The Lone Hand (1953) at McCrea Ranch
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a wonderful event at 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.
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!
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.
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 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.”
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.”
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.
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.
The story concerns widowed Zachary Hallock (McCrea), who settles with his son Joshua (Hunt) on a farm outside a small Western town.
Soon thereafter Zachary marries lovely Sarah Jane (Hale), but soon both Sarah Jane and Joshua notice something amiss with Zachary’s behavior.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.