Gunless is a movie that will play stereotypes for a few laughs. Hopefully it works out for all parties involved. No, I haven’t seen the movie (it starts on Friday), but I’ve seen the trailer and I know the basic plotline. An American gunslinger finds himself in Canada in the 1880s. He has crossed into Canada to avoid bounty hunters. He ends up in a sleepy little western Canadian hamlet where he is a well-armed fish out of water. The locals are composed of polite and generally passive people that would probably fit into an old Andy Griffith episode.
The gunslinger apparently plays his aggressive shoot-first-ask-questions-later hand in a town of bilingual Gomer and Goober Pyles. The entire situation is an exaggerated version of the difference between Canadian and American gun philosophies in an effort to build a Canadian version of funny dusters. We’ll see how that works out. Most of Canada’s best funnymen already have Hollywood addresses, so we will have to see how Canadian actor Paul Gross does as a funny American cowboy.
The timeline around this movie is one of the bigger areas where you have to suspend belief. The late 19th century in western Canada was as wild as the American West. The whiskey trade was a large chunk of the revenue in western Canada, and the rule book was pretty thin.
Most disputes were settled by gunplay as firepower ruled over jurisprudence. The Canadian government sent in the Northwest Mounted Police to get a handle on the situation. They established forts and eventually brought law and order to an untamed part of Canada.
The time period of the movie also failed to take the Northwest Rebellion into account. The Northwest Rebellion was a Canadian civil war that pitted Metis (mixed Native Canadians and Europeans) and Native Canadians against the Canadian government in a fight for western Canada.
The Rebellion was eventually quashed and its charismatic leader, Louis Riel, was hanged for his crimes against Canada. To this day, Riel is a hero or villain, depending upon your political views.
The upshot of this little historical lesson is this: Western Canada was neither polite nor civilized during the period when ‘Gunless’ was supposed to have taken place. It will likely not get much theater play in the States, but it is not a very accurate depiction of the gun culture of 1880s Canada.
Law and order was a brand new concept in 1880s Canada, and it came via the Mounties. I have a strong suspicion that a fugitive gunslinger from the States would have had many takers for gunplay in that place and time in Canadian history. It was a far from funny situation.