Hollywood: Montana Style
Almost anyone can name a movie that has used Montana as a backdrop for one or more scenes. The motion picture camera loves our big sky and mountain vistas. Researching the history of Montana on the big screen has uncovered an amazing array of films spanning the history of Hollywood itself almost from the start. Let’s start our journey on the train…and explore Hollywood Montana Style!
Danger Lights is a 1930 film starring Louis Wolheim, Robert Armstrong, and Jean Arthur. The plot concerns railroading on the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, and the movie was largely filmed along that railroad’s lines in Montana. The railway yard in Miles City, Montana was a primary setting, while rural scenes were shot along the railway line through Sixteen Mile Canyon near Lombard, Montana. The film features rare footage of a tug of war between two steam locomotives, actual documentary footage of the activities in the Miles City yard, and what is believed to be the only motion picture footage of a dynamometer car from the steam railroad era.
Broken Arrow is a 1996 American action film directed by John Woo, starring John Travolta and Christian Slater. The original music score was composed by Hans Zimmer, and features guitarist Duane Eddy. It deals with the theft of an American nuclear weapon. The railway scenes were filmed in Livingston, Montana.
Runaway Train is a 1985 film about two escaped convicts and a female train worker who are stuck on a runaway train as it barrels through snowy desolate Alaska. It stars Jon Voight as Oscar “Manny” Manheim, Eric Roberts as Buck, John P. Ryan as Associate Warden Ranken and Rebecca De Mornay as Sara. It was also the feature debuts of Danny Trejo and Tommy “Tiny” Lister, who both proceeded to successful careers as tough guy character actors.
The prison scenes at the beginning of the movie were filmed in Deer Lodge, Montana, and some railroad yard scenes were filmed in Anaconda, Montana. Voight and Roberts were nominated for Academy Awards.
Marlon Brando praised Runaway Train in his autobiography, and said that he in some ways identified himself with Jon Voight’s character. Jeff Bridges declined the role that went to Eric Roberts. Brando and Bridges both have a history with films in Montana.
Rancho Deluxe is a comedy western film that was directed by Frank Perry and released in 1975. Jeff Bridges and Sam Waterston star as two cattle rustlers in modern-day Montana who plague a wealthy ranch owner, played by Clifton James. The film also stars Harry Dean Stanton, Richard Bright, Elizabeth Ashley and, as the aging detective Harry Beige hired to find the rustlers, Slim Pickens.
Jimmy Buffett contributed the music, and performed “Livingston Saturday Night” with alternate lyrics within the film in a scene filmed at the Wrangler Bar. Jimmy Buffett’s backup band features not only local Livingston resident (at the time) Warren Oates, but also neighbor and film screenwriter Thomas McGuane (with the long hair playing mandolin). Jeff met his wife, Susan Bridges – aka Susan Geston – during filming. She was working as a maid on a dude ranch.
Jeff Bridges and Sam Waterston also starred together in Heaven’s Gate, a 1980 American epic Western film based on the Johnson County War, a dispute between land barons and European immigrants in Wyoming in the 1890s. The cast included Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken, Isabelle Huppert, John Hurt, Sam Waterston, Joseph Cotten, Mickey Rourke and Willem Dafoe, in his first film role. Filming took place on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and Glacier National Park.
Jeff’s first movie in Montana was Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, a 1974 American crime film written and directed by Michael Cimino and starring Clint Eastwood, George Kennedy, and Geoffrey Lewis. Although Eastwood generally refused to spend much time in scouting for locations, particularly unfamiliar ones, Cimino and Daley traveled extensively around the Big Sky Country in Montana for thousands of miles and eventually decided on the Great Falls area and to shoot the film in the towns of Ulm, Hobson, Fort Benton, Augusta and Choteau and surrounding mountainous countryside. St. John’s Lutheran Church in Hobson was used for the opening scene. Now back to Brando…
The Missouri Breaks is a 1976 American western film starring Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson. The film was directed by Arthur Penn, with supporting performances by Randy Quaid, Harry Dean Stanton, Frederic Forrest, John McLiam and Kathleen Lloyd. The score was composed by John Williams.
The title of the movie refers to a forlorn and very rugged area of north central Montana, where the Missouri River has made countless deep cuts or “breaks” in the land.
Brando and Nicholson caused quite a stir in Billings as recalled by this author in the Billings Gazette.
Just a few years before, Brando, along with Paul Scofield and Laurence Olivier were offered the role of Chief Old Lodge Skins in Little Big Man. They all turned it down.
Little Big Man is a 1970 American Western film directed by Arthur Penn and based on the 1964 comic novel by Thomas Berger. The movie stars Dustin Hoffman and Faye Dunaway.
Hoffman holds the record for portraying the greatest age span of a single character, playing Jack Crabb from the age of 17 to 121, a difference of 104 years.
The Little Bighorn battle scenes were filmed on location in Montana near the actual battle site. Near the site of Custer’s Last Stand, you will find a village named Garryowen, the name of the jig played by Custer’s cavalry.
That’s a good start. Next time we’ll showcase movies from the 90’s, including two Redford blockbusters, plus films starring John Travolta, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. That’s Hollywood Montana Style!
The 2nd Annual Hollywood Montana Style: Saturday September 17th , 6pm at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, 27 North 27th Street. Individual tickets $80.