Friday, July 23, 2010

Old Tucson Studios

For anyone interested in the history of Westerns, Old Tucson Studios is not to be missed (see photo at right)! Located on the outskirts of Tucson near the Saguaro National Park, it is basically in the middle of nowhere. Starting in 1939 and continuing up to the present day, more than 70 movies have been filmed at Old Tucson Studios along with several TV shows though not, alas, ASJ.

Be sure to start your visit with a guided tour, which is led by a film historian. This provides a great introduction to all the sets and helps bring the place to life. I’ve blogged previously about some of the movies filmed at Old Tucson Studios: Winchester ’73, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Rio Bravo, The Outrage, and Hombre. The tour guide pointed out where scenes in various movies occurred (see photo above of building used in Rio Bravo and several other films). One thing that struck me is how small the sets are in real life but how, in the movie, they look very expansive—excellent cinematography, for sure. It was really cool to see the sets where these movies were made!

Other movies that I haven’t blogged about (though I may in the future) which were filmed here include: the original version of 3:10 to Yuma, The Three Amigos, 1993’s Tombstone, and The Quick and the Dead. Old Tucson Studios also was the location for a number of TV shows, including High Chaparral, Little House on the Prairie, and The Young Riders. The sets used for the first two shows mentioned above are a little ways off from the main area (see photo above); when I walked over there, there was no one else around, which helped me better imagine the shows.

Once the tour is over, you can walk around and visit places on your own. This is really nice because, unlike the Universal Studios tour where you have to stay with your tour guide, you can take as much time as you want and go anywhere you please. It took me about three hours to wander around but not only was I very interested, I was also taking tons of photos. Old Tucson Studios did not seem crowded while I was walking around but when I watched two shows, there were plenty of people in the audiences. One unusual set was the Chinese alley, set up to resemble what I suppose was the movies’ idea of a typical Chinese street in the nineteenth century (see photo above).

Every day, there are two gunfight shows involving Billy the Kid, one in the morning and another in the afternoon, and also a can-can show (see photo at right of dancers). In addition, there are exhibits of props used in some of the movies produced at Old Tucson Studios, as well as exhibits of other artifacts from the time of the Old West. You can also watch a couple short documentaries about the movies that were made here. For kids—and the young at heart—there are stagecoach rides, a shooting gallery, and the opportunity to pan for gold, along with several other activities.

Last but not least, there are some restaurants and gift shops on site. I happened to see both a Wanted poster and a newspaper with my name on them (see photos above) but unlike Wheat, I bought them. Watch out, Kid and Heyes—it looks like you have some competition!

Official website of Old Tucson Studios:

Old Tucson Studios webpage about the movies filmed there: