Western RoundUp: Hop-a-long Cassidy (1935)
on Location in Lone Pine
Earlier this month I had a wonderful time at the 30th Lone Pine Film Festival, which I previewed here in September.
My seventh year attending the festival was a busy long weekend, which included nine movie screenings and three location tours, not to mention the festival parade and a closing night campfire! Although the weekend was filled with activity, somehow it also managed to be very relaxing. I especially like the way screenings can be alternated with other activities at this festival.
The very first film I watched at the 2019 festival was Hop-a-long Cassidy (1935). This also happened to be the very first “Hoppy” film, based on the character created by Clarence E. Mulford. This movie is also sometimes known by an alternate title, Hopalong Cassidy Enters.
I’ve seen a number of Hopalong Cassidy films in the last few years thanks to the festival, and I found it particularly enjoyable to see the movie which kicked off the long-running film series, which later morphed into a TV program.
Watching the movie, it’s hard to believe now that William Boyd was not the first choice for the role. While there are different stories floating around as to how casting plans evolved — some sources indicate character actor James Gleason was the first choice of producer Harry “Pop” Sherman, which is hard to imagine now — the ultimate choice of Boyd proved to be inspired.
Boyd simultaneously conveys a steely “Don’t mess with me” authority with a kindly and patient nature; throughout this film, every time hotheaded young Johnny (James Ellison) expresses regret for a mistake, Hoppy responds with a reassuring “You’re all right, Kid!” Hoppy is fatherly while still young enough to be an action star; whether a fistfight or gunfight is involved, once Hoppy arrives on the scene, all will be well.
In this first film, Boyd’s character is initially introduced as Bill Cassidy, who works for the Bar 20 Ranch; he’s dubbed Hop-a-long as he limps around while recovering from being shot. “Ol’ Hop-a-long Cassidy, that’s me!”
The plot concerns nasty H2 Ranch foreman Jack Anthony (Kenneth Thomson), who plots to turn his own employer, Jim Meeker (Robert Warwick), against neighboring Bar 20 employees, who include Hoppy, Johnny, Ben (George “Gabby” Hayes), and foreman Buck Peters (Charles Middleton). Anthony is working with rustlers to steal cattle from both ranches, and his plan is for the ranchers to blame one another rather than the real culprits.
The folks who work on the two ranches are soon at loggerheads thanks to Anthony’s machinations, though Johnny nonetheless dares to visit the H2 Ranch to spend time with the owner’s pretty daughter, Mary (Paula Stone).
Eventually, Anthony’s plot becomes clear and the Bar 20 and H2 ranchers join forces to combat the rustlers.
Doris Schroeder’s Hop-a-long Cassidy screenplay tells a great deal of the story in its one-hour running time, with well-developed characters, solid drama, and good action sequences. Director Howard Bretherton keeps things moving while seeing that light comedy and romance are balanced with gunfights and even pathos; Gabby Hayes has quite a memorable death scene as the mortally wounded Ben (Hayes) still manages to let Hoppy know critical information.
All in all, it’s a strong film which set a firm foundation for the many Hopalong Cassidy films and TV episodes to follow. Later in the weekend, as a matter of fact, I enjoyed another early film in the series, Hopalong Rides Again (1937).
The film was helped greatly by atmospheric filming by Archie Stout in the Alabama Hills outside Lone Pine; a significant portion of the film was shot there, with only a handful of scenes taking place indoors.
One of the great pleasures of the Lone Pine Film Festival is the ability to watch a film and shortly thereafter be standing in the exact spots where the movie was filmed. Within a couple of hours of seeing Hop-a-long Cassidy, I participated in a car caravan tour to the film’s locations just a few minutes outside of town.
Our tour guide, Greg Parker, has great knowledge of Hopalong Cassidy films and the Alabama Hills. He was aided in his tour by a booklet of screenshots prepared by another regular Alabama Hills tour guide, former L.A. Times photographer Don Kelsen. We used the booklet to match up scenes with each Hop-a-long Cassidy location we visited.
Most Alabama Hills tours begin with a drive down scenic Whitney Portal Road towards Movie Road, named as it leads to a variety of areas regularly used for filming by movie production companies.
Finding movie locations is rather like a puzzle, matching up rock formations with screen captures. For instance, the rock formations seen in the booklet in Picture A2…
…are right here.
I have sometimes thought how amazed movie companies of the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s would be if they could have foreseen so many of us making pilgrimages to the places where they worked!
John Gilliland, who often attends the festival wearing his extensively researched Hopalong Cassidy gear, re-enacted Gabby Hayes’ death scene for us along with a volunteer, in the exact location where it was shot over 84 years ago. They were great sports, and we all had a good time with that.
The vehicles in the background, incidentally, were parked for the annual horseback ride through the Alabama Hills hosted by McGee Creek Pack Station. My husband was one of those exploring the hills on horseback while I was on the Hoppy tour, another great illustration of the variety of activities that are available at the festival.
Compare the location above with the screenshot of William Boyd and Gabby Hayes in the lower right corner:
Over the years I’ve found the tours educational in a variety of respects. For instance, a production company with a lean budget could often achieve a variety of background “looks” simply by rotating the camera to another angle, without spending time and money setting up in a new location.
They also cleverly used optical illusions; for instance, in the movie Hoppy lassos a boulder and seemingly scales a steep mountain wall. In reality, Boyd was simply walking up a path toward the rope. Here John Gilliland’s Hoppy hat pops up over the rocks as he demonstrates for us the path Boyd took during his “climb”:
Gilliland, incidentally, is a font of knowledge regarding Hopalong Cassidy in general and Hoppy’s costumes in particular, and during the course of the tour he described for us how Boyd worked with Edith Head to establish Hoppy’s initial “look” and then made further changes to the costume early on in the film series. He’s always a welcome presence at the festival.
Here’s one more screenshot comparison, showing a scene where Hoppy is resting against a rock:
Hoppy was here:
We spent a couple of hours visiting many more locations seen in the film. It’s a great deal of fun being able to do so, and the experience also really changes a viewer’s perspective watching the many additional Westerns filmed in the Alabama Hills.
The Lone Pine Film Festival is a “must” for classic film fans in general and those who love Westerns in particular, and I strongly encourage anyone with interest to attend a future festival. A memorable experience is guaranteed.
– Laura Grieve for Classic Movie Hub
Laura can be found at her blog, Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, where she’s been writing about movies since 2005, and on Twitter at @LaurasMiscMovie. A lifelong film fan, Laura loves the classics including Disney, Film Noir, Musicals, and Westerns. She regularly covers Southern California classic film festivals. Laura will scribe on all things western at the ‘Western RoundUp’ for CMH.