Western Roundup: The Lone Hand at McCrea Ranch

The Lone Hand (1953) at McCrea Ranch

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a wonderful event at McCrea Ranch.

The ranch, located in Thousand Oaks, California, was the longtime home of Joel McCrea and his wife Frances Dee; I previously wrote about it and shared photos here in 2019 and again a few weeks ago.

McCrea Ranch
McCrea Ranch

This summer the ranch hosted a series of outdoor movie screenings which included The Lone Hand (1953). The Lone Hand is a Universal Pictures Western which starred McCrea, Barbara Hale (Perry Mason), and child actor Jimmy Hunt. It was directed by longtime Western “specialist” George Sherman.

Lone Hand Poster
The Lone Hand Poster

Tropical Storm Hilary was due to hit California the next day, but it was an absolutely beautiful evening when we gathered at the ranch to watch the movie. It was a real treat to have Jimmy Hunt on hand at the ranch for the screening!

McCrea Ranch Sunset
McCrea Ranch Sunset

Jimmy is now an 83-year-old great-grandfather. He first visited McCrea Ranch at the age of 12 and shared some very special memories with Joel’s grandson, Wyatt McCrea, and the audience before the movie.

McCrea Ranch docents Garth and Betsy listen in on a chat between Jimmy Hunt and Wyatt McCrea

Jimmy first appeared in films in 1947 and worked with Joel McCrea twice. Prior to The Lone Hand he appeared with Joel in Saddle Tramp (1950), which I wrote about in my very first Western RoundUp column back in 2018!

Jimmy Hunt
Jimmy Hunt

Jimmy was a very busy young actor, appearing in over 30 films between 1947 and 1953. His work ranged from bit parts to much larger roles in movies such as the film noir Pitfall (1948) and the classic sci-fi film Invaders From Mars (1953).

Jimmy had a very large, key role in The Lone Hand, including serving as narrator. While reminiscing about the film, Jimmy told us that of the many actors he worked with in his career, “My favorite person to act with was Joel McCrea.”

Lone Hand McCrea Hunt
Joel McCrea and Jimmy Hunt

Jimmy said Joel “treated me just like his son. He was so kind.” He would talk to Jimmy about whether Jimmy might like to own a ranch one day and even gave him licorice so he could pretend it was chewing tobacco, like the cowboy wranglers on the set used.

Jimmy said working with Joel McCrea was “one of the highlights of my acting career” and added “He was just a good man. There wasn’t a finer gentleman than Joel McCrea.”

Jimmy also had kind words for Barbara Hale, who becomes his stepmother in The Lone Hand, saying “She was a very nice lady.”

Jimmy shared that after his acting career he was a “typical teenager”; he later served in the military. He said “My life has been good. I got to do things most people don’t have the opportunity to do.”

Lone Hand Barbara Hale
Barbara Hale

As it happens, Jimmy eventually worked in the same field as my husband and when they chatted after the movie they learned they knew people in common, which was a fun, unexpected connection.

Jimmy has been long married and has three children, several grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Jimmy’s granddaughter, in fact, attended the event with him, which I thought was really special.

Wyatt and Jimmy McCrea
Wyatt McCrea and Jimmy Hunt

It had been over a dozen years since I last saw The Lone Hand, which was nicely projected on a large outdoor screen near the ranch’s visitor center. Since it had been so long since my last viewing I felt I was seeing it from a fresh perspective.

McCrea Ranch Visitor Center
McCrea Ranch Visitor Center

The story concerns widowed Zachary Hallock (McCrea), who settles with his son Joshua (Hunt) on a farm outside a small Western town.

Lone Hand McCrea Hunt 1
Joel McCrea and Jimmy Hunt

Soon thereafter Zachary marries lovely Sarah Jane (Hale), but soon both Sarah Jane and Joshua notice something amiss with Zachary’s behavior.

The Lone Hand Lobby Card 1
The Lone Hand Lobby Card

Sarah Jane and Joshua understandably come to believe that Zachary has gone bad, as he is involved with a gang of robbers, but there might be more to the situation than they realize…

Joel McCrea Barbara Hale
Barbara Hale and Joel McCrea

Sarah Jane and Joshua’s pain when they think the worst of Zachary is difficult to watch at times, making one wish the lack of communication didn’t go on for quite so long, but at the same time I enjoyed the movie considerably more this time around.

Lone Hand Hunt McCrea
Jimmy Hunt and Joel McCrea

I think seeing the film in a different context, knowing what to expect and being so much more familiar with the work of all involved, made it much more pleasurable. And the bottom line is that time spent with this cast is enjoyable no matter the story.

In addition to the fine trio of lead actors, the film has an excellent supporting cast, which includes familiar Western faces such as Charles Drake, Alex Nicol, James Arness, Roy Roberts, and Frank Ferguson.

Lone Hand McCrea Nicol Arness
Joel McCrea, Alex Nicol, James Arness

The movie’s beautiful Colorado locations, filmed in Technicolor by Maury Gertsman, are another big plus. The screenplay for this 80-minute film was by Joseph Hoffman, based on a story by Irving Ravetch.

Lone Hand 1
The Lone Hand

Having one of the film’s lead actors watching the movie with us, under the stars at McCrea Ranch, made this screening of The Lone Hand an especially memorable experience which I will long remember.

Shortly after the McCrea Ranch screening it was announced that Jimmy Hunt and Wyatt McCrea would reunite for another showing of The Lone Hand at the Lone Pine Film Festival on October 7, 2023. It’s a wonderful opportunity for anyone who’s able to attend!

The McCrea Ranch photographs accompanying this article are from the author’s personal collection.

– 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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9 Responses to Western Roundup: The Lone Hand at McCrea Ranch

  1. Jerry Entract says:

    I really envy you that great experience, Laura. The setting, the folks present make it very special.
    THE LONE HAND is a good western in the McCrea canon, enhanced tremendously by the beautiful location shooting. When it’s Joel McCrea you just KNOW he can’t really be a bad guy! McCrea knew that too and that was of course why he felt he needed to play the Steve Judd character in RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY. His fans, he knew, would expect it.

    • Barry Lane says:

      Your reference to Ride the High Country is exacyly the opposite of my take. Gil Westrum is the hero, not Steve Judd. Westrum is smart self sufficient, and always prepared. He survives and kills the enemy, two elements along with arrogance and good humor that work well for me.

      • Jerry Entract says:

        Hi Barry
        Scott played Gil Westrum beautifully but Steve Judd was definitely the hero for me, integrity maintained at all cost – even his life.

        • Barry Lane says:

          Jerry, we may be talkibg about different things, the storybook or movie hero is
          Westrum. As far as McCrea not wanting to let his fans down by playing a bad guy, he did not seem to mind in Colorado Territory, did he? A dead hero is just tata, dead, unreliable, ou can mourn for him, but he is not the guy to come through in the end.

  2. Barry Lane says:

    Follow up:

    All the Sunday morning types, like the girls father and Steve Judd windup dead, along with the obvious devil worshspers. The man of acton who sees no value in either, and depises the fools who work the town, is the survivor. His motivation, friendship and a long memory. No sanctimonius baloney from the social workers of the world.

    • Barry Lane says:

      Gil Westrum never does immoral. or wrong Nothing that does not make sense, inclduing his surrender to Steve Judd, a man he could destroy at will in a minute, but Steve is his friend, and so he accepts on a temproary basis, captivity until he rides to the rescue, but he is not God, just Randolph Scott which is apparently, the next best thing.

  3. Jerry Entract says:

    Well OK, just seeing Scott and McCrea together in that fabulous film has been, for me, one of life’s great pleasures the past 60 years.

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