This week’s trip to the SLIFR Drive-In Trailer Park takes its inspiration from the western, and even more specifically from the 17th Annual Lone Pine Film Festival, which convenes today in Lone Pine, California, on the edge of Death Valley in Inyo County. Lone Pine has served as the outdoor locations hundreds of westerns, science fiction thrillers and action films, and the festival centers around movies, some of them famous, some a little less so, that were in and around the area.
The 2006 festival also marks the grand opening of the Lone Pine Film History Museum, as well as a guest list that includes veteran character actor and villain nonpareil Henry Silva, actress Colleen Gray, Alias Smith and Jones’s Ben Murphy, veteran producer A.C. Lyles (TV’s Rawhide, Hostile Guns, Fort Utah and, lest anyone allow him to forget, Night of the Lepus) and actor William Wellman Jr., son of director William Wellman.
The festival also features several tours to various well-known locations around the area, including a four-wheel drive trip to the location of the train tracks used in Bad Day at Black Rock, an Audie Murphy hero tour, a tour centered upon locations used in the Cinerama epic How the West Was Won and a tour entitled “How Nature Formed the Movie Sites.” And the four celebrity panels featured this year sound enticing: “Villains and Men of Action,” a panel featuring Silva and others which echoes this year’s theme, “The Return of the Badmen;” “Hollywood Escapes,” moderated by Harry Medved; “The man and His Wings,” in which Wellman Jr. discusses his father’s career and, presumably, his own; and “The Best Bad men in Western Films,” which will draw heavily on the expertise of western film expert and author Dave Matuszak. (This is the one I’m gravitating toward.)
There’s also an autograph and dealers hall, an arts and crafts fair, a western-themed parade, a closing campfire, music and, oh, yes, the movies. I’ll be arriving around noon today, which means I’ll miss the first three offerings: Tim Holt in The Mysterious Desperado (1949; Lesley Selander), Bill Elliot and Vera Ralston as The Plainsman and the Lady (1946; Joseph Kane) and an afternoon of TV westerns—episodes of The Gene Autry Show, Range Rider and a Gunsmoke two-parter. But I’ll be just in time for what is for me the main attraction of the weekend—Randolph Scott, Richard Boone and, yes, Henry Silva in The Tall T (1957; Budd Boetticher), one of the very best collaborations between director Boetticher and western star Scott, from a Burt Kennedy script which is itself based on an Elmore Leonard story. I’d even go so far as to say it’s one of the best westerns of the period, period. And it’s not on DVD as yet, so this screening will be even more of a treat.
Saturday is the heaviest day for screenings, naturally, and like breakfast and early morning chores on the range, they start early. Gene Autry’s Boots and Saddles (1937; Joseph Kane) fires up at 8:30 a.m., followed by the Tex Ritter programmer Where the Buffalo Roam (1938; Albert Herman) at 9:45 a.m. Then the festival takes a break from the western theme for two action features of entirely different stripes that were shot in and around Lone Pine—Brian Keith in a knockoff of The Wages of Fear entitled Violent Road (1958; Howard W. Koch) at 11:00 a.m., and Errol Flynn in a big-budget adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s Kim (1950; Victor Saville) beginning at 12:45 p.m..
I’ll probably pass on Kim (a guy’s gotta eat lunch!) and take the time to marshal my resources for the rest of the day’s screenings, all of which promise to be enthralling. At 2:45 p.m. is the LPFF perennial favorite Bad Day at Black Rock (1955; John Sturges). Seeing Spencer Tracy, Ernest Borgnine and Robert Ryan on screen near the very place where the movie was shot promises to be thrilling in itself. But the opportunity to see it on a big screen is just too good to pass up anytime, anywhere. And I’m hoping that this will be the point in the festival where I’ll be meeting up with fellow blogger Brian Darr, San Francisco festival and repertory film aficionado/expert and proprietor of the unceasingly fine Hell on Frisco Bay. Brian was one of the first people I became acquainted with in my blogging adventures, so I’m really looking forward to taking in some movies with him, and perhaps a few beers and some conversation as well. Bad Day is a short film (88 minutes) and Lone Pine is a small town, but even so I’m not sure there’ll be a way to skip from the Lone Pine High School auditorium, where the Sturges classic will screen, over to the museum in time to catch the 4:00 p.m. screening of Fulvio and Antonio Sestito’s short film The Showdown, but since I missed it here in Los Angeles two weeks ago I don’t want to make the same mistake twice. (Brian, I may have to skip out on Bad Day a skosh early.) The Showdown is only 15 minutes long, but there’ll be a Q&A with the filmmaking brothers afterward, and I’m hoping I can corral them for a few minutes one-on-one as well. But even given all that, there will still be plenty of time for dinner before the evening’s main event—the 7:30 p.m. festival “hallmark film” special ticket screening of The Violent Men (1955; Rudolph Mate) starring Glenn Ford, Edward G. Robinson and Barbara Stanwyck in a glorious Cinemascope western, followed immediately by Seven Men from Now (1956), another Boetticher/Kennedy/Scott collaboration. Long unseen due to legal entanglements, but recently released on DVD, it is nevertheless not to be missed on the big screen, a spectacular, pastoral, iconic western of the sort this team did so well.
Sunday is a travel day for me (I’m holding out hope for a game four in the Dodgers-Mets NLDS, and if it happens I’ve got a seat). But the screenings continue in Lone Pine with or without me, and again, they start early. At 8:00 a.m. it’s Rod Cameron and Kay Morris on the Stage to Tucson (1950; Ralph Murphy), followed lickety-split at 9:45 a.m. by Jack Palance, Anthony Perkins and Neville Brand in The Lonely Man (1957; Henry Levin). 11:30 a.m. brings the Audie Murphy opus Hell Bent for Leather (1960; George Sherman), costarring Felicia Farr and Stephen McNally, followed at 2:00 p.m. by Hopalong Rides Again (1937; Lesley Selander). According to the LPFF press notes, this is the first of the 1937-38 Hopalong Cassidy Westerns, and is notable for its “nearly unparalleled… use of appealing locations in the Alabama Hills, with a key sequence unfolding in the area known as Cattle Pocket.” This sounds like a central movie to the sensibility of the Lone Pine Film Festival, and I really wish I could be there to see it. Then, at 3:15 p.m., everything comes to a big, crashing, banging, speeding finale with the over-the-top comedy of The Great Race (1965; Blake Edwards).
I’m really looking forward to the Lone Pine Film Festival, not only because I love westerns, and not only because I love the idea of a festival centered around films made in the area where the festival takes place (art seems to be a secondary consideration here, and that’s okay), and not only because I’ll be camping under the stars on the edge of nearby Diaz Lake (because I like to camp, and because motels for 40 miles around have been booked solid for this weekend since last year’s festival ended). All those are good and valid reasons, but the main reason—and here’s where my credibility goes right out into the campfire with the day-old coffee grounds—this is the first film festival of any kind I’ve ever attended where I could participate in multiple films over a period of even a couple of days. (My wife and I took in a Spanish film called The Red Squirrel as a one-shot dip into the London Film Festival on our honeymoon in 1993, but I’m not really counting that as “going to the festival.”) This is kind of an embarrassing admission to have to make, in the shadow of all those enticing reports coming out of Toronto and New York, but, hey, it’s the only one I’ve got. And it won’t dampen my enthusiasm for the Lone Pine Film festival one bit.
This week in the Trailer Park we’re all about the western too. First we’ll take a two-fer dip into Charles Bruss’s vast collection of drive-in movie ads to highlight one of Lone Pine’s best this year, as well as to take a gander at what it was like to flip through the papers and see one of the cinema’s most profound and enduring achievements in the genre on one of those wacky double features that were the bread and butter of drive-in exhibition in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
(Image courtesy of Charles Bruss. Click on image to enlarge.)
(Image courtesy of Charles Bruss. Click on image to enlarge.)
I remember seeing ads for westerns like these on my local theater “show calendar” (the westerns I saw were almost never this good, though) and being filled with excitement and certainty that what awaited me inside the gates of the local indoor and outdoor theater would surely live up to every bit of anticipation I was enduring just looking at those ads. And it is easy to call up memories of that excitement just looking at them here. I loved, and still love, the way the vastness of a print ad campaign could be shrunk down and refitted to the movie pages of a small-town newspaper, especially if the drive-in had, like the ones seen above, lots of elaborate logo design and extra information to personalize and specify the movie to that small-town audience. Discovering Mr. Bruss’s collection has made Friday, already a great day in anybody’s book, even better for me, because I get to pick and choose which delight I’m going to get to pull out of his top hat next. (Be sure to sign his guest book when you drop by his site too, won't you?)
As for this week’s trailers, it turns out that coming attractions previews for westerns are kind of hard to come by on YouTube. (Now, if you want wacky and undoubtedly hilarious western parodies…) But even so I managed to come up with a triple feature that will fill out our bill here quite nicely indeed, and two out of three of them even have a direct connection to the film schedule at the Lone Pine Film Festival, so you can get a little taste of what I’ll be enjoying out in the fresh, cool air of the October desert.
First there’s a very short peek at Bad Day at Black Rock:
Second, not a trailer, but an actual sequence from Boetticher’s Seven Men from Now, which will either get you on the road to Lone Pine for a last-minute ticket or at least send you scurrying to a DVD store to buy your own copy:
And then, the trailer for the brilliant, violent Australian “western” The Proposition, one of the year’s best movies, and just out on DVD in the last couple of weeks:
And finally, an surprise extra added bonus attraction! Here’s Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys with Tex Ritter in a clip from the western B-movie Take Me Back to Oklahoma (1940; Albert Herman; not playing at the Lone Pine Film Festival) which will hopefully leave you with a little bit of what I hope to be living and breathing for the next two days on the edge of the Mojave Desert.
Happy trails to you until we meet again!