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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Book Choice --- When Hollywood Came To Town

The best books interact with other media: they'll send you in search of movies referenced within, thus doubling joy of the read. Such a Pied Piper, newly updated from original 2010 publication, is James D'Arc's When Hollywood Came To Town: A History Of Moviemaking In Utah, which near-resolves me to fly out there and visit glorious settings for so many pics I'd call favorites. Visit? We might all do to retire there. It's not just Monument Valley they boast: the state is fairly honeycombed with breathtaking sites to film, all of which D'Arc covers with a painterly pen and illustrations for wow onlooking. Picture-makers didn't just show up to shoot: it needed push on part of Utah residents (really entrepreneurs) to get Hollywood off its provincial dime and go where vistas could be captured as no place else.

What enhances most is D'Arc himself being an accomplished film historian. He's curator of Brigham Young University's Motion Picture Archive and lends the book a wealth of insider knowledge and fruit of many interviews conducted with those who made movie magic on Utah location. And the images? I was jaw-dropped by many gone beyond rare. Having read for years of tent cities John Ford built for his Monument Valley crews, who'd of thought a color photo would turn up of said accommodations for The Searchers --- yet here it is. D'Arc covers multiple regions and gives each a chapter. I picked one to start, Kane County, and acquainted myself with background and history before repairing to view of travel folder westerns shot there, 20th Fox's Western Union and Universal-International's Red Canyon. Both are fortunately accessible on HD, Western Union from Vudu and Red Canyon off Retroplex, quality a best it could be. What better way to make D'Arc's Utah Hollywood come to my town?

According to the book, Kane County seat Kanab and surrounding ground were primarily site for Western Union and Red Canyon, most striking points being the red-tinted Vermilion Cliffs and Johnson Canyon, which later became Zion National Park. Said setting had been used for several budget westerns that were first to utilize Kane-Kanab, but further development, plus traversable roads, were needed in order to lure big-budget filmmakers. A first of these was director Fritz Lang's crew for Western Union, which added punch of Technicolor to show places not captured as such on film before. Same old rocks and trees back home wouldn't do for high-ticket picture folk who wanted their westerns to capture sights unique. Western Union has just that and a good Zane Grey story besides. Knowing where and under what conditions it was filmed makes the watching that much more of a pleasure, and author D'Arc supplies much in the way of behind-scenes lore.

Red Canyon is among horse stories popular in the 40's, having clicked since silents when Rex wonder-steeded for Hal Roach. Now with 40's addition of Technicolor, equine subjects enjoyed second coming, and all the majors drank from a winning trough. Red Canyon was Universal's and a vehicle for ingĂ©nue Ann Blyth and promising newcomer Howard Duff, a radio vet whose face, if not voice, was fresh. Coming to Kane-Kanab did wonders for backdrop: this was among loveliest-shot westerns the decade offered. Crimson cliffs for which Vermilion was noted had values not altogether of this earth. Bob Lippert, given more budget for his Rocketship X-M, might have been well advised to shoot his Mars-scape here, so red planet evocative is Vermilion. I'll be pulling more to watch as peruse continues through When Hollywood Came To Town --- many more notable films were shot in Utah than I'd realized --- and what reading satisfaction it is to have such splendid coverage of them all between two covers.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed today's post about movie-making in the Land of milk and honey and Mormons; they must've been a tough lot of pioneers...Along similar lines I highly recommend another book devoted to a exotic film location, that of the state of Hawaii, most notably the island of Kaua'i, in which hundreds of films and television series have been shot. The KAUA'I MOVIE BOOK by Chris Cook makes mention of "None But the Brave", "South Pacific", "Donovan's Reef", "Blue Hawaii", "Raiders of the Lost Ark", "Pagan Love Song", "Jurassic Park", "Diamond Head", "Cast Away", "Gilligan's Island" (tv pilot)... The list goes on forever.

1:00 PM  
Blogger Vienna said...

Love that big close-up of Clift and Dru!
Must look out that great book on Utah locations.Thanks for the information.
I've been interested in Lone Pine in California where a lot of westerns were made.I was amazed when someone found the exact rock formation where Lee Marvin faced off to Randolph Scott in Seven Men From Now.
Oh, how I would love to stand there!

4:09 AM  
Blogger James Corry said...

Hi John!

Another excellent article and this time on an excellent book regarding the history of motion pictures in the State of Utah.

I have known Jim D'Arc (now a PhD of History)now for nearly 40 years, both of us being undergrads at Brigham Young University's theater dept. when we first met. This was back in the mid-70's and he was talking about doing a book on the history of film in Utah THEN (!!) Sometimes good things can take awhile, but, as in this case, the wait was definitely worth it. Jim's scholarship is impeccable and a nicer, more knowledgable man you'll never meet. He has practically singlehandly turned BYU into a powerhouse of film history having acquired the holdings of such luminaries as: Cecil B. DeMille, Merian C. Cooper, Max Stenier,Hugo Friedhofer, James Stewart, Paul Dunlap and many others. I cannot recommend his book highly enough.


8:13 AM  

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