James Oliver Curwood was a popular adventure novelist in the Jack London tradition, little-remembered now by American readers but a favorite storyteller among Europeans. (The French adapted his The Grizzly King into 1989's international success THE BEAR.) A Franco-Canadian coproduction, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE LAW brings another Curwood tale to the screen, and while it takes considerable liberties with the 1923 original, the musty, dusty melodrama of yesteryear still clings.
In 1890, northwest trapper Donald McRae (Yves Renier) returns home to find his wife fatally beaten and raped, and friend Simon McQuarrie (Jurgen Prochnow) wounded. McRae finds the assailant and literally feeds him to the wolves, but since the wretch was a newly-appointed lawman, McRae doubts the courts will acquit him. For the next 10 years, McRae dwells as a wilderness fugitive with his small son, Pierre (Johnny Morina), until he decides the boy needs proper schooling. Feral adolescent Pierre is left with McQuarrie in the latter's timber town of Five Fingers. The settlement is also home to vindictive Bridget Currie (Shannon Finnegan), widow of the rapist, who needs Donald McRae's arrest and confession to collect an insurance bounty. Her bully of a son, Aleck (Gerard Smurthwaite), was raised to despise all things McRae. "One day I'll become a policeman just so I can kill you, Pierre McRae," he declares. Additional rancor arises from the presence of orphan waif Mona (Maggie Castle), who prefers Pierre to Aleck.
Another 10 years pass. Now in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Aleck looks like Dudley Do-Right but serves as the pic's Snidely Whiplash, as he shoots old Donald McRae with a poisoned arrow, kidnaps grownup Mona, and lures law-student Pierre into the streets of Five Fingers, now booby-trapped with dynamite. Dying Donald warns his son not to repeat his mistake of homicidal vengeance, and virtue triumphs over villainy in an ineptly-staged finale.
Apart from the closing salute to women's voting rights, a tinny synthesizer music score is the most modern touch in this antique yarn of Mounties, mountain men and malice, reflecting the blood-and-thunder tales of a bygone era but rendered by filmmaker Gilles Carle in too flat and flavorless a style to even achieve nostalgia value. Moreover, the narrative spends much time with the unedifying child actors (including Morina, so good in THE BOYS OF ST. VINCENT), whose stilted dialogue gains little advantage by the English dubbing. Among the adult potpourri of accents is top-billed Prochnow, portraying a nice guy rather than a villain for a change, in his supporting role. (Violence, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1995
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: James Oliver Curwood was a popular adventure novelist in the Jack London tradition, little-remembered now by American readers but a favorite storyteller among Europeans. (The French adapted his The Grizzly King into 1989's international success THE BEAR.)… (more)