Sunday, December 19, 2010

Blue

An outlaw with a gun, a gringo raised by Mexican bandits--caught between two worlds, the title-named character in Blue has to choose which way of life he wants when he is wounded after a raid on the American side of the Rio Grande and is nursed back to health by a doctor and his daughter.

Terence Stamp plays Azul, later known as Blue; Joanna Pettet is the woman who loves him; and Karl Malden is her doctor father in this 1968 movie. Wally Westmore, the brother of Bud Westmore (the makeup artist for The Pilot), is the makeup supervisor.

Starting off like a spaghetti Western, with very little dialog but lots of action and violence, Blue explores the consequences of a life-altering decision. The outlaw is blond and blue-eyed, taciturn; sometimes he needs no excuse to shoot his gun and other times, he only reluctantly shoots, saying, "Don't prod me." But when he does resort to firing his gun, it is clear he knows how to use it well. Superficially, he resembles Kid Curry but his personality is much darker, more violent.

The scenes between Malden and Pettit are especially good, as they try to make sense of what Blue is going through and help him adjust to life as an honest man. Their neighbors are suspicious, however, and when the Mexicans return, they have good reason to worry. English-born Stamp plays the role well, though his American accent is shaky at best. The end of Blue reverts back to a spaghetti Western, with its action scenes, stirring music, and conflict between Blue and his Mexican "father."

Purportedly set on the border between Mexico and the United States, Blue was actually filmed in the Moab area of Utah and the Colorado River substitutes for the Rio Grande. At 113 minutes, the movie sometimes drags, especially in the beginning, but then it picks up and becomes interesting as a character study of a man who has to decide on which side of the law, and on which side of the border, his loyalties lie.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Comancheros

Ina Balin reprises her role of Margaret Carruthers in The Comancheros, a 1961 color film that runs 107 minutes. No, wait, it’s the other way around: Miracle at Santa Marta was broadcast ten years after this movie.

But as the female lead in The Comancheros, Balin’s appearance, voice, and mannerisms are all the same as her character on ASJ. In Miracle, she plays the girlfriend of the leader of an outlaw gang; in The Comancheros, she plays Pilar Graile, the daughter of the outlaw gang leader. Early in the movie, Pilar says, “It is unusual to be honest,” a theme Balin’s characters seem to have wholeheartedly embraced!

The story starts off clearly enough, with a duel taking place in 1843 New Orleans. The victor, Monsieur Paul Regret, played by Stuart Whitman, who speaks without a French accent (unlike fellow New Orleans native Michelle Monet in Journey from San Juan), flees to Texas, by way of a riverboat where he meets not only Pilar, with whom he falls in love, but also Captain Jake Cutter, a Texas Ranger played by John Wayne, who arrests Regret by handcuffing him to the bed in which he is sleeping.

A series of adventures ensues as Cutter is determined to bring Regret in to face justice, which would be the gallows in Louisiana. Eventually, Regret escapes and Cutter returns to his Texas Ranger station empty-handed. There, a second plot involving rifles being sold to Comanches, who are attacking white homesteads in the region, takes precedence over capturing the fugitive.

Halfway through The Comancheros, Cutter, now impersonating a gunrunner, encounters Regret again and in a somewhat implausible plotline, they end up as partners trying to find out who is buying the rifles so they can put a stop to the Indian attacks. The rest of the movie deals with what happens when they discover what is really going on.

Jon Lormer has a small role in The Comancheros. While his name may not be instantly recognizable, his appearance is. Lormer is the man with unruly white hair and a distinctive-looking face who played minor characters in five episodes of ASJ (perhaps most noticeably the telegrapher in Jailbreak at Junction City, as well as Wrong Train to Brimstone, Return to Devil’s Hole, The Biggest Game in the West, and The Long Chase). In this movie, he plays an elderly gentleman who would like to dance with Pilar as the riverboat on which they are travelling makes its way to Galveston. However, Pilar spurns him for Regret.

Directed by Michael Curtiz, The Comancheros, like ASJ, has loads of witty banter, especially between Cutter and Regret. Another connection to ASJ is that the movie was partly filmed in the Moab area and views of Castle Valley can be seen at about the one hour and twenty-second minute mark. Also, John Wayne sings "Red Wing" (which is anachronstic because the song wasn't copyrighted until 1907) and he sounds as good as Kid Curry singing in Jailbreak at Junction City.

Despite a somewhat disjointed plotline, The Comancheros has enough action and suspense, as well as a strong female lead, to make it a film worth seeing.

Description of the real Comancheros from the Texas State Historical Association:
http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/dfc02

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sergeant Rutledge

At its core, Sergeant Rutledge is a murder mystery with social and racial overtones. Sergeant Braxton Rutledge, played by Woody Strode, is a former slave who joined the Army and is serving in the 9th Cavalry, one of the Buffalo Soldier regiments.

In just one of many connections to ASJ, this movie can be seen as a counterpoint to The Bounty Hunter, where Joe Sims, also a freed slave, chooses to make his way as a bounty hunter. Shot in color in 1960 in Monument Valley (and elsewhere), it is directed by John Ford and runs 111 minutes.

Sergeant Rutledge begins as a military court martial in August 1881 and then is told through alternating flashbacks and courtroom scenes, with very nice camera work to indicate when a flashback is beginning. Miss Beecher, played by Constance Towers, relates how she was trying to get from Junction City (another episode tie-in), Arizona, to Spanish Wells where her father, whom she hasn’t seen in twelve years, lives on a ranch. She meets Lieutenant Cantrell, played by Jeffrey Hunter, on the train.

When she disembarks at Spindle Station, where her father is supposed to meet her, the station master is nowhere to be found and after searching without success, the lieutenant and the train conductor must run and hop the train in order not to be left behind. It’s a little strange to see law-abiding citizens doing something Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry do so routinely! Alone at the isolated station, Miss Beecher encounters Sergeant Rutledge and then the action really begins.

Through flashbacks, the audience learns that Apaches have broken out of the reservation they’ve been forced onto (as in Six Strangers at Apache Springs); that just as the court martial is about to end, a new witness appears on behalf of the defense (like Kid in The Posse That Wouldn’t Quit and Harry Briscoe in The Men that Corrupted Hadleyburg); and like many ASJ episodes, especially those in the third season, there is a character in Sergeant Rutledge who may be based on historical fact, the sutler named Hubble. Despite the different spelling, perhaps he is a relative of the family that ran the Hubbell Trading Post located in northern Arizona, since that family operated numerous trading posts in the region.

Unlike Joe Simms, however, Braxton Rutledge not only understands gratitude, he demonstrates kindness and trust as well. Woody Strode’s portrayal is excellent, as is that of Jeffrey Hunter as his commanding officer and defense lawyer. Sergeant Rutledge is a film not to be missed.

Website for the Hubbell Trading Post:
http://www.nps.gov/hutr/index.htm

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Lust for Gold

What is a Western? Is it determined by geography? If so, where are the boundaries—west of the Mississippi to the Pacific Coast of the United States? Then why is The Man from Snowy River, which is located in Australia, considered a Western? Maybe it’s a movie that takes place in the latter half of the nineteenth century? But if so, what about Brokeback Mountain, which is set in the mid-twentieth century?

These questions were going through my mind as I watched Lust for Gold, a 1949 black and white movie starring Ida Lupino (Mia in What’s In It for Mia?) and Glenn Ford and co-starring Will Geer (Seth in Smiler With a Gun). The film starts off in the 1940s but then flashes back to a scene in the mid-1800s involving Mexicans and Apaches before reverting to the present. Soon, though, Lust for Gold flashes back to the late 1800s and most of the movie takes place during this time period, with the final part of the movie occurring in the present time again.

Set in the area around Phoenix, Arizona, and the Superstition Mountains nearby, the parts of the move that take place in the twentieth century are narrated, in a somewhat overwrought style, by the grandson of Jacob Walz, a Dutchman who supposedly found a gold mine worth twenty million dollars. The grandson is searching for the lost mine and becomes caught up in a murder, which a sheriff and his deputy, the character played by Will Geer, try to solve.

The section of Lust for Gold that is set in the late 1800s is much more compelling than the other parts of the movie. Jacob Walz is played by Glenn Ford in a decidedly non-heroic role, and Ida Lupino plays his love interest, Julia Thomas, although she is already married; in reality she is after his gold. It’s very enjoyable to see a much younger Lupino in this movie, which is based on the book Thunder Gods Gold, by Barry Storm.

Lust for Gold reminded me of What’s In It for Mia? in an odd sort of way: Lupino’s character finds a drunken man in front of her shop and brings him inside, who wakes up disoriented in her bed; this is just what Charlotte did in the ASJ episode, when she found Kid and Heyes unconscious by the side of the road (as a result of Mia's machinations). However, the same disdain Mia had when she wasn’t happy with people's behavior is evident in Lupino’s face in Lust for Gold, and she is condescending towards others and also not above resorting to blackmail to get what she wants. Julia Thomas is a nasty person and when, in one of the climaxes, she finds herself between a rock and a hard place, literally, it is a testament to Lupino’s acting ability that one can actually feel slightly sorry for her.

Walz in some ways resembles Danny Bilson and in fact, other aspects of Lust for Gold remind me of Smiler With a Gun and not just because Will Geer is in this movie. It is not revealing too much to say that Walz kills for the gold, just like Danny. There’s also a scene involving Julia and her husband caught in the hot sun without water, while Walz watches them suffer. Walz buys up much of the town where Julia lives and someone makes a comment about “getting as excited as a poker player filling an inside straight flush,” which also reminded me of Danny’s poker skills and ownership of a gambling establishment.

Will Geer, who is so much younger in this film that he is unrecognizable except for his voice, also plays against type in Lust for Gold; in a way, his character is the opposite of Seth because he is definitely not a kindly man. There is not one but two scenes with rattlesnakes, but the outcomes are quite different from what happens in Smiler.

I suppose, since about two-thirds of the 90-minute Lust for Gold occurs in the nineteenth century and all of it takes place in the southwestern part of the U.S., it can be classified as a Western, but it takes almost half an hour before the characters Jacob Walz and Julia Thomas make their appearances. It is only then that the pace of the film quickens and the action, betrayals, and cliffhangers make Lust for Gold a fun movie to watch.

Website for Lost Dutchman State Park (watch the Introductory Park Video to see what the Superstition Mountains look like now and to hear about the search for the mine):
http://azstateparks.com/Parks/LODU/index.html

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Cheyenne Autumn

Although I had read about the Cherokee Trail of Tears in secondary school and Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce's attempted journey to Canada in college, I had never heard about the Navajo Long Walk until I visited the Navajo Reservation in 2004, nor had I ever heard about the Cheyenne Autumn Trail until I watched Cheyenne Autumn, a movie from 1964. Even though I am a history buff, it is only thanks to ASJ that I am learning about many events of the 19th century American West.

Cheyenne Autumn is the fictionalized account of the 1,500 mile trek undertaken by a small band of Cheyenne Indians, now known as the Northern Cheyenne, in 1878 from Oklahoma, where they'd been forced onto a reservation, back to the Yellowstone area of Wyoming and Montana, their traditional homeland. None of the actors in this film ever appeared in ASJ; however, there are echoes in the series of some of the characters, scenes and lines in this movie.

Richard Widmark stars as an Army captain named Archer. Unlike Mr. Archer in High Lonesome Country, though, this character never betrays anyone. Carroll Baker plays Deborah Wright, a Quaker who seems to be a missionary, as she is trying to educate the Cheyenne schoolchildren who live on the reservation. Unlike Sister Grace in Six Strangers at Apache Springs, this young religious woman who dedicates her life to helping those less fortunate than herself is much more assertive and worldly, and like Mr. Fielding in the same episode, she rides fearlessly into the Indian encampment and decides to stay with them, a decision that will have serious consequences.

James Stewart plays Wyatt Earp, and Arthur Kennedy plays Doc Holliday, in a section of the movie that seems transposed from an altogether different film; it appears about halfway through the running time and is a jarring comedic interlude into what is an otherwise serious and tragic story. These characterizations are nothing like those in Which Way to the O.K. Corral? and instead, are apparently played for laughs as both Earp and Holliday are portrayed as bumbling buffoons. In one scene, though, Earp is playing poker and declares that a deck of cards he is holding in his hand is light, just like in The Fifth Victim.

About 41 minutes into Cheyenne Autumn, Captain Archer calls for a soldier named Jones; at first the man doesn't respond and when he finally does, he says, "Name's Smith, sir." Just like Heyes tells Molly in The Reformation of Harry Briscoe!

Cheyenne Autumn is long; it runs 154 minutes and watching it seems to take almost as long as the actual trek itself. Much of the film consists of long, slow shots of either the Indians or the Army walking or riding horses. Nowadays, movies wouldn't spend nearly as much time on these establishing scenes but here they give John Ford, in the last movie he directed, the opportunity to show off the spectacular scenery of Monument Valley and the area surrounding Moab--where many scenes in third season ASJ episodes were filmed--including Castle Valley, which can be glimpsed at about the 72nd minute.

Overall, though, Cheyenne Autumn left me feeling flat. Perhaps it was because most of the dialog spoken by the Indians was not in English, nor was it subtitled or otherwise made clear what the characters were saying. In a movie told sympathetically from the Indians' point of view, this omission often made it difficult to know what exactly was going on. However, on the audio commentary for this movie as well as in other media, it is noted that the dialog spoken by the Indians was not necessarily that which was written in the script.

There are two bonus features on the DVD. One is a hokey but nonetheless interesting documentary, lasting around 20 minutes, where three members of the Cheyenne tribe retrace the journey their ancestors took; it is narrated by Jimmy Stewart. The other bonus feature is an excellent audio commentary by Joseph McBride, a film historian and John Ford biographer. McBride offers not only a different perspective of the movie but also a great deal of information about John Ford's personal views of Cheyenne Autumn and after listening to it, I have a much better appreciation and understanding of this film.

Official website of the Northern Cheyenne Nation:
http://www.cheyennenation.com/

Meta site with numerous links to websites dealing with many aspects of Cheyenne history and culture:
http://www.native-languages.org/cheyenne_culture.htm

Website that is an overview of traditional and contemporary Cheyenne culture:
http://www.bigorrin.org/cheyenne_kids.htm

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Tombstone (the 1993 movie)

Watching Tombstone after visiting the town was a completely different experience from seeing it before going there. When I first watched the movie, I just viewed it for its entertainment value. The second time around, I watched for places I had visited and for historical veracity.

This 1993 film, starring Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp, Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday, Sam Elliott as Virgil Earp, and several other well-known actors, is thoroughly enjoyable. Slightly over two hours long, at 122 minutes, Tombstone never drags.

The audio commentary, by director George Cosmatos is excellent; he explains how the movie is historically accurate and how many of the scenes were filmed. For example, the newsreel-like footage before the title appears contains both real footage of the time period and scenes from this movie edited to resemble early 20th century film stock.

Tombstone was filmed at Old Tucson Studios in Arizona. The mission set was instantly recognizable in the wedding scene at the beginning of the movie, even thought it was rebuilt after a 1995 fire and now looks slightly different. And the signature three mountain peaks could also be seen periodically in the background throughout the movie.

The production team did a great job of recreating the real Tombstone that is located just an hour away. It was very interesting to see the Bird Cage Theatre, Fly's Photography studio, the Oriental Saloon, the Crystal Palace, the Grand Hotel, and Boot Hill depicted in Tombstone. When I visited the real Bird Cage Theatre, the employees there told me that the movie producers had wanted to film inside the actual Tombstone building but that didn't work out because they would have had to redo the interior to make it viable for filming.

Two things in Tombstone differed from the historical record (as far as I know it). First, in the movie, the gunfight at the O.K. Corral was far longer than the thirty seconds it was reported to have been. But since this was one of the climaxes of the film, for artistic purposes it made sense. Secondly, in the movie Boot Hill is shown as being part of the town of Tombstone, where in actual fact it is located some distance away on a hill overlooking the town.

Besides taking place in a town that Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry visited, another connection to ASJ is a comment made by Wyatt Earp about halfway through Tombstone. He says, to his brothers Morgan and Virgil, "For the first time in our lives we got a chance to stop wandering and be a family." This reminded me of the scene in the Pilot where Heyes was trying to persuade Kid not to draw on the bully in the saloon in Porterville because, as Heyes pleaded, "I'm asking for something, too; something we ain't never had a chance at before."

Heyes successfully convinced Kid to stand down. To find out if Wyatt Earp also was successful, you'll have to watch the movie!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Warlock

No, this is not a Harry Potter prequel! But Warlock did give me a definite sense of deja-vu. This 1959 movie, which is in color and is 122 minutes long, stars Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, and Anthony Quinn, with DeForest Kelley in a supporting role. L.Q. Jones (Clint Weaver in Stagecoach Seven and Peterson in McGuffin) and Ann Doran (Mrs. Simpson in Witness to a Lynching) make cameo appearances; Jones appeared about thirty-five minutes into the movie and although bearded, I immediately recognized him by his voice. I could not, however, tell who Doran was until I looked at the cast list.

Warlock, which is the name of the town where all the action occurs in this film, reminded me somewhat of The McCreedy Bust: Going, Going, Gone. When the movie begins, a group of riders storms into town, shooting off their guns, while the townsfolk scurry out of the way. But instead of humiliating someone by forcing him to dance a jig, the gang shames the sheriff in another way and runs him out of town. Then the gang proceeds to hurrah the town and intimidate all the law-abiding people who live there.

In an attempt to restore law and order, a town committee hires a "marshal," Fonda's character, who along with his sidekick, played by Quinn, rides into town and cleans it up. Their relationship reminded me of the two characters in the recent movie, Appaloosa. There are several subplots involving love interests, a gang member who deserts the gang (Widmark's character), and how the two main characters relate to each other. One of the love interests, played by Dolores Michaels, doesn't believe in killing; of course that reminded me of Louise in Everything Else You Can Steal.

Themes of change and redemption are important aspects of this movie. There is lots of shooting but for some reason, Warlock did not have the feel of a movie that was filled with action, perhaps because there were long periods where the people were engaged in just talking to each other.

What made Warlock look familiar was the fact that it was partially filmed in the Moab area! I immediately recognized Dead Horse Point in one scene and other places I recently visited in other scenes. In fact, Warlock also filmed at the place where I stayed, which at the time was called White's Ranch. I enjoyed the movie because of that but I wouldn't rank it among my top favorite Westerns.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Jack Bull

This two-hour 1999 HBO movie, starring L.Q. Jones (Clint Weaver in Stagecoach Seven and Peterson in McGuffin) as a nasty and selfish rancher named Ballard, is set in Wyoming when the territory is on the verge of becoming a state. John Cusack stars as Myrl Redding, the horse trader who seeks justice and wreaks vengeance on Ballard. John Goodman plays Joe Tolliver, a judge, who appears more than halfway through The Jack Bull.

His bailiff is a woman--considering that Wyoming was the first state to give women in the US the vote, this is a nice touch in the movie. I immediately thought of Judge Handley when this character made his appearance. Amnesty from the governor of Wyoming Territory plays an important role in the film and the climax of The Jack Bull surprised me.

Notable for its beautiful cinematography--except that it was filmed in Alberta, Canada, not Wyoming--The Jack Bull is also interesting for its set design. The ranches and towns, saloons and offices, all look very different from the way they were depicted on ASJ. The buildings are much smaller and darker, the streets are a lot muddier, the interiors of buildings and the furniture in them are a lot simpler in construction and appearance, and the people look a lot dirtier as well. Probably this is a much more realistic portrayal of life at this time than how ASJ showed it.

The Jack Bull is based on an 18th century book by Heinrich von Kleist entitled Michael Kohlhaas about a horse trader of the same name in what is now Germany two hundred years earlier. It is a true story, and to see it transposed to the Old West of America makes the movie all the more remarkable. The moral issues that are explored in the film still resonate today. Available on DVD, the movie is definitely worth watching.

But by the end of The Jack Bull, I still didn't understand what the title means.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Colorado Sundown

This is the first singing Western I've watched and it may very well be the last: I have finally found a genre of Western movies that I do not like.

Rex Allen was the star of this 1952 black and white film but Slim Pickens, who plays his sidekick, was the ASJ connection (he was Mike the bartender in Exit from Wickenburg, and the sheriffs in The Man Who Murdered Himself, The Day They Hanged Kid Curry, and The Strange Fate of Conrad Meyer Zulick). In Colorado Sundown, his character's name was also Slim Pickens but--get this--the character's real name was Joshua! Although thinner, he was immediately recognizable and his voice was the same, too. Pickens does do some fancy riding in a few places in this movie, proving that he was indeed a rodeo star, as was mentioned in a bonus feature on another Western I watched some time ago.

Colorado Sundown apparently was supposed to be a comedy but to me, it came across as melodramatic and unbelievable. The plot is about a family who owns a lumber mill and forests and who want to cut down the trees, to the detriment of the cattle ranchers on the land below. The brother and sister inherit, or so they believe, a ranch, but to their dismay, there are other owners, too; one is a naive young girl who is accompanied by her African-American maid (played stereotypically, which was often uncomfortable to watch), and the other is Slim Pickens' hillbilly cowpoke.

Things get nasty and deadly about 35 minutes in, but they also get silly: a goat provides slapstick interludes and, during a heavy rainstorm when men are working frantically to prevent a levee from bursting, they suddenly burst into song, singing "Down by the Riverside." I burst out laughing. Fortunately, Colorado Sundown is only 66 minutes long.

Two bonus features do their part in the silliness department. Both are the first episodes in sci-fi serials. One is called Radar Men from the Moon, with Commander Cody, and the other is Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe. Each was about 15 minutes long and was interesting to watch only to see what the mid-20th century view was of aliens from outer space.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

3:10 to Yuma


Whether it's the 1957 black and white film, starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin, with a supporting role by Ford Rainey (who made appearances in six episodes of ASJ, in all three seasons) as a town marshal, or the 2007 color remake starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, both versions of this movie are great! Having recently read the Elmore Leonard short story upon which 3:10 to Yuma is based, I wanted to see both movies again.

What's interesting is that the basic plot is the same but with each succeeding iteration, the details are fleshed out more and more. The 1953 short story was only fifteen pages long, the original movie was 92 minutes and the remake was 122 minutes, so clearly additional details had to be provided. But the 2007 movie never seems too long--it is so full of action, and so well-paced, that one doesn't notice its duration. Neither version is better than the other; each fits perfectly the time period it was made in.

Another interesting fact: Although part of the beginning in both versions of 3:10 to Yuma is set in Bisbee, Arizona, those towns looks nothing like the Bisbee I visited! The landscape of the movie Bisbee is flat and scrub desert--just like the countryside around Tucson--whereas the real town of Bisbee is situated on a mountainside, with hilly terrain all around it. Fort Huachuca is also mentioned in both movies but it is never seen.

The original 3:10 to Yuma was filmed at Old Tucson Studios. (I had thought the remake was as well but the end credits to that movie state it was filmed in New Mexico.) A scene in the 1957 movie shows gang members riding into Contention City and in the background, a mountain range is a prominent part of the landscape. During the tour I was on, the guide noted that all Westerns made at Old Tucson Studios included a view of the three close-set mountain peaks in their movies; it is one way to determine if a Western was produced there. Here is a screenshot from 3:10 to Yuma (see top photo) and a picture I took (see photo underneath). The three mountain peaks in the center left of both photos are the ones that symbolize the movies made at Old Tucson Studios. Fifty-three years later, they look virtually the same.

The 2007 version of 3:10 to Yuma includes four bonus features. Besides the typical features about the making of the movie and deleted scenes, the two others are well worth watching. The first is a short documentary entitled Outlaws, Guns, and Posses, in which historians of the Old West describe several outlaw gangs and what happened to them. The other excellent DVD extra features historians expounding on the significance of the Western in American culture.

Article about Elmore Leonard protagonists in his stories and in movies:
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/02/movies/02raff.html?ref=movies

Monday, August 2, 2010

Moab: Which Episode?

In addition to the other ASJ items in the movie museum at Red Cliffs Lodge, this picture was included in the section about sets that were used for productions filmed in the area (see photo at right). I am not sure which episode this building was in, and would like to ask readers for their opinions. In any case, it's great that the movie museum had so much information about ASJ!

Here is one possibility: High Lonesome Country. In the first case, the picture resembles the Archer ranch. Since Castle Valley is in the background of the scenes when Heyes and Curry arrive at the ranch, it seems possible that the ranch was indeed located in Castle Valley (see ASJ screenshot at right of Archer ranch). The view of the building in the screenshot is different from that of the picture but the landscape in the background--the cliff with its solid rock at the top and the talus underneath--looks almost the same.

The other possibility, suggested by a reader, is the Haney inn in Only Three to a Bed. Even though the building is seen from the front and not from the side, as in the picture of the Pace ranch, the buildings looks very similar to each other, with only some minor differences (see ASJ screenshot at right).

Although I never saw anything that looked like the Pace ranch when I visited Castle Valley, I by no means explored the entire area and could easily have missed it or, after almost four decades, it might not even exist anymore.

If you have an idea about which episode was filmed at this location--whether it be one of the two mentioned above or a different one--please respond in the comment section for this blog entry. Thank you!

Read all about ASJ in Moab in Alias Smith and Jones: The Story of Two Pretty Good Bad Men:
http://www.bearmanormedia.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=1300&search=alias+smith+and+jones

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Moab: Manti-La Sal National Forest

The Manti-La Sal National Forest is completely different from all the other places I visited on my trip to Moab (see photo at right). Most noticeably, it is a lot cooler! The temperature at Arches National Park was 103 degrees Fahrenheit when I was there and at Canyonlands, it was 95 degrees F. Moab hovered between 101 – 103F at the beginning of the week and then dipped to 96F and 98F after that. In contrast, the temperature at Manti-La Sal was only 86F. I don’t know how Ben and Roger and the other cast members managed to look so comfortable in all those heavy clothes they had to wear—shooting in this mountain area must have been a very welcome respite!

There are three discrete sections of the Manti-La Sal National Forest. One is located south of Moab, near the town of Monticello, and can be seen from Interstate 191 (see photo at right). Another section is located in central Utah and the third area, the one I visited, is on the outskirts of Moab. The La Sal Mountain Loop road is another scenic byway; about 60 miles long, it takes approximately two and a half hours to drive, including stops for taking photos and eating lunch. The scenery was beautiful (see photo above)!

The elevation where I was, as far as I can tell, was around 6,000 feet at the highest point but the highest peaks in the Manti-La Sal National Forest reach over 12,000 feet. Although trees and vegetation covered much of the mountains, the legacy of a fire can also be seen (see photo at right). A sign provides a telephone number where you can call to find out what happened in the area, which I did after I returned to my lodging, not realizing that cell phone access was available at that particular spot. Further on, I came upon another sign—I thought it very helpful that such information was being made available to the public in this way. The vegetation noticeably changes as you ascend the mountains. At higher elevations, there are, of course, fewer tall trees and the flora is more alpine than desert-like (see photo above). Scattered throughout Manti-La Sal National Forest are State and privately-owned lands. Evidently, ranching is still permitted as I unexpectedly came upon some cattle while taking photographs of a mountain stream I heard trickling in the distance (see photo above). The cattle’s ears were tagged but when I moved closer, they turned and fled into the woods.

When Heyes and Kid are laying their traps in High Lonesome Country, and then tracking the cougar that Kid wounded, those scenes must have been shot in the Manti-La Sal National Forest. I don’t know where exactly ASJ shot those scenes but I assume they were somewhere in this section since it’s the closest one to Moab. About halfway through the drive, I entered an area filled with aspen trees. I took several photos of the aspens and tried to duplicate the shot in High Lonesome Country where the camera pans the tops of the trees (see ASJ screenshot at top right and my photo underneath). But it was sprinkling at that time, as it did throughout the day, and I didn’t want raindrops to fall on my camera lens so I didn’t quite get the same photo.

At the Visitor Center in Moab, you can pick up a sixteen-page booklet about the entire Manti-La Sal National Forest. Interestingly, people recognized way back in 1903 that this area was special and petitioned President Theodore Roosevelt to protect it. It finally became a national forest in 1958.

Visiting Manti-La Sal National Forest is a wonderful counterpoint to the red rock cliffs and arches; the deep canyons and gorges; the narrow, slow-moving Colorado River; and the high desert that surrounds Moab. Along with Arches, Canyonlands, Dead Horse Point, Castle Valley, and a boat trip on the Colorado River, it should not be missed on a trip to southern Utah!

Official website for the Manti-La Sal National Forest:
http://www.fs.fed.us/r4/mantilasal

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Moab: Castle Valley

Castle Valley is magical! Perhaps it’s because it is much smaller in area than the national and state parks I visited but when I entered Castle Valley, I almost felt like I was stepping back in time. A paved two-lane road runs through the valley, with red cliffs on one side facing red-rock mesas and buttes on the opposite side. A town of the same name is nestled against the cliffs (see photo above). Driving through Castle Valley probably takes only around fifteen minutes but I spent an hour there, taking photographs, driving slowly through the town—more a village, really—and picking up multi-colored rocks from the desert floor when I was halfway through the valley as souvenirs.

ASJ apparently filmed here but I haven’t figured out which scenes in which episodes yet. However, during the opening credits of High Lonesome Country, there is a long shot of the most well-known landmark in Castle Valley. It’s called Castle Rock and is also known as Castleton Tower; it is the monolith on the left on top of the cliff that is in the center of the photo (see ASJ screenshot at top right and my photo underneath, which is from slightly farther away). My photo was taken from the Manti-La Sal National Forest, as the ASJ shot must also have been, and a future blog entry will describe that scenic area. In 1963, a very famous car commercial was filmed in Castle Valley; a link to it is included below.

Other scenes in High Lonesome Country also clearly show Castle Valley. When Kid and Heyes arrive at the Archer ranch, Castle Rock is visible in the background (see ASJ screenshot at top right; my photo, underneath, is from a farther distance but still shows the same landmarks). It was easy to take lots of photos because, in the time I spent there, only about five other vehicles drove by and none of them were tourists so they didn’t stop; I had unobstructed views of whatever I wanted to photograph. This was the first place on my trip to Moab that was basically devoid of people, so it was easy to imagine Heyes and Kid riding their horses through here. I’m sure they would have admired the view, too--if they weren't running from a posse!

To get to Castle Valley from Moab, you drive on Highway 128, along the Colorado River, until you reach a turn-off on the right at about Mile 15. A short while later, you enter Castle Valley. The paved road leads to the Manti-La Sal National Forest, whose mountains loom up in front of you as you drive out of Castle Valley. To get to Castle Valley town, turn right onto the dirt road where the mailboxes are, soon after entering the valley; houses are scattered throughout that area. If you stay on Highway 128 and go past the turn-off to Castle Valley, at about Mile 16 there is a beautiful view of Castle Rock from the highway. At sunset, the red cliffs glow (see top photo at right) and when the moon rises, Castle Valley looks enchanting (see photo above).

General information about Castle Valley and land use in it (scroll down to read the text):
https://redcliffslodge.com/attractions/castle-rock/

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Moab: Dead Horse Point State Park and Canyonlands National Park

There are three distinct districts of Canyonlands National Park--Island in the Sky, the Needles, and the Maze—but they are too far apart to visit in the same day. The Island in the Sky district alone is more than 10,000 square miles in size! However, the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park can be combined with a trip to Dead Horse Point State Park, as they are in the same general vicinity--about thirty-five miles southwest of Moab, with Dead Horse Point State Park a detour on the way. That is what I did and both parks are well worth the trip.

Before embarking on drives or hikes in either park, a stop at its visitor center will enhance your trip. The Dead Horse Point Visitor Center carries many of the same books and souvenirs as those at the national parks, as well as items specifically about this state park. Visitors also receive a brochure about the park, just as visitors to the national parks do. I spent about one hour at Dead Horse Point State Park, driving along the scenic route that leads to the eponymously-named location (see photo above). Looking down into the gorge, more than a mile below, was amazing. Seeing the Colorado River, so small and insignificant at the bottom, gives a sense of how vast the West really is. Kid and Heyes could have ridden through the high desert landscape (see photo at right) that you drive through to enter and exit the park but otherwise I do not think they would have been able to traverse this area, unless it was by boat on the Colorado River.

Much of the section of Canyonlands National Park, established in 1964, that I saw, such as Grand View Point Overlook (see photo at right), resembled the geography of Dead Horse Point State Park. As with Arches National Park, Canyonlands began forming around 300 million years ago. Here, however, the ground was covered by a sea and the rise and fall of the water was one of the major causes of the geologic formations seen today, along with erosion and gravity. Each time the sea subsided, layers of sediment were left behind and helped form the structures now visible in the Park. Besides the Colorado River, the Green River has played a major role in shaping the way the Park looks. Canyonlands does have some arches and a half-mile hike brings you to Mesa Arch (see photo at right). Unfortunately, the scale of Canyonlands is so great that my photographs cannot do the place justice.

Despite the apparent barrenness of the landscape, quite a variety of life is present in Canyonlands. Vegetation has adapted to the dry conditions and low-lying bushes and tress may be hundreds of years old (see photo at right). The surface of the land looks like mere dirt, but I learned that it is cryptobiotic crust—numerous living organisms that are essential to the well-being of the Park; one footstep could destroy the crust, which could then take decades to recover and regenerate itself. Many animals, large and small, also live in Canyonlands. I saw lizards such as this one (see photo above) throughout my stay in Utah.

In the 1880s, ranchers began to graze cattle on the grasslands of Canyonlands National Park. Perhaps this is where Heyes and Kid learned ranching, before they went to San Juan some time later. Although ASJ apparently filmed here as well as at Arches National Park, I could not figure out where they might have been. None of the scenery I saw on my visit looked like anything in the third season episodes but that did not detract in any way from my enjoyment of visiting Canyonlands National Park.

Official website for Dead Horse Point State Park:
http://stateparks.utah.gov/parks/dead-horse

More information about Dead Horse Point State Park:
http://www.discovermoab.com/stateparks.htm

Official website for Canyonlands National Park:
http://www.nps.gov/cany/index.htm

More information about Canyonlands National Park:
http://www.canyonlands.national-park.com

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Moab: Arches National Park

Established in 1971 and covering 119 square miles, what is now Arches National Park is a spectacular example of the effects of weathering, erosion, and time. The origins of this park extend back 300 million years, when salt, water, wind, and other geologic forces combined to form the landscape that exists today. A fifteen-minute video about Arches National Park provides an excellent introduction to the formations and should be viewed before exploring the Park itself. Displays in the Visitor Center give more in-depth explanations about the flora and fauna present in the Park, and the well-stocked gift shop offers tourists souvenirs of their visit. Driving by car on the paved roads through Arches National Park, with stops for short hikes and photographing the vistas, requires a whole day, and that only touches the most popular areas of the Park.

ASJ filmed at Arches National Park in 1972. Before I left home, I made screenshots of scenes in the third season episodes of what looked like unique rock formations, which I hoped I’d be able to recognize when I visited the places where ASJ filmed. Although I was not able to positively identify all of the locations in the screenshots, one of the places cannot be confused with any other setting: the Three Gossips in Arches National Park. I probably spent close to one hour there, taking photographs and admiring the panorama!

Three episodes that included views of the Three Gossips are High Lonesome Country, The McCreedy Feud, and The Clementine Ingredient. One of the photos I took is almost an exact replica of a view in High Lonesome Country (see photos at right and below; the top photo is the one I took and the picture underneath is from ASJ). Not much has changed in 38 years! Note the wide horizontal rock formation at the base of the Three Gossips as well as the pile of rocks on a mound at the bottom in both pictures. That not only the pillars comprising the Three Gossips but also the surrounding rock looks virtually the same almost four decades later just proves how slow the process of weathering really is.

I tried to imagine Heyes and Kid riding here but it was difficult to visualize because the area was so crowded with visitors. Since the Three Gossips is situated within clear sight of the road not too far from the entrance to Arches National Park, there were always many people around. I was curious as to how ASJ could have filmed there so I asked and was told that nowadays, productions have to film in remote areas where there wouldn’t be lots of people present and also that they have to obtain permits and post signs, which I know is standard practice when filming. When I said that ASJ had filmed in the Three Gossips area in 1972, I was told that back then things were very different and that there were far fewer people visiting the Park then than there are now.

The McCreedy Feud also has a screenshot that just about matches a photo I took of the Three Gossips. My photo is of a closer view and is not obscured by trees. But still clearly visible and looking the same in both pictures is the diagonal line of one rock formation at the far left of the pictures and also the two smaller formations to the right of the Three Gossips (see photos at right and above; the top photo is the one I took and the lower picture is the screenshot). The two large squarish-looking rock formations in my photo aren't visible in the ASJ screenshot but I think that's because the pictures were taken at different distances.

There are many other beautiful sights in Arches National Park. One of them is Balanced Rock (see top photo at right), which is farther along the main driving route. Also very interesting is the Devil’s Garden area (see lower photo at right)—I couldn’t help but think of Devil’s Hole when I heard the name and saw this place. Actually, this is only the beginning of Devil's Garden—you can hike farther in from the parking area and see a lot more, though I didn’t do that.

There is evidence of human habitation in the area by the Archaic and Ancestral Puebloan peoples but the only white settlers who made a home for themselves in Arches National Park were the Wolfe family, who lived there from 1898 to 1910. A root cellar and the second home they built still stand and can be visited (see photo above.) It is amazing that they were able to eke out a living for so long in such a harsh environment.

There were many other places I did not have the opportunity to visit at Arches National Park and someday I hope to be able to go back and see them.

Official website of Arches National Park:
http://www.nps.gov/arch/index.htm

More information about Arches National Park:
http://www.discovermoab.com/archesnationalpark.htm

Moab, Utah

According to Alias Smith and Jones: The Story of Two Pretty Good Bad Men, the cast and crew of the show filmed scenes for third season episodes in the Moab area for about three weeks during the summer of 1972. Coincidentally, I was in Moab from July 18 – 22, 2010, some of the same days that ASJ was there 38 years earlier (though I actually departed on July 23rd). It was a memorable experience being there the same time that ASJ had been in Moab! This blog entry describes the general area of Moab; future entries will discuss specific places where ASJ filmed scenes for episodes.

Moab is located in southeastern Utah, in the high desert and surrounded by red cliffs and canyons with the Colorado River running through. The downtown part of Moab extends along both sides of US 191 for about three miles and each side of the road is lined with art galleries, adventure tour companies, restaurants, shops, and places to stay for most of it. The Visitor Information Center is excellent—filled with informational brochures about the area and an extensive collection of books, including one I bought that contained pictures of Wanted posters of the numerous outlaws that operated in Utah.

At the north end of town, just before crossing the Colorado River Bridge, a right turn brings you onto Highway 128, which winds along the Colorado River. At this point, the river is not very wide and the road is considered a scenic byway because of the steep cliffs and canyons that the road cuts through, always with the river just a few yards away and no guardrails for protection. There are designated camping areas along the road. At Mile 14, you reach the Red Cliffs Lodge, which has a winery with daily wine tastings. Two of the wines it produces are called Kid Red and Outlaw Red (see photos above). I supposed it's only fitting that I liked Outlaw Red best, in appreciation of my two favorite outlaws! In addition, Red Cliffs Lodge has a museum dedicated to the many movies, TV shows, commercials, and music videos that have been filmed in the area (see photo above).

I was very curious as to whether or not ASJ would be represented in the museum. I was not disappointed! There is a poster-like display that includes some photos from the show and in the center, text that lists the actors who were filming in the area, an explanation of the premise of ASJ, and a list of places where the show filmed (see photo above). There are similar “posters” for all the movies and TV shows filmed around Moab. I didn’t know that the pilot for McGyver was made here! In addition, there are props, costumes, scripts, pictures of movie actors, displays about the locals who were involved in the films, TV shows, commercials, and music videos produced there and displays about various behind-the-scenes aspects of producing the movies. One of the displays is of three rifles that were used as props on ASJ, according to the informational caption (see photo above). One alcove is a tribute to John Wayne, who filmed several movies in the area. It is a great place!

If you stay on US 191 and cross the Colorado River Bridge, very soon after that you can make a left turn onto a road called, simply, Potash. Driving this sixteen mile road, which also wends its way along the Colorado River, takes you past ancient Indian petrogylphs high up the face of a cliff (see photo above)—fortunately, there is a sign saying, erroneously, “Indian Writing” to tell you where they are, and you can park at the side of the road—and then, a short ways beyond, another sign that directs you up a short hill to a parking area where you can view, again high up on a cliff, dinosaur tracks. There are also places from which you can see natural arches in the cliff walls and, when the road comes to an end, a potash plant. According to the display in the movie museum, ASJ also filmed around the potash plant. I do not know where exactly that might have been, but I’d like to think it used the train tracks and train from the plant in The Long Chase (see photo above).

At the end of Six Strangers at Apache Springs, Kid says, “What now?” Heyes replies, “Something restful. How about going down the Colorado River in a barrel?”

Well, Moab is known for its adventure travel opportunities: mountain biking, hiking, rock climbing, motorcycle and 4-wheel drive tours, river rafting. But it is also possible to take a more sedate jet boat cruise along the Colorado River and that is what I did. Many such trips are available and I did a late afternoon cruise that lasted 75 minutes; it was very pleasant and interesting to see the area from the river which, here, does not really have many rapids (see photo above). The boat trip was followed by a “cowboy dinner,” which meant all the food was cooked in Dutch ovens. When I inquired, I was told that around 9pm, the food is put into the Dutch ovens and left to cook there until the following evening when people return from the cruise. I thought the BBQ chicken, BBQ beef, BBQ spicy pork, beans, corn and desert were pretty good!

So if you want an active trip or prefer a more quiet and relaxing vacation, there is something for everyone in Moab. It was a great place to visit and the fact that ASJ had been there made it all the more fun.

Webpage for the Red Cliffs Lodge movie museum (scroll down partway to read the text):
https://redcliffslodge.com/property/moab-museum-film-western-heritage/

Descriptions of the drives along Highway 128 and Potash Road (plus a third drive mentioned in a subsequent blog entry):
http://www.discovermoab.com/byways.htm