North Woods Dramas: The Forgotten Genre


North Woods Dramas: The Forgotten Genre

From the teens through the twenties, many movies were set in the north woods, the Northwest, and beyond the trees to the Arctic–snow pictures. Adventures set in a hearty north land, now largely forgotten in favor of Westerns, were immensely popular.

Between 1911-1920 the American Film Institute Catalog sorts films into 27 genres including Northwest drama, Western, and Rural (there were 74 rural pictures). There are 114 “Northwest dramas.” The subject index of the same volume lists Forests, Forest fires, Forest rangers. In the 1921-1930 volume Reforestation appears, along with Northwest Mounted Police, French Canadians, Wolves.

A full-page ad in the trade journal Wid’s in 1918, for a Port Henry, NY, production facility (see Rough and Ready) gives us a hint of the types of films and their geography: “The best location in America for Northwestern, Lumber Camp, Yukon, Siberian, Lapland, Russian and Eskimo scenes. Truly nature’s wonder spot. Mountains, Valleys, Rivers, Lakes, Waterfalls, Chasms, Forests, Logging camps, Log runs, Log jams, etc.”

Cultural signifiers here include plaid shirts (and little moustaches) for woodsmen and French Canadians; see The Flaming Forest and The Flower of the North.

This Web exhibition of posters is made possible by Richard C. Allen, a friend of Northeast Historic Film, who says, “as a youngster I was hooked on the Northwest Mounted Police.” The majority of the images are from his collection of movie poster transparencies. From them we can grasp the vitality-and stereotyping-of North Woods Dramas. The films were fiction films, nonfiction, and a few in between.