Saturday, June 1, 2019

The Many Faces of Sedona’s Red West - part 2

Previously, we explored Sedona’s rich history and examined some of the classic western films shot there. As the town was still being developed, major studios arrived, taking full advantage of the unique topography and open vistas, transforming the rural community into a ‘little Hollywood” that remains a significant industry today.

In this second part we’ll look back at a few more of the westerns that focused their lenses on the red rocks and finish up with a brief rundown on what to do and expect when visiting. On that note, one additional thing to consider; Temperatures in Arizona can reach the hundreds by June, leading some residents and businesses to vacate entirely during summer months, so plan accordingly when booking a trip. Finally, don’t be surprised if you encounter one of these! (part 2 follows)

Part II


In 1954, Burt Lancaster starred in and produced Apache, based on Paul Wellman’s novel, Broncho Apache, which proved a successful outing for Lancaster’s own production company. He portrays Massai, an Apache warrior who, after Geronimo’s surrender, escapes an army transport during relocation to a Florida reservation. He travels east on foot and takes up the Cherokee practice of farming corn, an Indian symbol of sustenance and a gift from the Great Spirit.

Co-starring Jean Peters as Massai’s lover and Charles Bronson as a traitorous Apache scout, there was no apparent attempt at casting actors with identifiable Native American physical traits.

Indeed, it now seems inappropriate and even laughable but one needs to take it in the context of the theatrical style of the 1950s. It‘s also easier to digest in light of the fact that by this point in time, Hollywood stories were being told from Indians’ perspectives. Ironically, it is the “blue-eyed Indians” that contemporary viewers will find unacceptable and not Massai’s patterns of violent spousal abuse.

Despite a dearth of realism and plot, the film holds up as an overall enjoyable and thoughtful adventure. The scenery too, can be fully appreciated here as the majority of Apache is set outdoors.

Johnny Guitar

Also, in color, from 1954 we have the classic, Johnny Guitar starring Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden. Crawford plays a saloon owner named Vienna, ensnared in a local war between cattlemen and a coming railroad. Vienna’s rival, Emma(Mercedes McCambridge), turns the screws on Vienna by rallying townspeople and some pernicious outlaws against her. An ally arrives in one Johnny Guitar(Hayden)and their relationship gets as hot as the action that follows.

Johnny Guitar’s production was a tumultuous and dysfunctional affair by many accounts and was not received well by critics at the time. As the years passed, viewers have picked up on its sexual undercurrents and allusions to McCarthyism. In Europe, especially, it has grown in reputation since 1954. Its storyline figures heavily into Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West as a deliberate homage.

Stay Away Joe

Elvis Presley’s movie career plays out stranger in retrospect, in part due to the decline of movie musicals, and 1968’s Stay Away Joe may be his strangest. Elvis plays Navajo rodeo rider Joe Lightcloud(it’s strange, already) who returns to his family’s home on a reservation which he turns into a cattle business. This results in a bull riding competition which Joe organizes to bankroll the business.

A strong supporting cast(Katy Jurado, Burgess Meredith and Joan Blondell) and plenty of Arizona scenery didn’t rescue the sitcom-styled comedy from critical slander. Actor L.Q. Jones claimed to have almost killed Elvis on the set after throwing a firecracker into his trailer as a prank. If only the cameras were rolling for that!

In any case, the King was now primed for a “comeback” and preparing to leave Hollywood for good.

Additional Landmarks to Visit

Whether you’re passin’ through or hangin’ up your hat for a spell, there’s a lot you’ll want to do in Sedona. Resorts, museums, entertainment and fun activities are all there, ready to be experienced. Here are some of them to consider:

Montezuma Castle National Monument

This captivating cliff dwelling alcove in nearby Camp Verde was once inhabited by the Sinagua and the Hopi almost one thousand years ago and is a testament to the indigenous peoples’ architectural ingenuity.

The Chapel of the Holy Cross

Built within a red butte, this Roman Catholic chapel has become an iconic landmark since its completion in 1957.

Kachina House

The largest distributor of Native American arts and crafts in the state, this shop boasts a fine variety of artwork, pottery, jewelry, artifacts and more.

Rainbow Trout Farm

For unbeatable fishing in the legendary Oak Creek Canyon, this fresh fish farm provides poles, bait, tables, barbecues and the perfect view to boot.

Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park

For some peaceful meditation after a good hike through the trails, you can visit this sacred Buddhist structure surrounded by juniper pines, sought for prayer and enlightenment for over two-thousand years. Ostensibly a paradox for this part of the world, it actually seems more and more appropriate considering the healing powers many say are inherent in the Sedona valley.

Sedona International Film Festival

To help celebrate Sedona’s rich cinema heritage, this nine-day festival features indie films of all kinds with guests from across the globe to help you take it all in.

Getting Around

Roam Sedona however you chose. Whether you prefer guided ATV tours, jeep rentals, horseback rides or balloon expeditions, it’s all available.

In conclusion, the next time you’re watching your favorite cowboy picture, look beyond the shoot-outs, stampedes, cavalry battles, stagecoach chases and cattle drives to stop and appreciate the view. Much like in real estate, the movie business can be summed up in three words-Location, location, location!

Christopher Robinson

The Many Faces of Sedona’s Red West - part 1

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