Tuesday, August 26, 2014



I can’t recall another time when I wrote about a brand-new film, and could conclude with, “and if you want to see the entire film right now, click the link below,” but that is exactly the situation here!
INSP is a channel with a longtime commitment to family entertainment, particularly in the Western genre: they’re the folks who brought back – and exclusively show – the classic HIGH CHAPARRAL and THE VIRGINIAN series.  They also run THE BIG VALLEY, BONANZA, LITTLE HOUSE, and DR. QUINN.  (To learn more about the history of INSP, read my interview with Senior VP of programming Doug Butts HERE )

After years of airing classic shows, they started getting their toes wet with creating original programming in 2012, with a series of short films under the heading of Moments.  Here’s how they describe their mission at the moments.org page: “Moments.org is a web network producing original short films. Our films are designed to inspire, encourage and entertain viewers with stories that celebrate love, faith, redemption, patriotism and other timeless truths in action.”

Starting with the two and a half minute ‘Thank you for your service’ -- which is not exactly the story you expect -- and grouped under the headings ‘A moment of truth,’ ‘A moment of hope,’ ‘A moment of insight,’ ‘A moment of valor,’ and ‘Unbroken soldiers,’ the team of Thomas Torrey, Shea Sizemore, Michelle Wheeler and Jim Goss have produced dozens of short dramas and documentaries which run on INSP as Public Service Announcements, and are also available on-line HERE

 But creative filmmakers always want more, including more time, and in 2013 they created OLD HENRY (not me!), as a series of two-minute films about an aging man played by THE WALTONS star – and hence INSP-viewer favorite – Ralph Waite in his final lead performance.  The chapters were later edited into a 22-minute story, the longest Moments film by far, and it’s been extremely popular. 

Now they’ve made a Western, the ten-and-a-half minute HOUSE OF THE RIGHTEOUS, the Moments.org’s tentpole production for 2014, written and directed by Thomas Torrey, and it is by far their most ambitious outing yet.  Set in a sun-blasted desert town, opening with two men on a gallows, it’s a good vs. evil story, starring the Emmy-winning (for MIAMI VICE), Oscar-nominated (for STAND AND DELIVER) Edward James Olmos as someone who has seen a vacuum of leadership in the town, and decides to fill it.  Grant Goodeve, who has toughened considerably since his 8 IS ENOUGH DAYS, is the lawman who stands in his way. 

The air is electric with tension from the first shot to the last, and each of those shots if wonderfully framed by cinematographer Reynaldo Villalobos, who won a Wrangler Award for his work on the Western CONAGHER, shot much of the recent sensation BREAKING BAD, and elegantly lensed one of my all-time favorites, RISKY BUSINESS.  RIGHTEOUS is a tantalizing little film, which fulfills its promise, but leaves you wanting more.  It’s easy to see it as a back-door pilot to a full-length feature, or even a series.

The drama is the work of writer and director Thomas Torrey, who had also written and directed THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE and OLD HENRY.  I asked him if he was originally hired for the Moments.org films. “I got hired in January of 2012 to create this department.  As you know, INSP (presents) all family-friendly content, but it’s all classic, licensed family shows – nothing was original.  Our CEO wanted INSP to have a voice.  So before he was gonna run, he was gonna walk, and before that, crawl, with short films that would air on commercial breaks.  I was hired to create the (short form) department.  We produce ten to fifteen significant pieces a year, both scripted and documentary.”

Cinematographer Villalobos and Olmos sharing 
a laugh between scenes.

HENRY:  Why did you decide to approach Ralph Waite with the OLD HENRY story?

THOMAS:  We had such success with THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE, the veterans piece, because it served an underserved demographic.  We started thinking, what was another underserved demographic that we can honor, in hopes of generating a piece that would have that kind of impact.  I had spent three years working in the retirement industry as a filmmaker – kind of imbedded with a company – and really became a champion for pro-aging causes.  My eyes really opened to the ageism that’s so pervasive in the media and America.  I said, well I know a demographic that’s underserved: the elders among us.  So I came up with the character, and my boss challenged me: why don’t you come up with a longer story, so that we can really explore this.  Ralph Waite was already well-loved by our audience.  THE WALTONS is one of our most-watched programs.  And we already had a relationship with him, so I wrote the piece for him, figuring that if we could afford him, we could probably get him.  I sent him the script, saying I wrote this for you; our audience loves you.  What do you think?  He got back to us real quick, and wanted to jump on-board. 

HENRY:  HOUSE OF THE RIGHTEOUS is a short film, but at ten minutes, it’s five times the length of most of the films you are doing.  What made you make the jump?

THOMAS:  Westerns are dear to my heart, and I knew coming out of last year that I wanted to raise my own bar, and think of something that, if I weren’t working for INSP, I’d want to make by myself.  Well, a Western!  And I knew it would be a good fit for our network, because the western block of programming, Saddle-Up Saturdays, is some of our highest-rated.  So I told my boss, Jim, I want to write a western for 2014.  And he said, “Let’s see if we can find the story.”  Actually I had a whole different concept and story, but it didn’t work; it was too big for the amount of time I had to tell the story.  And Jim said, “Why don’t you think of something more classically Western; think about the battle between good and evil.”    I started writing this character, Mr. Lucey (Edward James Olmos), coming in to town:  he’s the Devil, obviously.  And I got to page three, page four, got to page eight or nine and I thought, I bet I could get away with a longer short if I create a nice sort of cliffhanger by the second or third minute.  And I (went) back to my superiors and said, “I want to try an experiment.  I want to try making the two or three minute version, the thing that we show on-air, end with a cliffhanger, and say, to see the entire film, go to moments.org.”  So it’s a little experimental.  We’re going to see how much traffic we can generate from our on-air viewers to on-line.  So the real answer is, the only way I could get away with a ten-minute film which is only going to be seen on-line is because I’m also creating an on-air short version, which is the opening three minutes.  Another sort of justification for doing it is, next year, INSP is going to begin producing longform original series. Moments.org will continue to produce shorts, but we’re also keeping an eye internally on what are the popular stories among Moments.org that perhaps the network could develop into something longer.  Up until Ralph Waite’s passing, we were developing a feature film version of OLD HENRY.  And so if HOUSE OF THE RIGHTEOUS is really popular with our audience, if people are clamoring for it as a series or a feature film, well then at least we have a little home-made market research that says there may be an audience for this film.   

HENRY:  Sort of a short back-door pilot.

THOMAS:  Exactly.  And you’ve seen the piece – it’s unresolved.

HENRY:  It’s open-ended.

THOMAS:  And that’s by design. 

HENRY:  How long did you shoot?

THOMAS:  This was shot in three days, over two timezones.  We had a two-day shoot out in the desert at Whitehorse Ranch in Landers, California --

HENRY:  That’s Peter Menyhart’s place.  It looks fabulous; wonderfully solid and rough-hewn.

THOMAS:  He did an amazing job – that’s why he gets a set designing credit.  We shot there two days in May, and then we did a third day of pick-ups here in South Carolina last month. 

HENRY:  And you limited your story to one sequence in real time, which I thought was much smarter than trying to compress a feature into ten minutes.

THOMAS:  There’s a whole back-story that’s implied.

Grant Goodeve

HENRY:  What were Edward James Olmos and Grant Goodeve like to work with?

THOMAS:  They were fantastic.  Our cinematographer, Reynaldo Villalobos, who we had through a mutual friend, and who was excited to come on-board, was friends with Edward James Olmos, and that’s how we were able to hire Mr. Olmos.  Grant Goodeves has been a longtime friend of INSP, and I had tried casting Grant in OLD HENRY as Henry’s son, and for logistical purposes it didn’t work out, but we stayed in touch.  And when I thought of this pure hero, he was the first guy I went to.  Grant is a warm, generous, funny man, and he was just a joy to work with.  Edward James Olmos got there just the day before (shooting), and he was just such a warm, inviting, unassuming guy.  You get the impression that he’s very intense, but he’s just doing his process.  And it was hard on the actors, because it was ten hours in the desert sun with their thick clothes.  But he ate with us, and was just so complimentary of the script and the project, that it was just a thrill to work with both of them.

HENRY:  You said you were excited to do a Western.  Are you a longtime fan of the genre?

THOMAS:  Not a longtime fan.  I’m not one of those kids who grew up watching Westerns with his dad.  I grew up with a sci-fi buff, so I was indifferent to the Western genre until I was in my twenties.  Probably ten years ago I saw ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and THE PROPOSITION, a Western set in the Australian outback, in the same week.  Seeing them just opened up this love for the Western genre, and then I caught up: I watched them all.  Now I’m just a Western junkie, and I love them, the new ones and the old ones, and ever since then, as a filmmaker, it’s a genre I want to explore, both writing and directing.
And you can see the result, HOUSE OF THE RIGHTEOUS, below!


If you rushed out to catch SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR, I understand you found yourself to be pretty much alone – but you did get a teaser for Quentin Tarantino’s new Western – a good trick since the cameras haven’t started rolling – and when they do it’ll be 70mm Cinemascope!  It’s a graphic trailer, featuring music, and the names of the film’s characters.  Folks who took part in the dramatic staged reading, who are expected to take part, include Bruce Dern, Kurt Russell, Michael Madsen, Walton Goggins, and Samuel L. Jackson.  Jennifer Lawrence is said to be in talks with Tarantino, to play one of the two female roles, that of Daisy – the role taken by Amber Tamblyn at the staged reading!  Here is a shaky, presumably bootlegged, look at the trailer.


A few days ago I got an email from my daughter with the subject-line, “Who’s the guy who’s not Fonda?”  Attached was the photo above, clearly Henry Fonda in a Western, talking to a man, also in costume, wearing a star.  She’d spotted it, and other nicely signed and framed pictures of movie stars, at an antique store.  They were all signed to ‘Chalkie.’  The signature on the Fonda picture was probably ‘Jack,’ presumably the guy with Henry Fonda.  Did I know who ‘Jack’ was?  Did I want it $20 worth?

My gut said it was from MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, and when I pulled it up on IMDB, the poster they illustrated it with showed Fonda as Wyatt Earp, with that mustache!  But who could ‘Jack’ be?  I checked the credits, looking for Jacks.  Jack Curtis played a bartender, but a bartender wouldn’t wear a badge.  Jack Kenny played a barfly, but a barfly wouldn’t wear a badge either, nor would the stagecoach driver that Jack Pennick played.  A stuntman on the picture was Jack Montgomery, father of child star Baby Peggy.  It could be him – I couldn’t find a picture of him.  Then another possibility occurred to me: maybe it wasn’t ‘Jack,’ maybe it was ‘Lake’ – Stuart N. Lake, who interviewed the real Wyatt Earp at length, and wrote the biography FRONTIER MARSHALL, on which CLEMENTINE was based!  It would make sense for him to be on the set – Morgan Woodward, a regular on the WYATT EARP TV series told me that Lake was a technical adviser, and on-set all the time!  I searched online, and found the photo of Stuart N. Lake below. 

Stuart N. Lake

Looks like the same guy to me!

I called my daughter back and asked her to buy the picture.  Well, she got it, I paid for it, and…the signature is definitely ‘Jack,’ not ‘Lake.’  So, who is the guy with the badge?  My wife looked at the picture, and asked me if it was from JESSE JAMES (1939), where Fonda played Frank to Ty Power’s Jesse.  He had that damned mustache in that one, too, and he wore it again in the sequel, THE RETURN OF FRANK JAMES (1940), as well! 

Now I’m asking you for your help!  What movie is the still from?  CLEMENTINE?  JESSE JAMES?  FRANK JAMES?  Another Fonda Western?  And who is Jack?  And who is Chalky – that certainly isn’t a common nickname?  Anybody know?  Any good guesses?  Please leave a comment at the bottom of the post, or email me at swansongmail@sbcglobal.net .


Please let me know what you think of THE HOUSE OF THE RIGHTEOUS, and if you know who 'Jack' is. And have a great week!

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright August 2014 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved 

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