Sunday, June 9, 2013


Coming soon, ‘SWEETWATER’ is a revenge western starring MAD MEN favorite January Jones as the wronged woman; Jason Isaacs, villain of HARRY POTTER films and THE PATRIOT as a doubtful prophet; and four time Oscar-nominee Ed Harris, whose most recent western is the excellent APPALOOSA, as the sheriff.  Other western vets in the cast include Eduardo Noriega of BLACKTHORN, Chad Brummett of 3:10 TO YUMA, Kathy Lamkin of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, David Manzanares of DJANGO UNCHAINED, Keith Meriweather of JONAH HEX, and Luce Rains of 3:10 TO YUMA, APPALOOSA, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, WILD BILL, and WYATT EARP!  It’s the second film from writer-director Logan Miller, who’s TOUCHING HOME also starred Ed Harris, along with Brad Dourif.     

I hope to have more information soon, but for now, here’s the first trailer –



Walter Mirisch and Ben Mankiewicz

On Friday, April 26th, THE GREAT ESCAPE was shown at the opulent and beautiful Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.  Before the screening, the film’s legendary producer, Walter Mirisch, spoke with Ben Mankiewicz about his earlier experience working with director John Sturges and star Steve McQueen, on a film called THE MAGNIFICENT 7.

“(Sturges and I) became friendly, and we decided we wanted to work together.  I always had in mind to find a property that we could do together.  The availability of the SEVEN SAMAURI seemed to present that opportunity to me, because I thought it would be perfect for John.  And I’ll never forget the day that he and I sat together in a projection room and watched THE SEVEN SAMAURI and just spit-balled how it would work as a western.  We were very, very excited.” 

BEN MANKIEWICZ: Did you think then, with Steve McQueen such a big, developing TV star, this early in the process, would be good in that movie? 

WALTER MIRISCH: No, that was never a factor.  Steve was still a television star on the series called WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE, prior to THE MAGNIFICENT 7.  And he was well-received in THE MAGNIFICENT 7, but he had not really achieved star status, so-called, as a result of THE MAGNIFICENT 7.  (John Sturges and I) looked around for another project to do together.  So he suggested some things, and I suggested some things.  Then the idea of THE GREAT ESCAPE came up.  The story had been put on the screen before.   The British had done a picture about that very subject. 

BEN MANKIEWICZ: (archly) If the Americans don’t make it, it doesn’t count!

WALTER MIRISCH: (laughs) Actually, no one could understand those accents, so it didn’t make a damned bit of difference.  There was some resistance, but we (he and Sturges) overcame it because he and I both got very excited at the idea of doing this movie.  Unfortunately the book we acquired, which was by a man named Paul Brickhill, who was himself a prisoner, who was a flyer in the British Air Force, is a factual book.  It’s not a novel.  All of the personal stories, we made up for our film. 

BEN MANKIEWICZ:  Who were you looking at for the two principal characters who would eventually be played by James Garner and Steve McQueen? 

WALTER MIRISCH: First of all, we had decided to tailor the script so that there would be two characters who would carry the story.  Just a few years prior to that, John had made a very, very successful movie called GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL (pause for applause), with Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster.  We were tailoring these roles in THE GREAT ESCAPE for Kirk and Burt.  We talked about that until we reached the point of asking how much they were going to cost.  We were having trouble getting the budget of the picture approved.

BEN MANKIEWICZ:  I heard something like four million dollars.  Is that about right?

WALTER MIRISCH:  Somewhat more than that.  A great deal at that time, I must tell you.  Anyone who has ever made a movie has heard this famous expression, “You’re going to have to cut the budget if you want to get this made.”  So when we got ‘the speech,’ John and I talked it over.  I suggested that two relatively inexpensive actors, named Steve McQueen and James Garner, might be possible for those two parts.  And we could save about two million dollars just with that one stroke. 

BEN MANKIEWICZ:  Do you realize, when you say that, that you are a genius?  (laughter and applause)  Not for saying ‘no’ to Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster.  It’s recognizing that Garner and McQueen could fill them.  It’s impossible now to envision – it would be a very different movie with Lancaster and Douglas. 

WALTER MIRISCH: I got to know Steve very well when we made THE MAGNIFICENT 7.  I was fond of him; I thought he had incredible on-screen personality.  And I liked the idea of going younger.  Prior to that I had made a film called THE CHILDREN’S HOUR, and Jim played the male lead with Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacClaine, so I was more comfortable with Steve and Jim than I would have been with Kirk and Burt. 

BEN MANKIEWICZ:  Let me ask you about Steve McQueen, because as you said he had made a big impression in THE MAGNIFICENT 7, but he was not yet a top star --

WALTER MIRISCH:  He hadn’t jumped that motorcycle over the hill yet!

BEN MANKIEWICZ:  I think one of the reasons all the people in this room cherish Steve McQueen they way we do, is because he had that fierce independence, caused by a significant chip on his shoulder.  A guy who’s filled with the self-doubt that many of us are plagued with.  And all those things made him Steve McQueen.  But they also – and I know you’re somebody who loved him dearly – made him a handful to deal with.

WALTER MIRISCH:  (laughs) Steve has that quality, the French call je nes se quois.  I don’t know why, but he’s got it.  He radiated it, and he radiates it on the screen. 

BEN MANKIEWICZ:  Now, he left the set for some time when he didn’t like the way his part was, he didn’t like James Garner’s turtle-neck.  James Garner had a great line: “He wanted to be the hero, but he didn’t want to do anything heroic.”  He thought his character was corny.  As a producer you got through that; you navigated those waters.  You worked with McQueen again, and he gave one of his best performances in THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR.  How do you deal with a fantastically talented mercurial star, and keep your picture running at the same time? 

WALTER MIRISCH:  Steve always thought there were too many words.  And I came to trust that, because I learned that he especially was able to convey a great deal by his very expression.  So I was open to cutting down the amount of speeches; there was a lot he could convey with his eyes.  John was also well aware of that. And we collaborated on that, and also Steve had a good sense of story.  There’s a very famous incident, of course, where Steve got upset in THE GREAT ESCAPE and went away for a while, but that was overcome by rewriting.  I said we’ll overcome what you’re upset about, and he said, “That sounds fine.  I’ll be back to work tomorrow.” 

BEN MANKIEWICZ: Did those new pages include things like, ‘rides motorcycle,’ ‘carries baseball glove’? 

WALTER MIRISCH:  He conveyed more about independence of spirit, and courage, just by throwing that baseball against that wall, and catching it, than you could do with long speeches. 

BEN MANKIEWICZ: I don’t think this will be giving anything away.  At one point Steve McQueen is chased on motorcycles by some Germans.  One of those Germans chasing Steve McQueen on a motorcycle is Steve McQueen.  Any opportunity to ride a motorcycle –

 WALTER MIRISCH:  (laughs) You know you’re not supposed to give away all the secrets!

Coming soon – the final TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL entry, featuring Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight, Ned Beatty and director John Boorman discussing DELIVERANCE.



In the twenty-five years since the Autry opened, much has changed, as exhibitions are expanded, shrunken or moved.  But the life-sized ‘Gunfight at the O.K. Corral’ diorama’s only noticeable change over the years has been the replacement of guns, as they were occasionally swiped from the hands of the Earps.  I remember once coming and finding that of all the figures, only one of the Clantons was still packing iron.  (Then again, I once went to a wax museum in Coney Island, and saw Abe Lincoln assassinated by John Wilkes Booth with a Buck Rogers Ray-Gun.) But on June 2nd, a different kind of packing – packing away – took place.  The Gunfight is being replaced by a new show, Western Frontiers – Stories of Fact and Fiction which, starting on July 25, will tell the story of the West using firearms of great historic and artistic significance.

I’m looking forward to the new show; but I’ll miss the gunfight.  I always thought the narration was a little clunky, but I’ve never gone through that gallery and not pressed the button, to see the show.  And it was a thrill to watch it, then cross to the facing cabinet and see a gun belonging to Doc Holliday, and the sketch of the corral that Wyatt Earp himself had drawn.
Wyatt Earp's sketch of the O.K. Corral

If you’re going to miss it as well, or if you’ve never seen it, click the Youtube link below.  It’s not great – it was shot by an amateur, but it’s only thanks to ‘Ms. Lizzy Borden’ that we have a living record of it at all:


At Sam’s Town Resort in Tunica, Mississippi (30 miles South of Memphis, Tennessee), the guns will be gathering, and Boyd Magers has assembled quite a crew!  From HIGH CHAPARRAL, Henry Darrow, Don Collier and Rudy Ramos.  From WAGON TRAIN, Robert Fuller and Denny Miller.  From THE VIRGINIAN, the man himself, James Drury.  SPIN & MARTY – Tim Considine and David Stollery.  ELFEGA BACA himself, Robert Loggia (who was also the lead villain in the first movie I wrote, SPEEDTRAP).  Lisa Lu – Hey Girl from HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL.  Dan Haggerty and Don Shanks from GRIZZLY ADAMS, ZORRO star Duncan Regehr, plus Alex Cord, Gregg Palmer, Tommy Nolan, and Terry Moore.  James Best will present a one-man show, and Johnny Crawford of THE RIFLEMAN, who fronts a wonderful swing orchestra, will present a full banquet concert.  To learn more, go HERE.


Lists like this always provoke arguments – or in our case, barroom brawls – but the membership of the East and West branches of the Writers Guild of America voted on-line to determine the 101 best-written TV series in the history of television.  First recognized in the Western field was, at #32, DEADWOOD created by David Milch.  Not another sagebrush saga until #84, a tie  between the courtroom drama THE DEFENDERS, created by Reginald Rose, and GUNSMOKE, pilot written by Charles Marquis Warren and John Meston.  At #86 was JUSTIFIED, pretty-much a Western, developed for Television by Graham Yost, based on the Short Story “Fire in the Hole” by Elmore Leonard, in a tie with SGT. BILKO, by Nat Hiken.  Finally, coming in at #96 was LONESOME DOVE, teleplay by Bill Wittliff, based on the novel Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry; this was tied with SOAP, created by Susan Harris. 

To be fair, there was a lot of excellent writing covering a wide array of genres, dramatic and comedic, on the list, and only a couple of series that I personally hated.  But how a list could be compiled of the best of all TV writing, and have no mention of RAWHIDE, or WAGON TRAIN, or THE REBEL, or HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL, is beyond me.  Who do you think they left out?  To see the entire list, go HERE.



Remember a 1950 Columbia film, THE NEVADAN, starring Randolph Scott, Dorothy Malone and Forrest Tucker? My daughter gave me an old western movie magazine, and in it was a comic-strip version of the movie. I thought my Rounders might find it amusing, so I started running it, one panel a day, on the Round-up Facebook page.  The response has been enthusiastic, and it’s now been running long enough that I thought I’d include it here, from the beginning, for people who might have missed a panel or two.  Hope you enjoy it!



More of 'THE NEVADAN' coming tomorrow!


On Saturday I had the pleasure of attending an Autry screening of DOUBLE INDEMNITY, hosted by Los Angeles Police Museum President Glynn Martin, novelist (L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, THE BLACK DAHLIA) James Ellroy, and Autry Curator Jeffrey Richardson.  That night I attended a screening of Selig and Fox Tom Mix films at the Egyptian Theatre, introduced by Col. Selig biographer Andrew Erish.  I'll have highlights from both talks next week.

Can't believe I forgot to wish Clint Eastwood a Happy Birthday back on May 31st.  He has without question done more to encourage, improve and preserve on-screen Western story-telling than anyone else in the last half century!  Happy Birthday!

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright June 2013 by Henry C. Parke - All Rights Reserved



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