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Back to God's Country

Back to God's Country(1919)

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The opening credit reads: "James Oliver Curwood presents Nell Shipman in Back to God's Country by James Oliver Curwood." Curwood's writing credit reads: "Adapted from Mr. Curwood's Novel Wapi the Walrus in Good Housekeeping Magazine and produced under the personal supervision of the Author." An opening title card reads: "In days when the lure of gold lay heavy on the land there labored into the great white north a Chinaman named Shan Tung, and with him a giant dog called Tao." Portions of the film were tinted, blue for outdoor sequences, sepia for indoor and magenta for the final sequences showing the return to the cabin. To illustrate Dolores LeBeau's" homesickness for the woods, a small insert was placed at the center bottom of the frame showing Dolores in the city, surrounded by full-frame footage of Dolores in the woods with the animals. In one sequence, Dolores is shown bathing in the nude.
       In 1920, Curwood republished his short story in the book Back to God's Country...and other stories. According to Nell Shipman's posthumously published autobiography, Ronald Byram was originally cast in the role of "Peter Burke." While shooting the film in Northern Canada, he contracted pneumonia and consequently died, after which Oakman was cast as his replacement. In Shipman's autobiography and other modern sources, the following actors also mentioned as having appeared in the film: William Colvin as a Mountie, Kewpie Morgan as Shan Tung's killer, and Charles B. Murphy as Rydal's henchman. A modern source adds Iron Eyes Cody to the cast as an extra. In his autobiography The Light on Her Face, photographer Joseph Walker described how assistant director Bert Van Tuyle suffered permanent frostbite injuries during filming. Another modern source reported that Van Tuyle served as both assistant director and production manager, and also added to the crew assistant director Gavin Young, and production manager William Colvin, and animal trainers Charles B. Murphy and Felix Graff.
       The Moving Picture World review reported that the Canadian-American co-production was shot on location in the northern part of Alaska, and Wid's reported that it was shot at a l"atitude north of 56 degrees." According to Shipman's autobiography and other modern sources, portions were shot in the following locations: snow scenes on Lesser Slave Lake, one hundred and fifty miles north of Edmonton, Alberta; shipboard scenes in San Francisco Bay; woodland scenes in the Kern River District of California; interiors at Robert Brunton Studios in Hollywood, California; and in Calgary. The modern sources report that Back to God's Country began shooting in March 1919.
       Several reviews noted the "novelty" of the film's use of wild animals. The Wid's review suggested that exhibitors advertise the film with "catchlines," such as "Nell Shipman Braves Rapids in Thrilling Rescue," "Battle in Chase Over Frozen Fields," and "Eskimo women take part in wild orgy on board sailing vessel."
       A 1985 National Archives of Canada restoration of the film was made from two separate prints, one held by the American Film Institute and another owned by a private collector. According to the introduction to the restoration, Back to God's Country is Canada's oldest extant feature film.
       Two other films based on Curwen's short story, "Wapi, the Walrus," which also bear the title Back to God's Country, include the 1927 Universal production directed by Irvan Willat and starring Renee Adoree and Robert Frazer, and the 1953 U-I production directed by Joseph Pevney and starring Rock Hudson and Marcia Henderson.