Friday, February 5, 2016

Mrs. Mike ( 1949 )

Speakeasy and Silver Screenings are hosting the O Canada Great White North Blogathon for the second year in a row, and for this event we wanted to write a little bit about Mrs. Mike, an overlooked gem from 1949. 

Evelyn Keyes stars as the titular Mrs. Mike, a gentle young Bostonian who, for the love of the Mountie she married, forsakes the comfort of the city to go off and face hardships and loneliness in Northern Alberta in 1907. 

Kathy O'Fallon has the youthful woman's zealous thoughts of what life would be like married to such a heroic figure as Mike Flannigan ( Dick Powell ), a sergeant of the Northwest Mounted Police, whom she meets while visiting her uncle in Canada. Mike warns her of its hardships -- "It's no life for a city gal" he proclaims -- but, being staunchly Irish, she boldly declares she is plucky enough to persevere. And persevere she does! Mr. Mike was mighty proud of her, and so were audiences by the end of the picture, but she had to learn many a lesson before she came to realize just what fortitude becoming a Mountie's wife required. 

Mrs. Mike was based upon the real-life adventures of Katherine Mary O'Fallon Flannigan, a city gal who went to visit her uncle in Alberta and fell in love with a Mountie. Kathy took the stories of her Canadian adventures to Hollywood believing it to be good material for a film. A talent agent felt it would make a better book however, and introduced her to husband-and-wife authors Benedict & Nancy Freedman, who fictionalized her 5-page outline into a novel. 


"Mrs. Mike" went on to become a best-selling book, republished and translated around the world into over twenty different languages. Surprisingly, none of the major studios purchased the screen rights to "Mrs. Mike". An independent producer, Samuel Bischoff, eventually approached the Freedmans for the rights to the novel, casting crooner Dick Powell in the lead. Powell had found great success with his first dramatic role in Murder, My Sweet ( 1945 ) and continued to play in dramatic pictures from then on. In this film, he portrays Mike as a very noble servant-of-the-people, level-headed in all situations and courageous. Dudley Doright could pick up a tip or two from Mike Flannigan. 


Most American's conception of Canada is that it's cold and densely wooded with Mounties guarding every five square miles, ready to aid anyone in danger or capture an errant criminal. Films like Mrs. Mike helped forge these conceptions, showing us a region of Canada that is beautiful but isolated from the rest of civilization. Only stout-hearted souls are brave enough to endure the loneliness of the country and survive on their own. These Albertans are strong people who have come to expect hardship. They do not regard life as easy, but they do not complain. As a Mountie, Mike is required to live in these isolated outposts and protect and serve the villagers, but the villagers themselves choose to stay, wanting to create a new settlement and make a better life for themselves and their children. 

When Kathy first arrives at Fort Wilderness, the second outpost Mike gets transferred to, she is amazed at the other women's patience and courage. But the coldness and ruggedness of some of these women frighten her and she fears that in ten or twenty years she will turn into the kind of people she and Mike were sent out to aid. It is not until she sees the lifestyle of these hearty folk that she realizes the comforts and conveniences of the city that she took for granted. Women give birth to babies without doctors or medication and parents must be grateful if their children lose only a limb in an accident or an epidemic and not their life. So many women that she speaks to talk of their "first" family and their "second" family, since they often lost all of their children at once to some malady. To Kathy it seems as though life in the wilderness is not living at all, but merely surviving and she begins to wonder if she should have just stayed in Boston. 

Mrs. Mike is a gentle drama and a very entertaining picture. It is a testimony to all pioneers who had the courage to venture into unknown lands and create settlements. In addition to Powell and Keyes, the film also features K.M Kerrigan, Angela Clarke, Will Wright and Nan Boardman. 

Be sure to check out all the other great posts about Canadian films and actors over at the O Canada Great White North Blogathon's main page available here!

6 comments:

  1. i read the book when I was a teenager, and I fell head-over-heels in love with Mike Flanagan. I think he was my first literary crush.

    I've not seen the movie, but you make it sound every bit as enjoyable as the book. Judging by the image you posted, it looks like beautiful cinematography.

    Thanks for joining the blogathon and for bringing Mrs Mike with you!

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  2. I lost my copy of the book in one of my moves. It was a library discard. I can't recall ever seeing the movie, but with that cast playing those characters I have no doubt it will be a treasure.

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  3. I remember discovering this book in the junior high school library, and I read it in one day! Couldn't put it down and like Ruth, Mike was a definite literary crush!

    Liked the movie, too, and am glad you wrote about it!

    Best wishes,
    Laura

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    1. I read that the book was popular among junior high students and, judging from your comment, I see this is true. The film did remain quite faithful to the book...a good thing too.

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  4. I remember girls in grade school reading the book. I've never seen the movie and almost forgot it even existed. Thanks for bringing new attention to it. Looks like a movie I'd enjoy.

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