Back to God's Country (1953)

77-78 mins | Drama | November 1953

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HISTORY

The onscreen title card reads: "James Oliver Curwood's Back to God's Country ." In 1920, Curwood republished his short story in the book Back to God's Country...and other stories . The film begins with the following written foreword: "Out of the Canadian Northwest, following the gold rush era, came a tale of courage involving two men, a woman--and a dog." According to a Feb 1953 HR news item, Douglas Sirk was originally set to direct the film, but fell ill and was replaced by Joseph Pevney. HR news items indicate that background shooting took place in late Jan 1953 in Sun Valley, ID under the leadership of 2d unit director Jesse Hibbs, but principal photography did not begin until 18 Feb 1953. Universal borrowed actor Steve Cochran from Warner Bros. for the production. Modern sources note that the real name of the Great Dane who played "Wapi" was Baron.
       Two other film adaptations of Curwood's story, both titled Back to God's Country , are the 1919 Curwood-Carver silent production starring Nell Shipman and directed by David M. Hartford (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20), and the 1927 Universal production directed by Irvin Willat and starred Renée Adorée (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30 ). ... More Less

The onscreen title card reads: "James Oliver Curwood's Back to God's Country ." In 1920, Curwood republished his short story in the book Back to God's Country...and other stories . The film begins with the following written foreword: "Out of the Canadian Northwest, following the gold rush era, came a tale of courage involving two men, a woman--and a dog." According to a Feb 1953 HR news item, Douglas Sirk was originally set to direct the film, but fell ill and was replaced by Joseph Pevney. HR news items indicate that background shooting took place in late Jan 1953 in Sun Valley, ID under the leadership of 2d unit director Jesse Hibbs, but principal photography did not begin until 18 Feb 1953. Universal borrowed actor Steve Cochran from Warner Bros. for the production. Modern sources note that the real name of the Great Dane who played "Wapi" was Baron.
       Two other film adaptations of Curwood's story, both titled Back to God's Country , are the 1919 Curwood-Carver silent production starring Nell Shipman and directed by David M. Hartford (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20), and the 1927 Universal production directed by Irvin Willat and starred Renée Adorée (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30 ). More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
26 Sep 1953.
---
Daily Variety
22 Sep 53
p. 3.
Film Daily
24 Sep 53
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Jan 53
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Jan 53
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Feb 53
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Feb 53
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Feb 53
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Feb 53
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Mar 53
p. 19.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Sep 53
p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
26 Sep 53
p. 2006.
Variety
23 Sep 53
p. 24.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
2d unit dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
Scr
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
COSTUMES
MUSIC
MAKEUP
Hairstylist
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit prod mgr
Dial dir
COLOR PERSONNEL
Technicolor col consultant
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the short story "Wapi, the Walrus," by James Oliver Curwood in Good Housekeeping Magazine (18 Dec 1918).
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
James Oliver Curwood's Back to God's Country
Release Date:
November 1953
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 4 November 1953
Production Date:
18 February--late March 1953
Copyright Claimant:
Universal Pictures Co., inc.
Copyright Date:
25 November 1953
Copyright Number:
LP3185
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
77-78
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

In Northwestern Canada in the late 1800s, businessman Paul Blake and his assistant, Frank Hudson, kill an Eskimo and steal his map. When the dead man's sled dog, Wapi, attacks the men, they beat the Great Dane with a rifle and take him with them. Weeks later, schooner captain Peter Keith and his wife Dolores prepare to sail out of the town of Franklin Bend with their cargo of furs. They are invited to a farewell dinner by Blake and Hudson, and just before dinner, Peter receives a mysterious letter instructing him to remain docked for another week for an inspection. Knowing that the week will mean the difference between navigable waters and frozen ones, Peter resolves to ignore the directive, and informs Blake of his decision that evening. During dinner, Blake flirts shamelessly with Dolores and invites her upstairs to his office. While there, she glimpses an unfinished letter identical to the one Peter received that day, and realizes that Blake has written the letter himself. Meanwhile, Hudson informs Peter that he is being blackmailed by Blake into staying on as his assistant, and that Blake wants Peter's boat, furs and wife. As the Keiths say a hasty goodnight, Dolores spies Wapi tied up in the back yard and recognizes him as their slain friend's dog. Upon returning to their ship, the Keiths discover that two men have enticed Carstairs, the engineer, and first mate Joe to abandon the ship to partake in a supposed gold strike in the neighboring town of Stillakum. Furious, Peter and ship's cook Shorter set out for the town, leaving Dolores with a pistol for security. As soon as they leave, Blake boards ... +


In Northwestern Canada in the late 1800s, businessman Paul Blake and his assistant, Frank Hudson, kill an Eskimo and steal his map. When the dead man's sled dog, Wapi, attacks the men, they beat the Great Dane with a rifle and take him with them. Weeks later, schooner captain Peter Keith and his wife Dolores prepare to sail out of the town of Franklin Bend with their cargo of furs. They are invited to a farewell dinner by Blake and Hudson, and just before dinner, Peter receives a mysterious letter instructing him to remain docked for another week for an inspection. Knowing that the week will mean the difference between navigable waters and frozen ones, Peter resolves to ignore the directive, and informs Blake of his decision that evening. During dinner, Blake flirts shamelessly with Dolores and invites her upstairs to his office. While there, she glimpses an unfinished letter identical to the one Peter received that day, and realizes that Blake has written the letter himself. Meanwhile, Hudson informs Peter that he is being blackmailed by Blake into staying on as his assistant, and that Blake wants Peter's boat, furs and wife. As the Keiths say a hasty goodnight, Dolores spies Wapi tied up in the back yard and recognizes him as their slain friend's dog. Upon returning to their ship, the Keiths discover that two men have enticed Carstairs, the engineer, and first mate Joe to abandon the ship to partake in a supposed gold strike in the neighboring town of Stillakum. Furious, Peter and ship's cook Shorter set out for the town, leaving Dolores with a pistol for security. As soon as they leave, Blake boards the ship and asks Dolores to stay at his home, claiming to want to protect her from the town's ruffians, but she demurs. Soon after, Peter and Shorter reach Stillakum, where they find Carstairs and Joe drunk and penniless. Peter collects them but, when he steps outside, finds that his dogsled has been stolen. Even though a storm is coming, Peter insists that they walk back to Franklin Bend, and the four men set out. Over the next few days, Peter saves Shorter when the older man slips on a cliff, but cannot save him from a bullet shot by one of Blake's henchmen. While Dolores awaits them anxiously, she refuses the offer of kind businessman Fitzsimmons, who urges her to flee to nearby Fort Simpson for safety from Blake. Instead, realizing the depths of Blake's corruption, she goes to his home to reproach him. He assaults her, but she escapes when Hudson, who has been forging a will which leaves all of Blake's money to him, enters. Wapi, who has just been beaten by Blake, breaks free of his chains and races straight to the boat, where Dolores welcomes him with tears of relief. The next day, Peter returns and greets Dolores joyfully until he learns that Blake has attacked her, at which point he storms into Blake's house. The two men fight viciously until Hudson reluctantly helps Blake, who then knocks Peter out, crushing his leg. As the wound is life-threatening, Peter and Dolores are forced to set out in the storm to reach a doctor in Fort Simpson. They travel with Wapi and an Eskimo guide named Uppy, who is secretly in cahoots with Blake. On their second day, with Peter's supply of pain pills already running low, they realize they are traveling in circles, and Peter whips Uppy until the guide reveals that he has tampered with the sled. They fix the runners and set off with renewed determination. Blake, however, hears that they have discovered his plot and, after finding the fake will and killing Hudson, sets out behind them. Days later, a weak Peter tells Dolores he may not be able to make it. That night, Wapi saves them from a wolf attack, but when Dolores tries to shoot another attacking wolf, the noise causes an avalanche, which they barely escape. Hours before they reach Fort Simpson, Blake catches up to them and begins to shoot at the sled at the same time that Uppy attacks Dolores. Wapi wrestles Uppy to the ground, allowing Dolores to take off in the sled with Peter. Wapi stays behind to strike at Blake, finally finishing the job he started when his Eskimo master was killed. Just as Peter and Dolores see the lights of Fort Simpson, Wapi races to their side so they can all enter the town together. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.