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.