Indians used in this picture are from the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana.”
• Based on the 1936 novel, “Susannah of the Mounties” by Muriel Denison.
• Walter Pidgeon, Donald Meek, Nicki Wood and Pauline Moore were originally considered for roles in the film.
• Director William Seiter replaced Walter Lang as director, who was became ill during filming.
• Bruce Carruthers was the technical advisor for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
• All of the Blackfeet Tribe members were named members of the Shirley Temple Police Force, and Shirley Temple was made an honorary member of the Blackfeet Tribe, according to Montana historians.


My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
Several careers launched in 1939, with performers starring in their first star making roles. But for others, it transformative for other reasons. Since the early 1930s, Shirley Temple had been a curly headed, dimple-faced cutey who helped many people get through the Great Depression with her films.

But by the end of the decade, Temple was slipping for a reason she couldn’t help: She was getting older. By the time SUSANNAH OF THE MOUNTIES (1939) was release, Temple was 11 years old — practically geriatric for a child star. Temple still had her charm, cute looks and talent in this film, but you can tell she’s getting a little taller. The following year, Temple’s home studio of 20th Century Fox wouldn’t renew her contract. But her career didn’t end. Temple was able to transition into preteen and teenage roles, and showed talent in acting (and she co-starred in my favorite film Since You Went Away).

Despite the aging issue Temple (and all child stars) was facing, SUSANNAH OF THE MOUNTIES is still a fun film.

In the movie, the Mounties find a wagon train that was attached. They think everyone is dead until they find Susannah (Temple) hiding. The Mounties take her to their post where she stays and is cared for by Monty (Scott) and Pat O’Hannegan (MacDonald). When the Mounties visit the Blackfeet Tribe to discuss the wagon train attack, Chief Big Eagle (Moscovitch), promises to find whoever attacked the wagon and bring them to the Mounties. As a show of good faith, the Chief leaves his son, Little Chief (Rider) with the Mounties. Little Chief and Susannah soon become friends. Issues arise, however, when Wolf Pelt (Jory) is the one causing issues, and blames the Mounties causing Chief Big Eagle to lose trust.

What’s unique about SUSANNAH OF THE MOUNTIES is that several of the Native Americans in the film are played by Blackfeet Tribe members who traveled from their reservation in Montana to be in the film. This includes the central character of Little Chief, played by Martin Good Rider.

However, unfortunately, some of the major speaking Native American roles are played by white actors, like Victor Jory and Maurice Moscovitch, especially when several Blackfeet Indians were cast in the film.

Overall, all of the actors in the film are great, it’s just not the best story. But there are some solid moments. I particularly like when we first see Temple for the first time, hiding after a raid. She’s very good here acting terrified. I also liked the woozy camera action after she smokes the peace pipe. While not a musical, Shirley still does a song and dance like when she teaches Randolph Scott how to dance.

J. Farrell MacDonald is funny in the film, and unfortunately Margaret Lockwood is just window dressing.

However, one of Temple’s best films came out this year: THE LITTLE PRINCESS. Perhaps watch that one instead.


Shirley Temple with Blackfeet Tribe Native Americans

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1 thought on “Watching 1939: Susannah of the Mounties (1939)

  1. 1939 movies are the best, but I have not seen this Shirley Temple one… I like the Little Princess which I think is in public domain… so I need to watch this one also. Thanks for your reviews.


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