“Rose-Marie”, or “Indian Love Song” (Part One)

“I’ve been elected spokesperson for our table,” said the woman, folding the map and putting it back in her purse. “My name is Jeanette, and this is my friend Nelson. This is Rosemarie De Flor and her husband, Bruce.” (King 130)

The four customers sitting in Latisha’s Dead Dog Cafe are named in reference to Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, who appeared in the 1936 MGM musical, Rose-Marie.  In the film, they portrayed the characters Rose-Marie de Flor and Sergeant Bruce; a famous opera singer and an RCMP officer, respectively.

The Film

Rose-Marie is the story of a young opera singer, Marie de Flor, who travels into the Canadian wilderness to find her fugitive brother.  When her native guide robs and abandons her (twice), she is forced to rely on the help of Sergeant Bruce, the RCMP officer who is searching for her brother.  Although she attempts to be rid of him so that she can be free to help her brother, the two fall desperately in love.  Despite their hardships (including the arrest of her brother at the hands of Sergeant Bruce), they find their happy ending and fall blissfully into one another’s arms.

The clips below give some indication of the way in which the characters deal with indigenous people, and their feelings towards them.  Rose-Marie is initially very trusting of Boniface, although he appears preoccupied with getting away with her money.  His intentions may be pure (it does appear that he wants to give the money to Jack to aid in his flight from the country), but his actions certainly are not.  At the corn festival, she makes a few telling statements, which give insight into her opinion of indigenous people.  She places them in the past (“I never dreamed things like this were still going on!”) and considers them below romantic interest (“No other white people at all? No one to sing to?”). The manner in which Sergeant Bruce speaks about them is interesting, as well; he reveals that he has lived with the tribe for six months, and he demonstrates a great deal of knowledge about the festival (although he does speak a bit derisively about it, qualifying that “we only thank one God; they thank everybody.  The corn, the sun, the rain, the birds, their ancestors… they do a thorough job.”).  He also implies that the natives are below romantic interest: “When I caught myself singing to her, I went home.”

The characters in King’s novel demonstrate similar attitudes; Bruce certainly appears  to believe he is in a position of authority, having been with the RCMP for twenty-five years, and he refuses to believe that the cafe serves dog, based on the fact that he has never heard of such a thing(King, 131, 132).

In Green Grass, Running Water, Rosemarie makes reference to being an opera singer and Nelson replies, “When I’m calling you, oo-oo-oo, oo-oo-oo!” (King, 132). This is an allusion to another key reference to First Nations culture in Rose-Marie.  The most famous song from the film is ‘Indian Love Call,’ which Sergeant Bruce explains to Rose-Marie is a song based on an “old Indian legend:

The fact that Billy responds by sticking his head out of the kitchen to look at Nelson takes on a different significance in the light of this allusion; it seems that he is aware of the meaning of the song and Latisha waves him away, based on the source.

Indigenous Presence in Rose-Marie

Rose-Marie’s brother, Jack Flower (Jimmy Stewart in his second credited screen role), sends an indigenous man to his sister, to implore her help.  She insists on following the man, named Boniface, back to Canada, enlisting him as a guide into the wilderness.  Boniface is played by the Greek actor, George Regas.  In fact, many of the actors portraying indigenous characters in the movie were not of indigenous heritage, just as King implies in the novel:

… a tight community of Mexicans, Italians, Greeks, along with a few Indians, some Asians, and whites, all waiting in the shadows of the major studios, working as extras, fighting for bit parts in Westerns, playing Indians again and again and again. (King 182)

This mishmash of cultures in the actors is mirrored by the multitude of indigenous cultures portrayed in the scene; as Pierre Burton noted in his book, Hollywood’s Canada: The Americanization of Our National Image, the festival “seems to borrow something from every Indian culture: there are Plains headdresses, Mexican shawls, Aztec breech clouts, medicine men gigantic beaks, squaws with papooses on their backs, naked Indians, buckskin-clad Indians, west-coast totem poles, drums twelve feet high, and the Great Spirit knows what else – an aboriginal mulligan stew that makes a joke of Canadian Indian culture” (102).  All gathered in what we are to believe is northern Quebec.

Interestingly, one of the uncredited actors in the dance scene was Iron Eyes Cody, an Italian actor who “presented himself as a Native American” (IMDB.com).  While his name is not as dramatic as Iron Eyes Screeching Eagle, the name that Charlie’s father took in his professional career, it is very similar.

The Other Side

In this post, I have focused on the significance of the characters in the film, rather than the actors who portrayed them.  However, the allusion in King’s novel extends to the personal lives of the actors; their personal lives affect the manner in which Jeanette speaks to Latisha.  I will cover the allusion to the relationship between Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, and how it relates to Latisha’s relationship, in the next post.

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