Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Mescal on TV

DVD cover
Alias Smith and Jones aired in the early 1970s and the show was filmed at Universal Studios in Los Angeles.  Part of the third season was filmed on location in Moab, Utah, which stood in for Wyoming.  (Which made me really want to visit Wyoming--imagine my surprise when I finally visited the state in 2011 and it turned out to look nothing like the Wyoming in the TV show!)  Fortunately, it is possible to visit both places and I did so in 2008 and 2010.  It was a thrill to see where the episodes were actually filmed and what the Universal sets and Moab really looked like.  Another location I recently had the opportunity to visit was Mescal, near Tucson, Arizona, which is part of Old Tucson Studios.

DVD cover
Beginning in 1974 and for the following nine seasons, Little House on the Prairie was broadcast on NBC.  Starring Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert, it was based on the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Although I really enjoyed the books, I was never a fan of the TV show.  When I visited Old Tucson Studios in 2010, I was interested to learn that it had been filmed there and I saw some of the sets that were used in the show.
Close-up of LH building
When I visited Mescal a few days ago, I learned that Little House had also filmed at that location.  Mr. Frank Brown, the caretaker who lives on site and gives guided tours of Mescal, pointed out a building that was alternately used as either the school or the town hall in the TV show.
Little House schoolhouse
Completely incongruously, this building is located right
next to the field that was the site of the shootout at the O.K. Corral in the movie Tombstone.  This building is not in the best condition but the sets at Old Tucson Studios have been better maintained. 

The main attraction of Mescal for me, however, was the fact that another TV Western was shot there.  For three years, from 1989 to 1992, Mescal was the main location of filming for The Young Riders. Airing on ABC, this show was a fictionalized account of the adventures
DVD cover
of Pony Express riders and it quickly became one of my favorite shows of that decade.  One of the stars was Anthony Zerbe who played Teaspoon, a former Texas Ranger, and perhaps one reason I liked the show so much was because he and I share the same birthday.  The rest of the main cast included several young actors, a couple of whom have become much more well known: Josh Brolin as James Butler Hickock, aka Wild Bill Hickock, and Stephen Baldwin as William F. Cody, aka Buffalo Bill.

Marshal's office
Set in Sweetwater, Nebraska, the first season cast also included Melissa Leo as Emma and Brett Cullen as Sam Cain, the town marshal.  Quite a few scenes occurred at the marshal’s office.  The building is about halfway down the main street of Mescal on the left, as you enter from the parking area.  A small building
YouTube shot of marshal's office
attached to it has a Post Office sign on it now but I don’t recall it being there in the show.  Other than that, the building hasn't really changed over the years.  Unfortunately, Sam and Emma were written out The Young Riders at the end of the first season.  Mr. Brown said Emma's house was not located right at the Mescal set, so that is why I don't have a photo of it.

Bunkhouse & Rachel's house
Bunkhouse close-up
Teaspoon and the riders lived some ways out of town at a waystation.  In the second season, Rachel took on the motherly role; she was played by Clare Wren.  Her house was in close proximity to the bunkhouse where the Pony Express riders stayed when they were “home.”  It was a thrill to see those buildings up close!  Both are located near the parking area on the left but are set a short distance away
from the main street.   The corral where the riders broke horses is falling apart but still visible behind the bunkhouse.

Rachel's house
Another view of TYR buildings
Back of bunkhouse
Mr. Brown said the first four-sided buildings at Mescal were built for The Young Riders.  Rachel’s house still had yellow paint on it and a faded picket fence around the front.  I was able to peer inside the windows of the house but it was empty.  Inside the bunkhouse, though, I could see a table and what appeared to be a fireplace set into a wall.  The windows were so dirty, however, that my photos did not come out well.  The side walls and especially the back exteriors of these buildings and, in fact, just about all the buildings at Mescal, were in poor condition; the wall boards were buckling and the porches were used for storage.  It's a shame the buildings aren't better maintained.

One place I didn’t have the chance to identify was Tompkins’ General Store.  William Tompkins was played by Don Collier, who was in The High Chaparral, which was also filmed at Old Tucson Studios and whose sets are in the same vicinity as those of Little House on the Prairie.  I definitely want to return to Mescal to find out which building was the mercantile in The Young Riders

Side view of marshal's office
Mescal is actually quite small; there is just one main street lined with buildings, a side street partway down from the main thoroughfare with one building at the end on the right, and then a small street paralleling the main street, where the Little House building can be found at the far end, and then Rachel’s house and the bunkhouse off to one side.

View of Mescal from TYR buildings
The towns depicted in The Young Riders look fairly large in size but that is due to the magic of cinematography and the camera angles used to film the action.  Watching episodes now on YouTube makes me wonder what Mescal looked like when The Young Riders was in production and the buildings were kept in excellent condition.  I had a hard time picturing all the hustle and bustle of Sweetwater—all the extras going about their daily business—when I was there.

Far end of the main street of Mescal
I suppose it is appropriate, though: The heyday of Westerns is long over and those movies have faded into memory, and even though some filming is still done there, Mescal is now more of a ghost town than an active movie set.  But maybe one day Mescal, and Westerns, will ride again.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Mescal in the Movies

Entrance to Mescal
Anyone who likes to watch Westerns will enjoy visiting Mescal.  This is the sister site of Old Tucson Studios that is located in the desert near Benson, Arizona, about 90 minutes from where I live and east southeast of Tucson.  I'd been wanting to visit for many years but it was always closed whenever I was in town.  However, the local photography club that I recently joined after moving to Arizona was going on an outing to Mescal so I eagerly signed up.

This past Saturday, I finally was able to see Mescal in person!  This is where films such as Hombre, starring Paul Newman; The Outlaw Josey Wales, starring Clint Eastwood; Tombstone, starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer; The Quick and the Dead, with Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe and Sharon Stone either partially or in their entirety were filmed.
Site of shootout between
Josey Wales and 4 Yankees
in The Outlaw Josey Wales

Other movies shot there were Monte Walsh, Buffalo Soldiers, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, Tom Horn, and Dirty Dingus Magee.  A couple TV shows also filmed at Mescal and they will be the subject of another blog post.
Mescal consists of a main street lined with buildings on both sides, a smaller side street with a few buildings, and a back street that runs behind the main one; there are also a few buildings off to one side near the parking area.  Mr. Frank Brown is the caretaker and he lives on site.  On the rare occasions Mescal is open, he gives one-hour tours for $10.00.  He has lots of stories to tell about the movies that were filmed there and he opens up some of the buildings for visitors to go inside.  However, visitors must stay within visual range of Mr. Brown, not just to ensure that no damage is done but also because the surrounding desert is filled with rattlesnakes.

Saloon in The Quick and the Dead
The tour starts at what is now called Kilmer Saloon--but it was named that many years after Tombstone was filmed--and is the saloon where people signed up for the quick draw competition in The Quick and the Dead.  This building is located to the right just after the entrance to Mescal.  The very small building at the far right was a Mexican set used in a Lee van Cleef movie but Mr. Brown couldn't recall which one.

Inside the saloon there isn't much left but Mr. Brown pointed out where the board where the gunfighters signed up had been situated.  I walked around the room and took a look behind the bar--which is not often shown in the movies--and I
Saloon interior
went up the staircase and found only an empty room with a few boards inside, and a window out of which I could see other buildings that were in a sad state of repair.  After savoring the atmosphere on my own for a few minutes, I rejoined the group and continued the tour.

Walking down the street, away from the entrance, there is a small side street and the building at the end was the hardware store in Monte Walsh.
Hardware store in Monte Walsh
This is a movie I have yet to blog about.  The original version with Lee Marvin and Jack Palance is the film that was shot here.  The 2003 version stars Tom Selleck and Isabella Rosselini and the only reason I would watch that is to compare it with the original1970 movie.  That is just like how the original version of 3:10 to Yuma was filmed at Old Tucson Studios and the remake was made elsewhere.

Missouri Bank
I quite liked The Outlaw Josey Wales so it was cool to see a couple of the buildings that were used in the film.  One I already mentioned earlier; it's on the left side of the main street as you look down from the entrance to Mescal. The other is located behind the main street--when you make a left turn at the end of that street with the hardware store, there is another street that parallels the main street of Mescal.  Walk a short ways down that street and across the field, toward the main street, you'll see what was the Missouri Bank in The Outlaw Josey Wales.  A scene at the end of the movie that took place at the bank was filmed at Mescal.  Here is my review of the film.

Fly's in Tombstone
The O.K. Corral in Tombstone
Keep walking along that street and you come to Fly’s Photography Gallery from Tombstone. In the small field next to it is where the infamous shootout at the O.K. Corral occurred.  Well, where the shootout in Tombstone happened according to the movie Tombstone!  Both the building and especially the field look really small.  You can read my review of Tombstone here

Buffalo Soldiers set
I haven't seen Dirty Dingus Magee and it isn't available through Netflix, where I access most of the movies I blog about, so I don't know when I'll be able to see it.  However, Buffalo Soldiers, with Danny Glover, is available and I put it at the top of my queue.  The large house in the background was one of the sets in the movie but we didn't go there because Mr. Brown said it was filled with rattlesnakes.  He took a look at our shoes and said we didn't have the right footwear to walk through the desert over to the house.  I look forward to watching this movie and finding out if Joe Simms (Louis Gossett, Jr. in The Bounty Hunter) encountered any of these soldiers as he drifted West.

Hanging Tree in Maverick
A closer connection to ASJ can be found in a gnarled tree standing by itself in the desert as you head back towards the main street where most of the better-preserved buildings of Mescal are located. This was the tree in Maverick--the 1994 version with Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, and James Garner--where Mel Gibson was hanged at the beginning of the movie.  Roy Huggins has a writing credit on this film.

Tom Horn set
Tom Horn is also available on Netflix and that is now on my list of movies to see.  Starring Steve McQueen, it will be interesting to see how this movie portrays the title character.  Although he wasn't a character in any episode of ASJ, the TV show did deal with the Johnson County War in several episodes in the third season (Bushwhack!, What Happened at the XST?, The Day the Amnesty Came Through, Witness to a Lynching).  This building was used in the movie and is located when you round the corner after walking past the "O.K. Corral" location and are about to head back up the main street of Mescal.

Lily's place
About halfway up the main street, as you finish the tour and head back to the parking area, is a small building that was used as Lily's place in The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean.  I don't think it said "Undertaker" for that movie, though!  This was the second movie with Paul Newman that was filmed at Mescal and I wonder what he thought of the location, which is so different from Connecticut.

With my photography group, I spent about an hour and a half at Mescal and it was well worth it.  In fact, I would like to visit Mescal again and hear more of Mr. Brown's stories about the Westerns that were filmed there.  Mescal is a gem and I sincerely hope the buildings are preserved so more people can visit and appreciate the history that was made there.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

El Dorado

I apologize for not posting any blog entries here over the past eight months: I was in the process of moving from the East Coast to the Southwest and that was very time-consuming.  But now that I am living in the West, I love it!  And I am ready to resume writing blog posts about movies and other aspects of the Old West.  Thanks for reading!

Back in the fall, I attended a special screening of El Dorado in Tucson, Arizona, where the movie was partially filmed.  Cindy Mitchum, daughter of Robert Mitchum, one of the stars of the movie, along with John Wayne, signed posters of the movie (see photo at right) and did a question-and-answer session before the film began about her father’s work.  The interviewer had a hard time eliciting information from her but the little she did offer was interesting. 

As for the movie itself, I was not enthralled with it.  The 1966 movie was a remake of Rio Bravo and that is a far, far better film.  Perhaps if I had not seen Rio Bravo first, I would have liked this movie.  El Dorado is not a bad movie, it just doesn’t hold up well at all in comparison to the other one, despite that fact that both were directed by Howard Hawks.  It’s 126 minutes long and it really did seem long.

One of the few good things in El Dorado, though, is Michele Carey (Betsey in A Fistful of Diamonds).  Her voice is completely different!  Her character is a strong young woman who can take care of herself, a surprising and very different role from the one she portrayed on ASJ.  R.G. Armstrong (Max in The Bounty Hunter) plays her father and Paul Fix (Clarence in Night of the Red Dog) plays a doctor.  Robert Donner (Preacher in Never Trust an Honest Man, Nate in The Bounty Hunter, Charlie Taylor in The Day the Amnesty Came Through) is also in El Dorado, playing one of the bad guys.

I highly recommend watching the bonus DVD before viewing El Dorado itself– you will appreciate the movie much more if you do.  The first bonus feature, which lasts around half an hour, discusses the history and making of the movie, has in-depth commentary from several film critics, and interviews with various people involved in the film, including James Caan and Edward Asner.  It is well worth the time to see this! 

The second bonus feature is a short overview of the artist whose paintings are used in the opening credits; it’s quite interesting.  The next bonus feature is a short interview with A.C. Lyles, a producer at Paramount, taking about working with John Wayne, who insisted on being called “Duke.”  The final extras on this DVD are the original trailer for the film and a series of still photos, both lobby cards in color and black-and-white photos taken on the set during production of El Dorado.

Although El Dorado does have some positive aspects, there are plenty of other Westerns I would recommend watching before viewing this one.