Western RoundUp: Hop-a-long Cassidy (1935) on Location in Lone Pine

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.

Lone Pine Festival Hop-a-long Cassidy (1935) Programs
2019 Lone Pine Film Festival programs

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.

Lone Pine Festival Hop-a-long Cassidy (1935) William Boyd
Lone Pine Film Festival Hop-a-long Cassidy (1935)

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.

William Boyd

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!”

Lone Pine Festival Hop-a-long Cassidy Enters (1935)
Hopalong Cassidy Enters (1935)

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.

James Ellison, John Merton, Paula Stone, Kenneth Thomson, and Robert Warwick in Hop-a-Long Cassidy (1935)
James Ellison, John Merton, Paula Stone, Kenneth Thomson, and Robert Warwick in Hop-a-Long Cassidy (1935)

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.

Lone Pine Festival Hop-a-long Cassidy (1935) tour ticket
Lone Pine Film Festival Hop-a-long Cassidy (1935) tour ticket

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.

Lone Pine Festival Hop-a-long Cassidy (1935) scene booklet
Hop-a-long Cassidy scene booklet

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.

Lone Pine Festival Whitney Portal Road
Whitney Portal Road

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…

Lone Pine Festival Hop-a-long Cassidy (1935) Scene A2
On location for scene A2

…are right here.

Lone Pine Festival Hop-a-long Cassidy (1935) Scene rocks

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.

Lone Pine Festival Hop-a-long Cassidy (1935) Gabby Hayes Death Scene
Spoiler Alert: Gabby Hayes’ death scene reenactment

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:

Lone Pine Festival Hop-a-long Cassidy (1935) Gabby Hayes Death Scene screenshot
Screenshot from Hayes’ death scene

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”:

Lone Pine Festival Hop-a-long Cassidy (1935) Hoppy scales wall
Hoppy’s rock climb in reality

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:

Lone Pine Festival Hop-a-long Cassidy (1935) Nap rock
Hop-a-Long’s nap rock

Hoppy was here:

Lone Pine Festival Hop-a-long Cassidy (1935) Nap rock scene
A comfortable place for a rest

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.

Lone Pine Festival Mug
A true western fan always gets a souvenir

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.

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16 Responses to Western RoundUp: Hop-a-long Cassidy (1935) on Location in Lone Pine

  1. Glorious photographs and a wonderful look at that initial Hoppy picture.

    I firmly believe that Archie Stout’s work on many of these pictures did a lot to enhance the series longevity.

  2. Laura Grieve says:

    I agree, Patricia, this and other Hoppy movies have a great “look”!

    So glad you enjoyed the post and photos, thank you!

    Best wishes,

  3. Robert Blake says:

    An excellent article. Any Alabama Hills background are of interest to me. To feed my fondness for Westerns .
    Well done ‼️

  4. Mary Kanian says:

    LOVED your article from top to bottom !! We must have been on the same tour!!
    Did not get to see the movie that morning, but I grew up with Hoppy…he was a HUGE HERO for me & I LOVED TOPPER of course! (Lifelong love affair with HORSES!)
    Thank you for a lively, colorful & informative article on this first-time event for me & my brother !!!

  5. Jerry Entract says:

    Hi Laura!
    I am reading and thoroughly enjoying your latest report from the other side of the globe, having arrived in Australia yesterday.

    Wonderful to see these pictures and comparisons. You already know how much I highly regard the Cassidy series so I really envy you being able to be there. After this enjoyable initial entry the series really took off and settled into a really entertaining groove.
    James Ellison was a good foil for Boyd but after he left the series he was replaced by the inexperienced Russell Hayden and it was the films with the trio of Boyd, Hayden and Hayes that were perhaps my personal favourites. He was a real ‘natural’. Incidentally, the Cassidy films were virtually the first westerns I ever saw. No wonder I was ‘hooked’ on westerns from the start!
    “HOPALONG RIDES AGAIN” (1937) was one of those first films for me.
    As you say, Boyd was fatherly to Ellison in these films though of course he was only 39 or 40 years old in the first film!

  6. Barry Lane says:

    Ellison is quite winning, as was his principal replacement, Russell Hayden. A little more than ten years later Hayden and Ellison teamed in a series of six films, shot back to back with Julia Adams their leading lady. Well worth a look. Would buy that set in heart beat.

    • Barry Lane says:

      Follow up. They are available under the DVD collection title, Big Iron. My order has been placed, and on a sentimental basis, the sale has been made.

  7. Laura Grieve says:

    Robert, I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Thank you for taking the time to let me know! Like you, I love anything to do with the Alabama Hills.

    Mary, how wonderful to know you were on the same tour! I appreciate your kind words all the more, knowing you shared the experience. I’m delighted to hear you and and your brother were there and hope it will be the first of many visits to Lone Pine and/or the festival.

    Jerry, what fun to hear from you all the way from Australia! I love your thoughts on the series and Hoppy’s sidekicks. Although I’ve now seen several of the films, I don’t think I’ve seen enough yet to have a favorite “era” of the series. I have the early films which were released between HOP-A-LONG CASSIDY and HOPPY RIDES AGAIN near my TV to hopefully watch soon! When I get to the Boyd/Hayden/Hayes films I’ll keep in mind they’re your favorites.

    Barry, thank you for sharing that information about the later teaming of Hayden and Ellison, as I’m sure it will be of interest to other Hoppy fans. It just so happens that I have that Big Iron set, originally acquired due to my love for Julie Adams. I haven’t had a chance to dive into it, and that probably worked out well, as I’m sure I will appreciate it even more when I watch it thanks to the presence of two Hopalong Cassidy cast members.

    Best wishes,

  8. Stuart Cook says:

    Thank you for this enjoyable article. I am a western fan, and my favorite series has always been HOPALONG CASSIDY. The first entry was very literate, and very well made. In fact, so was most of the series. Harry Sherman did well with his budgets and put so much into these films.
    It is worth noting that the Hoppy movies were remastered and restored to original length about 20 years ago, and finally returned to TV after a long absence, along with being released on DVD. I believe that an improved digital set of transfers is forthcoming soon. Ride on, Hoppy!

  9. Laura Grieve says:

    I’m delighted to know you enjoyed the article, Stuart!

    I have really enjoyed getting to know this series in recent years. That would be great if there’s a good-looking new set on the horizon.

    Best wishes,

  10. Sara Stewart says:

    I love the photos, they add a lot to your piece. I’ve seen several of the Hopalong movies and my boss has a few pieces of memorabilia, having grown up during this time.

  11. Laura Grieve says:

    I’m delighted you enjoyed the photos, Sara, thank you for letting me know! The museum in Lone Pine has a great collection of Hoppy memorabilia. How wonderful your boss has some! I’m glad you’ve been able to check out some of the movies.

    Best wishes,

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