Heavenly daze

Smitty does well by doing good

Published: Apr 25 2017, 01:01:am

Saturday, May 20, 1972.
ANOTHER SMITH FOR PARADISE. Music by Don Druick. Written and directed by Thomas Shandel. Running time: 103 minutes. Restricted entertainment with the B.C. Classifier’s warning: some swearing and coarse language.
FRIDAY NIGHT, ANOTHER SMITH for Paradise provided another premiere for Vancouver. As with last week’s [1972] Groundstar Conspiracy opening, the festivities took place in an Odeon theatre and, it should be said from the outset, the theatre chain seems to have saved its best wine for last.
    Though Groundstar reportedly represented $1.6 million of time and talent, it is the $200,000 Another Smith that is most likely to engage audiences with its story, and leave them with firm feelings about its characters. Inevitably, the two films will be compared because both were shot in and around Vancouver last summer [1971].
    Groundstar, as everyone knows, is a product of Hollywood on location. The slick appearance of the final feature was not unexpected. Its lacklustre feeling on the screen was.
    Another Smith, by contrast, was a film that enjoyed virtually no publicity during production. On screen, it turns out to be a happy surprise.
     Not only does it look every bit as good as the Hollywood product, but it glad-hands its audience into accepting it on its own terms, without reference to any of the movies playing down the block.
    Briefly, Another Smith is the story of Sonny Sewchuck (Henry Ramer), a wily Ukrainian-Canadian stockbroker who is known to his business associates as Harold F. W. Smith, or “Smitty.”
     On the way up, he has acquired a cool WASP wife named Marie (Frances Hyland), her genteel brother Maxwell (Harry Saunders) as a business partner, control of his own brokerage and a coterie of fiercely loyal, slightly shady middle-European retainers.
    To get to the top, he had to become assimilated. At the top, Smitty longs to reassert his cultural connections and enjoy the respect of both communities. A way to do both comes to him when Maxwell suggests he endow a college dormitory as a tax dodge.
    If the building were to be named for Knaz Leshinsky (a 17th century Ukrainian warlord whose business methods Smitty obviously admires), Smitty stands to gain points on both sides of the street. Unfortunately, to do the deal, he must resort to a bit of old-style business banditry.
    At one point in his film, author-director Tom Shandel has a character cry out. “No, no, you fools, it’s a send-up!”
    Of course, it is, and it’s not a bad one, either. Shandel’s targets are the business, academic, artistic and ethnic communities but, because he has no stern message to deliver, his shafts tickle rather than sting.
    His camera has a workingman’s eye, and sees things the way Archie Bunker might imagine that they really are. His stock exchange, for example, is full of race touts. His boardrooms overflow with con men, and his university is administered by the biggest con artists of all.
    Three set-piece scenes — a parade, a fraternal club meeting and a building dedication — show off some of the director’s problems and skills. For the purposes of his film, Shandel turned last year’s [1971] Sea Festival parade into a “Ukrainian Day” celebration. (The Sons of the Ukraine float entered in the parade by the filmmakers was so good that it actually won a prize).
    Because the parade was a real event, it looks real on screen. His building dedication, on the other hand, was staged, and the crowd of extras assembled for it was too thin for its importance to the plot.
    In a similar way, the church basement meeting of the Sons of the Ukraine was too small to really serve the director's dramatic purpose. Here, though, are the film’s best moments. Shandel overcomes the dramatic inconsistency with a sensitively staged, well-paced scene.
    The meeting has the same ring of truth that vibrates through Don Shebib’s Goin’ Down the  Road (1970),  and it is there that the audience really enters Smitty’s world.
    The  film revolves around Smitty, expansively played by Henry Ramer. His hearty manner, a combination of con man and construction worker, is more believable on screen than in outline.
    Less believable initially are Frances Hyland, as his philandering wife, and Roger Dressler as her “artsy loverboy.” Both, however, seem to warm to their parts as the picture  progresses.
    Inevitably, Vancouver boosters will ask, “how does our city look?”
    The answer is: “fine.”
    Unlike the American filmmakers, who pull their collars up around their lenses so that no one will ever know that they're not working in Greater Los Angeles, Shandel uses his home town with understanding and professional aplomb. Though never named and never deliberately photographed for itself, the city is easily recognizable within its newest context: location site for Another Smith for Paradise.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1972. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: Saskatchewan-born Frances Hyland made her professional stage debut in 1950, taking over the role of Stella in the original London production of A Streetcar Named Desire. A rising star, she might have stayed in Britain but for an invitation from director Tyrone Guthrie, who had been recruited to found a Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario. “Time you came home,” he reportedly told her. In 1954, she joined his ground-breaking troupe, playing such key roles as Isabella (in Measure for Measure), Portia (Merchant of Venice), Ophelia (Hamlet) and Desdemona (Othello). Hyland also was an original member of the Canadian Players, a pioneering touring company.
    In 1955, she married actor George McCowan, becoming his leading lady when he made his directorial debut with the 1960 made-for-TV movie A Wind from the South, part of the long-running CBC/ABC dramatic anthology series Encounter. She added movie star to her resumé in 1963, playing farm wife Liza Greer in Drylanders, the National Film Board’s heroic attempt to kick-start English-language feature filmmaking in Canada. Though she worked frequently on radio and television, Hyland considered the stage her first home, and began directing in the early 1970s. Among her best work was the 1972 Canadian premiere of Beverley Simons’s absurdist drama Crabdance (at the Vancouver Playhouse) and Stratford’s 1979 production of Othello. Inducted into the Order of Canada in 1970, Hyland was called the “First Lady of Canadian Theatre” in 1994 by then-Governor-General Ray Hnatyshyn, as he presented her with the G-G's Performing Arts Award. Frances Hyland died in 2004 at the age of 77.

See also:  My interview with activist-director Tom Shandel about the making of his passionate National Film Board documentary Lottomania.