David Hartford

Sog.: from the story Wapi, the Walrus (1918) by James Oliver Curwood. Scen.: Nell Shipman, David Hartford. F.: Dal Clawson, Joseph Walker. M.: Cyril Gardner. Int.: Nell Shipman (Dolores LeBeau), Charles Arling (‘Sealskin’ Blake), Wheeler Oakman (Peter Burke), Wellington A. Playter (captain Rydal). Prod.: Shipman-Curwood Producing Company. 35mm. L: 1497 m. D: 73’ a 18 f/s. Col.

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

Back to God’s Country is an adaptation of a wilderness adventure tale by James Oliver Curwood. The short story was reworked into a scenario for a feature-length film by the lead actress, Nell Shipman, who was also an established scriptwriter. For the production, the Shipman-Curwood Producing Company was incorporated, in which Nell’s husband Ernest Shipman acted as the business manager and sales agent. Nell Shipman herself selected the cinematographer, director and cast. After a disagreement with Curwood, Nell Shipman withdrew from the company before the editing of the film was finished. The result was that on the print and in advertisements she was only credited as the actress, not for her other professional input. Nell Shipman also split with her husband, who continued working with Curwood for his new company, Curwood-Carver Productions. This explains why this company’s name came to figure prominently on the release prints and in the press.
The film was an international box-office success, but Shipman seems not to have shared in the profit. What she instead gathered from the experience, was the realisation that animal scenes elevated the adventure melodrama – an idea that would inform many of her subsequent films. Back to God’s Country contains scenes with over a dozen different species, including a raccoon and an owl, a Great Dane, a cub and an adult bear. They are not simply sylvan props, but each plays a role in the narrative. The raccoon and the owl welcome Dolores’ new lover, the cub bear goes about “scene stealing” (Shipman’s words) and the adult bear makes the voyeuristic villain look ridiculous. The largest role is for the dog who, like the girl, is assaulted by the villain(s). This inter-species bonding inspires both dog and girl to captivating heroism.

Annette Förster

Copy From

Restored by Library and Archives of Canada from two 35mm prints from American Film Institute and the private collection of J.D. Cunningham