Sunday, May 3, 2015



In 1879, a man (James Anthony Cotton) with a vision of turning his frontier tent city into a metropolis decides to sponsor a high-stakes poker tournament, with an unlikely prize: a cross of gold (and no, William Jennings Bryant does not present it).  Disreputable but well-heeled types from all over the world are drawn to the mythical (mystical?) town of Religion, Arizona to try their luck.  This is the premise of writer-director James O’Brien’s sometimes existential, sometimes humorous, sometimes grim and gritty film, WESTERN RELIGION. 

This is not your standard Western in any sense.  Once the characters are drawn to the town, it takes place all in that one locale, with a large ensemble cast, and no one character to be called the ‘lead’.  The ‘players’ include Chinaman Dan (Peter Shinkoda), an on-the-lam bank robber; Waylin Smith (Miles Szanto), a white raised by Indians, who has a mystical connection with his adoptive father (Sam Bearpaw); Zain Mohammed (Merik Tadros), an Arab Prince touring America, who cannot resist the challenge; Anton Stice (Claude Duhamel), a mysterious gunfighter; Saint John (Gary Kohn), a train-robber-turned-preacher; Raven McCabe (William Moore), a magician and professional card manipulator; Bootstrap Bess (Holiday Hadley), a saloon-girl hoping to win enough money to build her own ‘hotel’;  Bobby Shea (Sean Joyce), a handsome town carpenter, hoping to win enough to rescue his girl from the life she’s leading;  and Salt Peter (Louis Sabatasso) the Viennese, delightfully decadent dilettante, adept with cards, needles and knives.  There is also an impressive contingent of what Strother Martin called ‘prairie scum,’ and townspeople like bartender Southern Bill (Peter Sherayko).  Oh, did I mention that one of the card-players might just be the devil

The card-play takes place over several days, as various players are eliminated by the luck of the draw – sometimes cards, sometimes guns.  Relationships are built and broken, back-stories are told, lots of folks are shot, until just a handful of players are left, some playing for gold, some playing for their very souls.  The success of such a film must, to a great degree, succeed or fail by the quality of the performances, and while no face in the lead cast is familiar, they are uniformly talented and convincing.  In fact, a plus of having a cast of non-stars is that you have no idea who will die, and who will survive to the end.

Sean Joyce & Holiday Hadley

As a screenwriter, O’Brien deftly intertwines the lives and personalities of his blurring array of characters, avoiding clich├ęs, taking them in unexpected but convincing directions.  Some may appear as caricatures at first, but as you learn about them they take on weight, and you care about them.  As a director, O’Brien not only stages the frequent and violent action well, he takes what often is tedious in films, watching a series of poker games, and keeps it interesting.  He wisely chose five card stud, a game that has four cards face up and one down, so players aren’t endlessly staring at a hand we can’t see.  And he never bores you with the play of an entire hand – it’s the key moments, whether that means who wins, who folds, or who gets a knife in their intestines.

Peter Shinkoda as Chinaman Dan

I tend to be less than a fan of Westerns with supernatural or sci-fi elements – they usually seem tossed in arbitrarily.  But in a way, WESTERN RELIGION is, like poker, about belief, whether in luck or in something higher, and it never gets heavy-handed, or bogged down with distracting special effects that are the antithesis of the western.   I enjoyed spending a day on the set of WESTERN RELIGION, and enjoyed the finished film much more. 

Gary Kohn as Saint John

Shot quickly on a lean budget, the visuals by cinematographer Morgan Schmidt never cut corners.  Without being self-conscious, composition is well thought-out, and the number of set-ups in even minor sequences belies the limitations of shooting fast.  Filming at Caravan West Ranch in Santa Clarita, in a tent-city built for the production, the photography, taking full advantage of the wild, mountain and desert terrain, is often striking, and frequently beautiful.    

Peter Sherayko as Southern Bill

The effective music score is by Ram Khatabakhsh; the songs heard in saloon scenes are sung by Kevin McNiven, an accomplished cowboy singer who just happens to also be the head wrangler on the film.  The unusually varied and correct costuming is by Nikki Pelley. 

Louis Sabatasso as Salt Peter

In the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that I have a small ‘bit’ in the film.  If, in the first five and a half minutes, during a poker game, you notice a hand on the right side of frame, with a red and white checkered sleeve, picking up cards and putting down coins – that’s me! 


Dir. James O'Brien atop stagecoach

WESTERN RELIGION will have its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, and May 16th.  As far as I’ve been able to learn, it is the only Western scheduled to play this year at Cannes.
A week ago, I met up with WESTERN RELIGION writer/director James O’Brien, to get an advance copy of the film to review.  We met at a coffee shop called DuParr’s, in Studio City.  It seemed a fortuitous choice – Studio City, in the San Fernando Valley, was named after Republic Studios, birthplace of so many westerns, and the entrance to the old Republic lot, now CBS, is directly across the street from the coffee shop.  It had been about a year and a half since I’d visited the set (you can read that article HERE ), and a lot has happened since then. 

HENRY: When we first talked, on-set in November of 2013, you were a week into shooting.  You were already thinking of a possible sequel.  How about now?

Merik Tadros and Claude Duhamel

JAMES: It’s interesting; I've recently been in touch with a buyer for Showtime and HBO that wanted to discuss the possibility of turning it into a cable series, like DEADWOOD, but with a supernatural element. Working on something can change your thoughts on it. Many of the characters in the film suggest alternate stories, or following them further. It's certainly something I would entertain, though my thoughts on my next screenplay are elsewhere.

HENRY: How long a shoot was it?

JAMES:  It was a nineteen-day shoot, and we used every minute of it; though we did have a day afterwards for insert photography for the poker stuff, and one additional day for a pick-up shoot in Topanga Canyon, for the hanged man opening with Saint John, played by Gary Douglas Kohn.  

Claude Duhamel as Anton Stice

HENRY: You described WESTERN RELIGION as ‘an Altman western’, because there were so many characters.  Is there a lead character, or is the poker tournament itself the main character?

JAMES:  The poker tournament is a MacGuffin in a sense.  (Note: a MacGuffin was Hitchcock’s term for the object that motivates the plot – the stolen plans, the letters of transit, or the Lost Ark.)  In that it’s what draws everyone together.  I don’t think that I’d term it as a character per se.  I think the town of Religion is more of a character in the film.  But there is one villain, so to speak, that is the umbrella under which all these other characters gather to do battle.  That would be Anton Stice, Claude Duhamel, a fantastic Canadian actor that we were very fortunate to get less than a week before the production.  He was the last to come aboard, and I had the phone in my hand to call another actor, and something told me to wait just another day. A few hours later one of the other actors, Peter Shinkoda, who plays Chinaman Dan, told me to look out for an audition from a friend of his. That night I got an audition on-line from Claude, and the rest is western movie history.

HENRY: What surprised you in the process of making your first western? 

JAMES:  Well, I knew going in that the production would be on a much grander scale than my previous work.  So I was psychologically prepared for that.  But of course, the day to day reality of doing it, staging all of those action sequences, I knew it would be a challenge, and it did wind up being the biggest challenge, in terms of all the coverage you have to get to make that happen.  You know, I’ve been doing these run-and-gun independent films where you could just grab the camera, and jump out of the van, and do it on the fly, and often that would lend itself to the flavor of the finished product.  But this one, because of all the action, I had to do it more Hollywood-style, plan the sequences to the degree I could, then cover extensively. 

HENRY:  Did you story-board the film?

JAMES: Myself and the DP, Morgan Schmidt, made shot-lists for the action sequences; we wrote out the shots we planned on doing.  Sometimes we stuck to it, sometimes we improvised.  My first assistant director, a very good friend of mine, Ken August, wouldn't let me on set for the actions scenes if I didn’t deliver the shot lists with Morgan.  My fellow producer Louie Sabatasso agreed that it would be needed to make our days.  I feel very comfortable improvising on-set, but they asked for it, we delivered it, and that’s partly why we got the shoot done in nineteen days.

HENRY:  Morgan Schmidt’s photography is just beautiful.  Has he done any period pictures before?

DP Schmidt, 1st AD August, Dir. O'Brien

JAMES:  I knew that he had done at least one other Western film. He's shot a number of features across many genres, but was also known for doing high end commercial photography.  I met him at a party, and within a few minutes of talking to him, I said I’m doing this Western about gunfighters with different philosophies, and you’re going to shoot it. He said, ‘Deal,’ and it came together in ensuing months. 

HENRY:  Speaking of shooting, I remember you were shooting some 8mm TRI-X on the set.  Did any of that find its way into the movie?

JAMES: Indeed it did.  We experimented with using it throughout the movie, but it became a little too much like NATURAL BORN KILLERS, which I love as a film, but for our movie it took you out of the flow.  But I did wind up using it in the rather extensive end credit sequence, where we take you through the characters with the Super-8 footage, so it did what I wanted it to do; we show you the movie, and the last shot of the movie is black & white, Super-8, and then it goes into the end credits, giving you the sense that all of this actually happened. 

Miles Szanto

HENRY:  What were the best and worst parts of making WESTERN RELIGION?

JAMES: Well, the best part was gathering this incredible group of talented people out there in Agua Dulce at our caravan of trailers, where everyone got to take part in a feeling of time travel, by leaving Los Angeles and journeying back in time to our sets.  You mentioned that you couldn’t see any examples of the modern world when you were out there.  We never could have done that at the Paramount Ranch; we had very tight restrictions of hours, and the amount of people who could be there.  Being able to get that location, and gather the group that we did was the most thrilling aspect of it. It was kind of our indie Camelot. And I would say the most difficult part would be the pressure of having to raise money as we were shooting it – it’s not something I’d recommend.  But we committed our lives to doing this movie, particularly Louie and I, and we went into it without the full budget, raising it as we went along.  So the day-to-day pressures of, do we have enough money to make it into the next week, was probably the toughest part. 

HENRY:  All movie productions have challenges, but WESTERN RELIGION had a whopper, losing the Paramount Ranch location in the National Park shutdown.  How much time did you have to swing things over to Peter Sherayko’s Caravan West Ranch?

Sam Bearpaw

JAMES:  About two weeks.  Right at the start of the month, Tony Hoffman, the Ranger who runs Paramount Ranch, called me and said there was a slight possibility that the government could close down all of the National Parks. He thought it was unlikely to actually happen. I hoped we we'd be fine, until his call, two weeks from our start date. The Government had officially closed all National Parks. The Paramount Ranch, our set, was one of them.  That day we had a group meeting at our office.  Pete Sherayko was there, along with Louie, the department heads and Gary Kohn. Pete started taking out all these old photographs of tent cities.  And he just lit up like a kid in a candy store. He said, this has never been done, a western tent city done in a historically correct style. Hollywood actually invented the aesthetic of the western town. In reality, most of the mining towns of that era were tent cities.  Our focus shifted from a traditional western set to, hey, we’re going to recreate things the way they really were.  Once we made that decision, the wheels got set in motion, but we didn’t have a lot of time to do it. A big factor was clearing the land so we could actually build it.  Which we got right on top of.  But it really wasn’t until several days in that we had the beginnings of a set.

HENRY:  I remember well when, between takes, the hammers would start swinging, and during takes the hammers had to stop.  Because you were building the sets, whole structures, for the next scenes.  I found it invigorating, because it seemed like a real town growing out of the wilderness.

JAMES:  It really lent itself to the atmosphere.  The old saying of art imitating life.  It felt like we were living in a real pop-up town, much like the towns from that era.

HENRY:  Next week WESTERN RELIGION is having its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.  How did that come about?

JAMES:  Twenty years ago I went to the Cannes Festival with my first feature film, VENICE BOUND – that was one of the great experiences of my life, and I always had my eye on going back there with the right project.  I know that they sometimes do a spotlight on American independents, so I sent everything on our film to the people who run the Marche du Film there, Danielle and Tomas.  And they said, well, we have a few night screenings at the Palais, that we make available to independents, and we wound up being one of the fortunate ones who got one of those slots.   May 16th, 8:30 pm, Saturday night at the Palais.

HENRY:  Are you planning your next film?

JAMES: One of my screenplays, THE BACKWARD PATH, a noir film about a detective investigating a case in Hell, is on the rails with Louie Sabatasso's new production company, Drawing Pictures. As far my next movie as a director, I'm angling to do a fantasy film: WARRIOR, MAGE, THIEF. It's being developed as a traditional picture as well as for the emerging Virtual Reality technology.  I’m writing the script now. 

HENRY:  The poker tournament that WESTERN RELIGION grows out of, was this something that was common in the old west, or was this your creation?

JAMES:  I believe poker was a way of life in the old west.  I don’t know if they threw poker tournaments as elaborate as the one in our movie.  But for sure, poker drove the saloon culture.  It was a dangerous environment full of grifters and outlaws.  I’m sure there were more battles over poker than anything else, except perhaps women.

HENRY:  And usually women were pretty near the poker tables, although rarely allowed to play.

JAMES:  Well we have one, Bootstrap Bess, played by Holiday Hadley, in our movie, who’s a card-playin’, whiskey drinkin’ gunfighter, so she got to the table.  It’s interesting the way a film – you go into it with certain intentions, but then it takes on a life of its own.  And it has a way of changing lives in ways that you never even imagined.  I just found out that two of the actors, Sam Bearpaw and Alan Tefoya, who are of the Apache tribe, are going to be attending the Cannes Film Festival; it’s the first time that anyone from their tribe has left the country.  And they’re leaving to attend our premiere in the south of France.  I never could have imagined that I could have influenced something like that.  It’s an honor for the film, and an honor for myself. 

HENRY:  What was the genesis of WESTERN RELIGION? 

JAMES:  It’s interesting to see things come full-circle.  The movie began as a…I don’t know if you’d call it a pipe-dream, because it actually happened.  But there was a group of us doing a demolition job on a house – (laughs) – it almost seemed like a chain-gang.  I was on that job with Louis Sabatasso, my producing partner on WESTERN RELIGION.

HENRY:  And an actor with quite a prominent part, as Salt Peter.

Waiting for ACTION!

JAMES: The ever colorful Salt Peter.  And also Sean Joyce, who plays Bobby Shea, the traveling carpenter.  He literally was a travelling carpenter on that job – he travelled cross-country, to put his hat back on in Hollywood.  He was working with us and Gary Kohn, who was also one of the co-producers on the film.  It’s interesting to harken back to us swinging sledgehammers on a demo job, saying hey, we’re gonna make this western.  It was almost like Butch and Sundance talking about going to Australia.   We needed to believe it. One day Louie, Sean and I met over tacos at lunch on the job and made the decision: we’re all in on this. We set as start date of Oct. 21st. It was 8 months away. We didn't have a dime in our accounts but we decided to burn the ships behind us, and commit to this as if there’s nothing else after it. We laid out a campaign that started with crowd funding, then shifted to private investors. In its own way everything went according to plan, though it always came through at the very last second, like Maxwell Smart walking underneath the closing doors. It was all about Faith really. The bridge shows up under your feet with each step. It’s fun to look back on that time now, and know that we’ll be in the south of France next week for the premiere, and the indie dream really did take shape. 

HENRY:  Do you have distribution set?

JAMES:  The plan is for a theatrical release in the U.S.  We have just signed with sales agents Michael Lurie and Jeffrey Giles of Automatic Entertainment, and they'll be representing the film at Cannes and beyond. It’s possible we’ll have a deal before Cannes, but the film will be at its highest profile when we screen it there, so that’s likely where we’ll make it all happen. After the incredible journey of making Western Religion, we're excited to finally share our vision of the Wild West with the world.


As part of their William Wellman – Hollywood Rebel series, UCLA’s Billy Wilder Theatre will screen CALL OF THE WILD (1935), Wellman’s brutally poetic adaptation of Jack London’s stunning novel.  The film stars the radiant Loretta Young, and the man you wish you were, Clark Gable.  The script is by Gene Fowler and Leonard Praskins, and the black and white photography by Charles Rosher will make you shiver along with all the snow-bound prospectors.  It’s teamed with GOODBYE, MY LADY (1956), Wellman’s only film aimed at children, and stars Walter Brennan, Brandon DeWilde, Phil Harris and Sidney Poitier.  Both films are shown in 35 mm.   The program starts at 3 pm, and the director’s son, William Wellman Jr., will be there starting at 2, signing his book, WILD BILL WELLMAN: HOLLYWOOD REBEL.  More details here:


As part of their monthly ‘What is a Western?’ series, the Autry will screen YELLOW SKY, at 1:30 pm in the Wells Fargo Theatre.  Director William Wellman and screenwriter Lamar Trotti, who teamed in last month’s offering, THE OX BOW INCIDENT, this time tackled a W. R. Burnett (LITTLE CEASAR, HIGH SIERRA) story, about a pack of outlaws hiding out in a ghost town populated only by an old prospector and his daughter, Anne Baxter.  Also in this drama, suggested by Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST, are Richard Widmark, John Russell and Harry Morgan.  The film will be introduced by Jeffrey Richardson, Gamble Curator of Western History, Popular Culture and Firearms.  Admission is included with museum admission, free to members.  Learn more HERE


You can celebrate the area’s Western roots and history, with plenty of live music, carnival rides, games, a western saloon, out-house races, food, hands-on exhibits, Kids Korral, and dog adoptions.  Participants include the Chumash Indian Museum, Joel McCrea Ranch, and The Stagecoach Inn Museum.  Go here for details:


The focus is on Spanish horses and other breeds, and music and dance and food, and raising funds for Kure It Cancer Research.  Learn more here -- -- and check out the video!


Tour six local ranches, enjoy pony rides and wagon rides, Cavalry displays and demonstrations, raffles, hot dogs, and more!  Learn more here --


As noted here a couple of weeks ago, Rob Word’s fun and fact-filled A WORD ON WESTERNS programs will be returning to the Autry starting on Wednesday, May 20th, with  A Salute to Duke.  They’re going to be every other month, so the next one will be in July.  No word from Word on guests yet, but I’m posting the clip below as a teaser.  Rob went on location for this one, to Monument Valley!


Next week I’ll have my review of the long-forgotten but worth-watching SHANE TV series, starring David Carradine, and now available from Timeless Media.  And hopefully I’ll have the final part of my TCM Fest coverage.  The picture is of me, from the set of WESTERN RELIGION – keep your eyes peeled for those red and white cuffs!

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright May 2015 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved

Sunday, April 26, 2015



Yesterday, an elaborate new exhibit, Empire and Liberty: The Civil War and the West, opened at the Autry, and will be on display through January 3rd of next year.   As the title suggests, the show examines the effect that the Civil War had on the American West, a region much of which was still being settled at the time of the War Between the States.  As is practically a trademark with them, the Autry has used a wide array of documents, uniforms and other objects from their own collections, and borrowed others, to give a living feel to a war which had its end 150th Anniversary only last week (John Wilkes Booth died 150 years ago today!).

Frontier Fremont's flag

Of the greatest significance, the posted text that goes with the displays gives a historical context, a sense of the related sequence of events that is not obvious.  Of course the Louisiana Purchase led to the Lewis and Clark expedition; but not so obvious, the charting of that land, the making of states, led to the Missouri Compromise, forcing an equal number of free and slave states.  We know about the misery caused by the Indian Removal Act, but a side-effect of forcing the Indians from their land was to make it available for cotton plantations, which brought the ‘need’ of slaves.  

'American Progress' by John Gast -1872

Jefferson Davis’s double-barreled pistol from his service in the Mexican War reminds us that not only was that war a proving group for him, but for Grant and Lee, all of whom were West Point graduates.  Among the fascinating documents that illuminate the period are slave purchase receipts; an Andersonville Prison Survivor Certificate; a Union Army enlistment bounty – forty dollars to sign up; a receipt for Chinese coolie wages of $12 a month – once the $30 voyage cost is paid; a Buffalo Soldier payroll document, $13 a month.  Displays take you through the period looking at the various historic events, as well as particular groups – various Indian tribes, former slaves, women, displaced Mexicans – as well as the general population.

Grant's Smith & Wesson pistol

One strong bit of direction; when you enter the exhibit, the natural direction, which most folks were taking, was forward and to the left.  I did so, and first found the displays interesting, but arbitrary.   I went back, and entered on the right, and suddenly everything was in a generally chronological order, and all of the elements fell into place.  THEY NEED A BIG RIGHT ARROW AS YOU ENTER!        

Pico's War Drum


Stephen Lodge at last week's Santa
Clarita Cowboy Festival

Silver-haired Charley Sunday is a retired Texas Ranger at the turn of the 20th century, trying to hold his small ranch together.  He partners with old friend and woman of dubious virtue Flora Mae Huckabee, to purchase a now-rare three hundred head of longhorns, and bring ‘em cross-country to Texas.   Rounding up other former Rangers, a female journalist, an Indian law student, his young grandson Henry-Ellis, and various other misfits, going up against a dastardly Colorado meat-packer, Charlie Sunday is in for the adventure of his already long and adventurous life. 

The story is told by that grandson, Henry-Ellis, now an old man, and telling his own grandchildren the tale, sixty years later.  The funny thing, as I was enjoying this novel, is that it didn’t remind me of other Western novels so much as it did other Western movies – particularly the humorous ones directed by Andrew V. McLaglen and Burt Kennedy in the late sixties and seventies.  It’s written so visually that you ‘see’ the action, not just understand it, while you’re reading.  No surprise really, because it’s author, Stephen Lodge, has written or co-written a number of memorable movies, including THE HONKERS, starring James Coburn and Slim Pickens; KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS, starring William Shatner and Woody Strode; and RIO DIABLO, starring Kenny Rogers and Travis Tritt.  ( If you’d like to read my review of Steve’s memoir of his life in the film industry, AND…ACTION!, and my interview with him, go HERE .)

At the Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival last Saturday, when I was moderating the panel Screenplay to Novel or Novel to Screenplay?, Steve confirmed that CHARLIE SUNDAY began life not as a novel, but as the screenplay MOVE ‘EM SUNDAY, which the great Buddy Ebsen tried unsuccessfully to have made. 

When you read CHARLIE SUNDAY, you can have the additional fun of seeing the movie in your head, and watching Buddy Ebsen deliver the lines (although in truth, I usually heard Richard Farnsworth doing it).  CHARLIE SUNDAY’S TEXAS OUTFIT is published by Pinnacle, a division of Kensington Books, and you can buy it from AMAZONor from the other big guys, in trade paperback, mass-market paperback, Kindle, and audible.  And in just two days, on Tuesday, April 28th, you can buy DEADFALL: CHARLIE SUNDAY’S TEXAS OUTFIT 2!  And Steve assures me that CHARLIE SUNDAY 3 is already in the works!


As part of the continuing celebration of the Aero Theatre’s 75th year, at 7:30 pm, two of the finest Westerns of the 1950s – nay, two of the finest Westerns of any time – HIGH NOON (1952) and SHANE (1953) will play, and if you’re reading this blog, I don’t need to tell you who is in them, or what they are about.  And if you haven’t seen them on the screen in a few years, you need to see them again – you’ll be astonished at what details you’ve never seen before.  For more information, go HERE .


Saturday, May 2nd, from ten ‘til 4, enjoy panning for gold, a telegraph demonstration, roping, U.S. Marshall’s posse, crafts, stagecoach rides, Queen Anne’s Cottage tours, Depot open house, food, root beer, and a musical performances by Singing Cowboy Mike Tims, RT n’ the 44s, and  the lovely and talented Saguaro Sisters.  Learn more HERE.


As part of their monthly ‘What is a Western?’ series, the Autry will screen YELLOW SKY, at 1:30 pm in the Wells Fargo Theatre.  Director William Wellman and screenwriter Lamar Trotti, who teamed in last month’s offering, THE OX BOW INCIDENT, this time tackled a W. R. Burnett (LITTLE CEASAR, HIGH SIERRA) story, about a pack of outlaws hiding out in a ghost town populated only by an old prospector and his daughter, Anne Baxter.  Also in this drama, suggested by Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST, are Richard Widmark, John Russell and Harry Morgan.  The film will be introduced by Jeffrey Richardson, Gamble Curator of Western History, Popular Culture and Firearms.  Admission is included with museum admission, free to members.  Learn more HERE .


Spaghetti Western star and 3-D movie pioneer Tony Anthony will make a rare public appearance, with his co-star Lloyd Battista, on June 8th, for a screening of the new restoration of his 4th and final film in the ‘Stranger’ series, GET MEAN (1975).  West Virginia-born Tony started writing and acting in 1961 with FORCE OF IMPULSE and WITHOUT EACH OTHER; he went to Europe to act in the bullfight film WOUNDS OF HUNGER (1963), and stayed for years.  Tony Anthony is an unusual actor for his era, in that he wrote or co-wrote nearly all of his Westerns – notably BLINDMAN (1971), where he plays a blind bounty hunter, and his quarry is Ringo Starr. 
The Cinefamily, formerly the Silent Movie, is located at 611 N. Fairfax Avenue, L.A., 90036 HERE .
is the link to buy tickets.  I know it’s a month away, but I’m posting this now because Cinefamiy events are very popular, and often sell out. 


As part of their THIS IS WIDESCREEN series, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences will screen Sergio Solima’s THE BIG GUNDOWN, starring Lee Van Cleef, Thursday, June 18th, at the Linwood Dunn Theatre in the Mary Pickford Center, 1313 Vine Street, Hollywood, CA 90028.  (Note, this is the Hollywood venue, not the Academy headquarters in Beverly Hills).  It’s a very unusual, well-told story, with lawman-turned-politician Van Cleef on the hunt for a degenerate criminal (Tomas Milian) who may be not as bad as the men who want him dead.  This is the new restoration from Grindhouse Releasing which Courtney Joyner and I got to see when we were doing audio commentary for their BluRay release, and it looks spectacular.  The price range is from $3 to $5, and you can learn more about the film, and order tickets HERE  

If you’d like to buy the fabulous 4-disc set, including a CD of the brilliant Ennio Morricone soundtrack, go HERE .


One more thing before you go!  The screenings and events in this Round-up are all in Southern California, but this is not a strictly California blog.  It’s read in over ninety countries, and I want to serve the Western movie fan as well as I can, but I need your help.  If you know about any upcoming screenings or other western-related events anywhere in the world, please share them with me, and I’ll pass ‘em along!

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright April 2015 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved


Tuesday, April 21, 2015



Sheri Keenan, son, and a rubber gun 

As I write, the 22nd annual Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival is coming to a close, after a wonderfully enjoyable weekend of music, poetry, art, literature, history, and fun.   When the tradition first began, it was simply as a celebration of cowboy poetry, presented at a high school auditorium.  When the 1994 Northridge earthquake struck, demolishing the auditorium, the event was almost cancelled, when the Veluzat family, owners and operators of the Melody Ranch Motion Picture Studio, offered the ranch for the event.  They’ve generously hosted the Festival at the Ranch ever since.  Melody Ranch reached its greatest fame when Gene Autry owned it, but it had previously been Monogram Ranch, and its early history stretches well back to the silent movie days.

Bill Hart watches SONS AND BROTHERS

Happily, more and more Westerns were being filmed, and filmed at Melody Ranch.  When Quentin Tarantino booked the ranch for a full year to shoot DJANGO UNCHAINED, it was feared that the Festival would be cancelled, but they worked around it.  Last year, with the start of work on the HBO miniseries WESTWORLD, the Festival was held, but with much of the western street off-limits.  With WESTWORLD now utilizing all of the ranch, many of us regulars worried about the future of the Festival.

Well, that future, now the present, is bright indeed.  The Festival was moved to Old Town Newhall, centered at William S. Hart Park, once home to one of the greatest stars of the Western silent screen.  The venue is large and beautiful and varied, with plenty of space for shops along Sutler’s Row, an extensive Civil War encampment, Indian lodge, pioneer living display, four music performing stages, and activities like archery, hatchet-throwing, quick-draw laser-tag, and much more.

One of my favorite surprises, the folks from Logix Banking, generous sponsors of the Festival for several years, had a booth where you could dress up in cowboy clothes, have a shoot-out against a green screen – a western street added in the background, and be presented with a flipbook of your movie in a minute!  There’s even a link to email it to your friends!  There was so much going on, in fact, that I attended both days, and probably took in less than half of the events, and a tiny fraction of the musical offerings – and I definitely have to come back and tour the Hart Mansion sometime soon.

The 'bells' on the dancer above are actually coiled
tobacco-tin lids!

Part of the park is a cluster of historic buildings called Heritage Junction, and I spent most of my time there at the Pardee House, built in 1890, where Jim and Bobbi Jean Bell, of the OutWest Boutique, were again operating their Buckaroo Book Shop, packing the two days with a wonderful mix of poetry and prose discussions, enjoyable and enlightening to Western writers and civilians alike.  There I led four Western-themed panel discussions and interviews on Saturday and one on Sunday, and it gave me a rush to know I was working in a building used as a film location by Tom Mix, John Ford and Harry Carey.

With my wonderful 'Stunt Horse' panel --
Human Association's Karen Ross, HOLLYWOOD HOOFBEATS
authors Audrey Pavia and Petrine Mitchum, and Autry 
Entertainment Pres. Karla Buhlman

Authors Miles Swarthout, C. Courtney Joyner
and Jim Jones

Authors Stephen Lodge, J.R. Sanders, D.B. Jackson,
Jim Cristina, and Miles Swarthout

Right next door was the Kingsbury House, with art displays upstairs and down, and right beyond it the Saugus Train Station – relocated to avoid demolition – where Charlie Chaplin filmed parts of THE PILGRIM in 1917; nearby, in 1936, Chaplin would film the very last scene of MODERN TIMES, the very last ‘official’ silent movie.  The station holds the compact and charmingly eclectic Santa Clarita Historical Society Museum featuring artifacts from the Indians who once lived in the region, mementos of the silent film industry, a diorama of one of California’s oldest oil refinery, and a trunk that belonged Buffalo Bill Cody.

Union Soldiers pass train station

The beautiful Mogul steam engine was whistling away at the station, and over the hill just above it, a bloody Civil War skirmish was fought, twice a day, with thundering cannon that shook the ground beneath your feet.

There was a several-day run-up to the Festival, with the walk of fame honoring stunt legend Diamond Farnsworth and poet and singer Waddie Mitchell, screenings and tours, and concerts at four nearby theatres, all of them well-attended.  THE LAST SHOOTIST novelist Miles Swarthout packed a theatre with his talk about the making of John Wayne’s final film, THE SHOOTIST, which Miles scripted.  Peter Sherayko’s CODY: AN EVENING WITH BUFFALO BILL was sold out at the Hart Mansion.

Peter Sherayko performing Robert W. Service poems

There was a wide variety of appetizing fare, the most crucial being the Cowboy Coffee in the commemorative tin cup, and Cowboy Peach Cobbler, both by the Visalia Cowboy Cultural Committee, who are celebrating their first quarter-century.   And much of the fun at this kind of event is the people you run into – Michael F. Blake, author of HOLLYWOOD AND THE O.K. CORRAL; Jeffrey Patterson, producer and star of HOT BATH AN’ A STIFF DRINK 1 & 2, and doing some casting on 3; and celebrating her birthday at the event, the lovely star and co-writer and co-producer of YELLOW ROCK, Lenore Andriel – incidentally, YELLOW ROCK was shot at nearby Veluzat Movie Ranch.    

Jeffrey Patterson

Living history on break

About 3:30 on Sunday, my wife and I started to head out, but I made one more stop, back at the Buckaroo Book Shop.  I was feeling a bit guilty that here I was, enjoying the largesse of the great William S. Hart, and yet I’d never seen one of his movies in its entirety.  So I picked up a DVD double-bill, to familiarize myself with the founder of the feast.  I’m closing with the short movie below, which was shot there at the Hart Ranch, in 1939, and is one of the very films made with Hart speaking.  It was a new introduction for the re-release of one of his greatest silent successes, TUMBLEWEEDS (1925).  “The thrill of it all!”  Give Fritz a pat for me, Bill.


I’m delighted to announce that I’ve just become the new film columnist for the finest Western history magazine in history, TRUE WEST.  You can imagine what a pleasure this is, considering that I started reading TRUE WEST when I was about ten years old, picking it up at newsstands when my Brooklyn family would take summer vacations in the West.  My first column will probably appear in the August 2015 issue – but you may want to start your subscription now, to make sure you don’t miss it!



It’s a short one this week, because I’ve got to get that August column done, but I’ve got a lot of interesting things coming up, including book reviews, movie reviews, and an interview with director James O’Brien, whose WESTERN RELIGION is, to the best of my knowledge, the only Western movie premiering this year at Cannes.  Of course, if you can’t get to France, just keep reading the Round-up – I’ll be reviewing it before Cannes!

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright April 2015 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved