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 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. 

Related Link:

Article about Elmore Leonard protagonists in his stories and in 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: