Canadians have successfully passed as non-Canadians for years. But how successful are natives of other countries at playing Canucks?
What follows is a decidedly non-exhaustive list of non-Canadian thespians stiffening up their facial muscles in order to portray an array of the Frozen People: Mounties, hockey players, fur traders, beer barons, and more.
1. In the 1936 musical romance Rose Marie, American actor Nelson Eddy stars as Sergeant Bruce, the singing Mountie. Eddy’s posture-perfect portrayal was supposedly the inspiration for Dudley Do-Right.
The film marked Eddy’s first pairing with singer and actress Jeannette Macdonald, who plays an operatic soprano looking for her Mountie-killing fugitive brother (a young Jimmy Stewart). The silver lining of this tragic situation? Love duets.
2. Near the beginning of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film The 39 Steps, Richard Hanney, played by English actor Robert Donat, tests the perfect recall of music-hall performer Mr. Memory by asking, “How far is Winnipeg from Montreal?”
“A Canadian gentleman,” Mr. Memory notes, even though Donat’s accent is plummily English. Hanney neither confirms nor denies. (It’s 1,424 miles, according to the movie.)
Hanney soon finds himself in a classic Hitchcockian wrong-man scenario. He wakes up with a dead spy in his apartment and must flee while trying to clear his name. (The entire film can be seen here.)
Hitchcock’s film differed from John Buchan’s 1915 novel in many ways. For instance, in the book, Richard Hanney is Scottish. But the Canucks claimed John Buchan in the end. He went on to become Governor General of Canada from 1935 until his death in Ottawa in 1940.
Another Hitchcock film, the 1953 drama I Confess, starred Montgomery Clift as a Roman Catholic priest, Anne Baxter as his former paramour, and Karl Malden as police inspector Larrue. The movie was set and filmed in Quebec City.
3. Reggie Dunlop, the protagonist of George Roy Hill’s 1977 movie Slap Shot, doesn’t go around flashing a Canadian passport, but he does sleep with a gigantic maple leaf flag above his bed.
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American actor Paul Newman slides into the role of Dunlop, a wily, washed-up hockey player/coach of modest expectations. Out of desperation, Dunlop’s minor-league team, the Charleston Chiefs, recruits a couple of violent players in order to boost the Chiefs’ popularity and save the franchise. Newman also delivers one of the most un-peppy (and therefore very Canadian) pep talks in the history of sports movies.
5. Nazis accidentally arrive in Hudson’s Bay and attempt to escape to the then-neutral United States in 49th Parallel, a 1940 propaganda film by British writer-director team Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (also known as The Archers). A mustachioed Laurence Olivier has the small role of Johnny, a French-Canadian trapper. Olivier’s accent has been cited as one of the worst in movie history. Should you wish to judge for yourself, the whole movie is available here. The Olivier magic begins at around 15:35.
In addition, The 49th Parallel also features Chinese actor Ley On playing “Nick, the Eskimo” (yeah). Welsh actor Glynis Johns, aka Mrs. Banks from Mary Poppins, portrays a Hutterite (think Amish or Mennonite-type) maiden.
6. In The Proposal (2009), American Sandra Bullock stars as an uptight Canadian editor who decides to marry her assistant in order to get a green card. In a stunning reversal, Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds portrays her Alaska-born matrimonial target. Crazy!
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Bullock does a good job saying “Toronto,” in a way that is very Toronto, but really, she spends the rest of the movie acting like a New Yorker, which is probably why she wants to stay Stateside.
7. The Canucks, the Scots, the English, and the Americans, all lay claim to Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone. In The Story of Alexander Graham Bell (1939), American Don Ameche seems to decide in favor of the Yanks, playing the inventor with a golly-gee-willikers affect. The whole film can be viewed here.
Incidentally, in the classic 1941 comedy Ball of Fire, Barbara Stanwyck, while playing a “slang expert,” delivers this proclamation: “An Ameche is the telephone, on account of he invented it… Like, you know, in the movies.”
8. Austrian-born Paul Muni, portrays French-Canadian fur trapper/explorer Pierre-Esprit Radisson in Hudson’s Bay (1941). The film looks at Radisson and Médard Chouart des Groseilliers’ (American Laird Cregar) attempt to establish a trading post in Canada in 1667. Gene Tierney and Vincent Price have small roles.
At the time of its release, the film was promoted in Hudson’s Bay stores (known to Canadians simply as The Bay). The company continues to exist and their signature striped blankets are still pretty great.
9. Sometimes, international star power is brought in to burnish homegrown Canadian films. In the British-Canadian co-production, Margaret’s Museum (1995), English actor Helena Bonham Carter plays Margaret McNeil, a 1940s Cape Bretoner who loses her father, brother, and eventually her husband, to coal mining accidents. The film was based on Sheldon Currie’s The Glace Bay Mine Museum.
American Richard Dreyfuss stars as the eponymous Montreal real-estate hustler in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974), an adaptation of Mordecai Richler’s 1959 novel. Another adaptation of a Richler novel, Barney’s Version (2010), featured Paul Giamatti as Barney Panofsky, and Dustin Hoffman as his father.
10. Italian movie legend Isabella Rossellini, plays Depression-era Winnipeg beer baroness Lady Helen Port-Huntley, in art-house director Guy Maddin’s The Saddest Music in the World (2003). Lady Port-Huntley has (figuratively) a heart of stone and (literally) a glass leg filled with beer. She organizes a contest to find the most melancholy song that the world can offer. (Winnipeggers will recognize many of the performers from their annual culture-fest, Folklorama.) Kids in the Hall alumnus Mark McKinney plays the unsuccessful Broadway producer trying to win top prize.
Rossellini is not the only illustrious actor to portray pure, beery evil. Swedish actor Max von Sydow played Brewmaster Smith in The Adventures of Bob and Doug Mackenzie: Strange Brew (1983). Because when you’ve played Jesus and worked with Ingmar Bergman, sometimes it’s important to stretch your artistic muscles by playing a Canadian beer-brewing villain.