Jeff Arnold’s West

The blog of a Western fan, for other Western fans

Grand Canyon (Screen Guild, 1949)


The play within the play


Last time on this blog we looked at a 1948 picture made by Robert L Lippert’s company Screen Guild, The Return of Wildfire, which brought together Paul Landres, director, Carl K Hittleman, producer and co-writer, DP Ernie Miller, and a cast headed by Richard Arlen, Mary Beth Hughes, Reed Hadley and James Millican. Well, the following year the team re-assembled to shoot another picture, Grand Canyon.


The mule in the bottom right hand corner of the poster has it about right


This was actually mildly amusing, not least because Bob Lippert himself appeared in it. It’s a movie-about-a-movie, in which the stars play the makers of a Western set at the Grand Canyon.


Bob Lippert, film star


Hadley, not playing the villain for once, is movie director Mitch Bennett (if this character is modeled on anyone I do not know) who persuades movie mogul Robert Lippert (Robert Lippert) to let him shoot the next picture, Grand Canyon, on location at the Canyon. Mitch is very unsatisfied with how phony the love scene he shoots in the studio is, though his stars Terry Lee and singing cowboy Tex Hartford (Hughes and Millican) do their best. In actual fact, though, while we then get some location shots of the actual canyon, as the film crew decamps there, once we get back to the love scene, it’s done in the studio with a clearly phony photographic backdrop! Oh, the irony.


Movie director Reed Hadley between his stars Mary Beth Hughes and James Millican, and, on the left (not the far left, that’s the mule) his new stand-in star Richard Arlen


Tex and Terry are an item, though you sense there’s not a great deal of love lost between them.


Now we meet a party of three mule skinners, who are training up mules in the Canyon to carry tourists safely down the rocky paths. They are led by Mike Adams (Arlen) and he has two comic-relief pards, Windy and Halfnote. Windy (Olin Howland, Republic regular for many years) is, as his character’s name suggests, fond of telling tall stories, while Halfnote (Grady Sutton, who “specialized in playing naive, slightly befuddled young men and country bumpkins”, as the IMDb bio has it) is at one point wrongly but accurately called Halfwit by the director, for he is, as my old pa used to say, a brick short of a full load.


Comic relief (though it’s all pretty comic in fact)


The film crew hires these fellows on because the picture needs mules. When Windy learns that Tex is getting a thousand dollars a week, he engineers an ‘accident’ for Tex and gets Mike hired as a replacement, Mike being rugged and handsome and all.


Mike is suitably reluctant and a bit gauche at first, being a decent all-American guy, but he is a quick study and before you know it he is romancing the starlet Terry for real, to the annoyance, naturally, of Tex. They actually use a few scenes from The Return of Wildfire to show how Arlen is getting the hang of things.


Arlen gets the hang of it


There’s a totally extraneous and rather revolting part in which a little girl (Anna Mae Slaughter) comes on the set and sings a song, for no apparent reason, and that should have ended on the cutting room floor.


At one point they bring in a stuntman double to do a fight with Mike and it’s Mike Ragan, Hadley’s henchman in The Return. But jealous Tex pays the stuntman to biff the new star for real, and that gets Arlen mad and they slug it out, to the delight of the director who gets a good scene out of it.


But the new star is still uncomfortable at love scenes in front of the camera, so the crew cooks up a wheeze to get him to romance Terry for real, hiding the camera and mikes. When the new actor discovers this, though, he is pretty annoyed. Then they dream up another scheme to have Terry ‘kidnapped’ and Mike rescues her, but he isn’t fooled this time – he has seen the movie they got the idea from.


Oh well, it’s all rather silly, I suppose, but in a simple kind of way I quite enjoyed it!



6 Responses

  1. Grand Canyon is on my must-see list, in addition to Arlen we have the talented and lovely Mary Beth Hughs. A winning combination.

  2. Just ran Grand Canyon and now it is on a list of favorites. Plenty of charm, talent and taste together on screen. Beyond the leads, there is no picture without Olin Howland., or Reed.

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