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National Park Movies: Some More We Like for 1950-1979


Nicky and Tacy bought a 32-foot travel trailer, got a big car to pull it, and headed cross-country. When they got to Yosemite, the scene that unfolded before them was breathtaking.

Our Traveler’s Top Ten national park movies post was well-received, but we only scratched the surface. We’re digging deeper now. Like our previous list, this one will focus on motion pictures (not made-for-television films) with one or more scenes filmed in national parks. This time around we'll take a closer look at movies released during 1950-1979.

Traveler’s Top Ten list of movies filmed in national parks highlighted the movies listed below. If you haven’t read that post, let me suggest that you do so before continuing with this new list.

Dances with Wolves (1990)
Escape from Alcatraz (1979)
Forrest Gump(1994)
Gettysburg (1993)
Grand Canyon Adventure 3D: River at Risk(2008)
Into the Wild(2007)
North by Northwest (1959
Thelma and Louise (1991)
The New World (2006).
The Presidio(1988)

We’ve got two more film lists in the works. Later on, we’ll be working with the national park films of the 1980s and 1990s, then we’ll finish with the films of the 2000s. Right now we’ll focus exclusively on movies released in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

The three-decade stretch from 1950 through 1979 was a time of remarkable demographic, cultural, political, economic, and technological change in America, and all of it was reflected in motion pictures. If it wasn’t a revolution in Hollywood, it was certainly a swift and powerful evolution. However you might describe it, the movie industry in 1980 was very different from its 1950 counterpart.

In light of these facts, it seems only fair to list our 1950-1979 film choices in chronological order and not bother with the finer points of ranking. Some honorable mentions are also listed.

King Solomon’s Mines (1950)
Directors: Compton Bennett and Andrew Marton
Cast: Deborah Kerr (Elizabeth Curtis), Stewart Granger (Allan Quatermain)
Gist: Epic adventure—a classic “big film” -- centered on a young woman who enlists a white hunter to help find her husband somewhere in Africa.
Scenes filmed in: Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Death Valley National Park
Memorable scene (PC version): The treasure trove of sparkling diamonds finally hoves into view. Memorable scene (non-PC version): The white hunter shoots a charging elephant dead, but not before it kills a native. BTW, when we say “dead,” we mean it. This film was made in the days before you had to warrant that “no animals were harmed in the making of this movie.”
Trivia: Deborah Kerr wrote her initials in Slaughter Cave while filming King Solomon’s Mines at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The initials are still there.

Big Sky, The (1953)
Director: Howard Hawks
Cast: Kirk Douglas (Jim Deakins), Dewey Martin (Boone Caudill), Elizabeth Threatt (Teal Eye), Arthur Hunnicutt (Zeb Calloway/Narrator), Buddy Baer (Romaine)
Gist: Fur traders travel west in the 1830s and find ruthless competitors, hostile Indians, and trouble galore.
Accolades: Academy Award nomination for (black-and-white) cinematography.
Scenes filmed in: Grand Teton National Park
Memorable scene: Having a bullet dug out of your leg, sans anesthesia, can get your attention.
Trivia: Automobiles can be seen in the prologue.

Shane (1953)
Director: George Stevens
Cast: Allen Ladd (Shane), Brandon De Wilde (Joey), Jean Arthur (Marian Starett), Van Heflin (Joe Starett); also Jack Palance and Ben Johnson
Gist: Shane, a tired gunfighter, yearns to settle down with Wyoming homesteaders, but there’s a range war going on and trouble won’t leave him alone.
Accolades: Academy Award for Best Cinematography, Color. Nominations: Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Brandon De Wilde), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Jack Palance), Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Writing, Screenplay (A.B. Guthrie, Jr.).
Scenes filmed in: Grand Teton National Park
Memorable scene: Having killed the bad guys, the wounded (how badly?) Shane rides into the sunset while the hero-worshiping kid Joey hollers “Shane! Come back!”
Trivia: The Library of Congress has preserved this film in the United States National Film Registry in view of its cultural/historical/aesthetic significance.

Long, Long Trailer, The (1954)
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Cast: Lucille Ball (Tacy), Desi Arnaz (Nicky), Marjorie Main, Keenan Wynn
Gist: A couple buys a 32-foot travel trailer and sets out on a year-long trip across America. There are, of course, misadventures galore.
Scenes filmed in: Yosemite National Park
Memorable scene: Emerging from the Wawona Tunnel, Nicky and Tacy behold the glory of Half Dome, El Capitan, and Bridalveil Falls.
Trivia: Opened in 1933, twenty years before this film was made, the Wawona Tunnel is now notoriously unsafe and has been described as a disaster waiting to happen.

Vertigo (1958)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: James Stewart (Scottie), Kim Novak (Madeleine), Barbara Bel Geddes (Midge)
Gist: A retired San Francisco detective with a serious case of acrophobia becomes dangerously obsessed with an old friend’s wife and investigates her odd behavior.
Scenes filmed in: Golden Gate National Recreation Area (Fort Point National Historic Site); since Fort Point NHS was not established until October 1970, there is a temporal disconnect
Memorable scene: Scottie saves Madeleine after she jumps into the bay at Fort Point under the Golden Gate Bridge.
Trivia: Alfred Hitchcock made cameo appearances in the films he directed. If you watch this one carefully, you can see him at the eleven minute mark. He’s wearing a gray suit and walking in the street.

Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)
Director: Henry Levin
Cast: James Mason (Sir Oliver S. Lindenbrook), Pat Boone (“Alec” McKuen), Arlene Dahl (Carla Göteborg)
Gist: In this Jules Verne epic, an Edinburgh geologist leads an expedition that follows an explorer's trail down an extinct Icelandic volcano and deep into a fantastic inner world. Exciting special effects for its time.
Scenes filmed in: Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Memorable scene: As the intrepid explorers’ raft begins circling the mid-oceanic whirlpool at the center of the earth, you just know they’re all going to die.
Trivia: James Mason intensely disliked Arlene Dahl (he thought she was too stuck on her herself), so he didn’t need to summon much acting skill to treat her rudely when the script called for it..

Spencer's Mountain (1963)
Director: Delmer Daves
Cast: Henry Fonda (Clay Spencer), Maureen O’Hara (Olivia Spencer), James MacArthur (Clayboy Spencer), Donald Crisp (Grandpa Spencer), Lillian Bronson (Grandma Spencer), Wally Cox (Preacher Goodman)
Gist: This film is based on Earl Hemner’s 1961 novel of the same name. Clay Spencer is the very-rough-around-the-edges patriarch of a large family struggling to earn a living and resolve difficult interpersonal issues on a Depression-era farm in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Clay longs to build a new house on Spencer’s Mountain for Olivia, while eldest son Clayboy schools up and sets his sights on college.
Scenes filmed in: Grand Teton National Park
Memorable scene: Clay shows up at church service and lends his voice to the singing. Wonders will never cease!!
Trivia: The popular TV show The Waltons (1972-1981) was also based on Hemner’s novel, but it was set in Virginia (like the novel) and considerably sanitized (eschewing the treatment of adult themes like infidelity and alcoholism). Director Delmer "To Hell With the Cost" Davis chose to make this movie with a Grand Tetons backdrop because he loved the scenery of the Jackson Hole country.

Brighty of the Grand Canyon (1967)
Director: Norman Foster
Cast: Joseph Cotten, Dick Foran, Pat Conway, Karl Swenson
Gist: A kid-friendly movie featuring the adventures of a brave little Grand Canyon burro named Brighty. It’s better than it sounds.
Scenes filmed in: Grand Canyon National Park
Memorable scene: Any scene that the cute little burro is in.
Trivia: Susan, one of our Traveler readers, told us that she was “at Phantom Ranch when the movie crews were filming…. I saw "Brighty" in the corral there and the movie crews on a sandbar near the north side of the Kaibab Suspension Bridge.” Susan, you have all the luck!
Traveler tip, no extra charge: Show this movie to your children, then take them to the downstairs lobby of the Grand Canyon Lodge on the North Rim so they can rub the shiny nose of Brighty’s bronze statue.

Planet of the Apes
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Cast: Charlton Heston (George Taylor), Kim Hunter (Zira), Roddey McDowell (gorilla Cornelius), James Whitmore (gorilla President of the Assembly)
Gist: Talking, human-like gorillas have taken over the planet, and perhaps understandably, they treat humans – including the future-shocked astronaut Taylor – very badly.
Scenes filmed in: Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Memorable scene: In the final scene, Taylor discovers the partly-buried remains of the Statue of Liberty on the beach and realizes to his horror that the gorilla-dominated planet he landed on after his 2000-year sleep is Earth.
Trivia: The desert landscape footage in the movie’s early scenes were shot in northern Arizona, but the climactic statue-on-the-beach scene was shot in a cove at Malibu.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
Director: George Roy Hill
Cast: Paul Newman (Butch), Robert Redford (Sundance), Katharine Ross (Etta)
Gist: Two ethically challenged westerners buddy-up to rob banks and trains, doing it with style and charm. One of the top 100 money-making films of all time.
Scenes filmed in: Zion National Park
Memorable scene (for the guys): It’s a two-way tie). (1) The river jump, where Butch tells Sundance it doesn’t matter if he can’t swim, ‘cuz the fall is going to kill him anyway; and (2) The boys use too much dynamite to blow the safe on a train.
Memorable scene (for the girls): “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” plays while Butch gives Etta a ride on the handlebars.
Trivia: The river jump was photographed on the Animas River near Silverton, Colorado, and the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad was used for the train robbery scenes. The handlebar ride was filmed at an old house located a few miles outside Zion National Park in Grafton, a ghost town on the Virgin River two miles south of Rockville.

Zabriskie Point (1970)
Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Cast: Mark Frechette (Mark), Daria Halprin (Daria)
Gist: A chance meeting in the desert brings counterculture couple Mark and Daria together, after which they find pleasure, enlightenment, and in Mark’s case, a tragic death. Mark, you really should have listened to Daria.
Scenes filmed in: Death Valley National Park
Memorable scene: Members of the Open Theater artfully stage a sex orgy to far-out music at Death Valley’s Zabriskie Point. (No actual sexual acts were performed in the making of this movie -- at least, none that were shown on the big screen.)
Trivia: If you look carefully, you can spot young Harrison Ford among the student demonstrators at the police station.

Jeremiah Johnson (1972)
Director: Sydney Pollack
Cast: Robert Redford (Jeremiah), Will Geer (“Bear Claw” Chris Lapp)
Gist: Inexperienced flatlander migrates west in the early 1800s and becomes a mountain man with extraordinary survival skills.
Scenes filmed in: Zion National Park
Memorable scene: Laughing heartily, Bear Claw tells greenhorn Jeremiah that he expects him to skin the very big, very angry grizzly that’s pursued Bear Claw into the tiny cabin the two mountain men share.
Trivia: Many Native Americans loathe this film because it’s based on the exploits of real-life trapper John “Crow Killer” Johnston, aka "Liver Eater Johnston," a man who relished killing Crow Indians and eating their livers. Johnston’s grave was in Los Angeles, but after the Jeremiah Johnson film was released his remains were exhumed and re-interred in Cody, Wyoming. Robert Redford was a pallbearer for the reburial ceremony, which was attended by several thousand people.

Godfather, Part II (1974)
Director: Francis Ford Copolla
Cast: Al Pacino (Don Michael Corleone) Robert DeNiro (young Vito Corleone), Robert Duvall (Tom Hagen), Diane Keaton (Kay Corleone), John Cazale (Fredo Corleone), Talia Shire (Connie Corleone), Lee Strasberg (Hyman Roth)
Gist: Vito Corleone founds the Corleone crime family in 1920s New York City. Son Michael takes over the operation and expands it in the late 1950s.
Accolades: Six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Robert DeNiro), Best Original Score, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction; nominated for five other Academy Awards; selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry.
Scenes filmed in: Ellis Island National Monument (component of Statue of Liberty National Monument)
Memorable scene: Immigration agent mistakenly registers Vito Andolini as Vito Corleone, thinking that the boy’s home town of Corleone is his surname. The future Don Corleone gets marked with an encircled “X.”
Trivia: Immigration agents of this era were a lot sharper than we generally give them credit for. They were very careful with names, rarely making mistakes like the one the film depicts.

Eiger Sanction, The (1975)
Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Clint Eastwood (Prof. Jonathan Hemlock), George Kennedy (Ben Bowman), Vonetta McGee (Jemima Brown), Jack Cassidy (Miles Mellough)
Gist: Retired government assassin is assigned to perform two more "sanctions," one of them while on an Eiger climb.
Accolades: Considered a classic spy/action thriller. Highly praised for realism of climbing scenes.
Scenes filmed in: Zion National Park
Memorable scene: Hemlock cuts his own safety line while dangling over the void.
Trivia: All of the climbing was real (no special effects), and Eastwood did all of his own stunts. They were dangerous, too. A boulder killed a stunt man occupying a position that Eastwood had vacated just moments before.
PC rating: Bigotry meter pegs out and breaks. This film manages to offend women, gays, blacks, Native Americans, dogs, etc., but runs out of time before getting to all possible categories.

Star Wars (re-titled Star Wars IV: A New Hope) (1977)
Director: George Lucas
Cast: Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Alec Guinness (Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi), Peter Cushing (Grand Moff Tarkin),
Gist: The galaxy is perturbed by civil war. Good triumphs over evil – at least for a while -- as the Rebel Alliance manages to destroy the Galactic Empire’s giant Death Star spaceship.
Accolades: Six Academy Awards (Original Score, Film Editing, Visual Effects, Costume Design, Sound-Mixing, Art Direction-Set Decoration) plus three nominations (Picture, Director, Original Screenplay).
Scenes filmed in: Death Valley National Park (see below)
Memorable scene: Too many to list. Many people consider the firefight in the opening sequence particularly memorable because the visual effects were, for that era, very impressive.
Trivia: Many Death Valley visitors want to see the Star Wars filming locations. It's tough to visit all of them (they're scattered, and some aren't precisely identified), but you can check a lot off your list by visiting Zabriskie Point, Artist’s Palette, Dante’s View, Desolation Canyon, Twenty Mule Team Canyon, and Stovepipe Wells (nearby dunes).

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Richard Dryfuss (Roy Neary), Teri Garr (Ronnie Neary), François Truffaut (Claude Lecombe), Melinda Dillon (Jillian Guiler)
Gist: After encountering UFOs, an Indiana man is mysteriously drawn to an unusual landform in a remote western place. There, at Devils Tower, he participates in a close encounter of the third kind – actual contact with alien beings.
Scenes filmed in: Devils Tower National Monument
Memorable scene: Atop Devil’s Tower, the ramp of the enormous alien mother ship is lowered and out come the little aliens. So that’s what they look like!
Trivia: Local girls aged 8 to 12 were chosen to portray the diminutive aliens. Director Steven Spielberg insisted on using girls because he believed they move more gracefully than boys.

Electric Horseman, The (1979)
Director: Sydney Pollack
Cast: Robert Redford (Norman “Sonny” Steele), Jane Fonda (Alice “Hallie” Martin), Valerie Perrine (Charlotta Steele), and Willie Nelson in his film debut (as Wendell Hickson)
Gist: An ex- rodeo star who does advertising for a breakfast cereal company balks at a gig that calls for him to wear a suit covered with electric lights. Fed up with it all, he steals a horse named Rising Star and rides off into the desert, bent on setting it free with a wild herd.
Scenes filmed in: Zion National Park
Memorable scene: Wild horses graze below the Watchman at the south end of Zion Canyon.
Trivia: After the filming was over, Redford (who did all of his own riding stunts) bought "Rising Star." He owned the horse (real name "Let’s Merge") for 18 years before it died.


Caine Mutiny, The (1954)
Director: Edward Dmytryk
Cast: Humphrey Bogart (Lt. Commander Queeg), José Ferrer (Lt. Greenwald), E.G. Marshall (Lt. Commander Challee), Van Johnson (Lt. Maryk), Fred MacMurray (Lt. Keefer), May Wynn (May Wynn), Lee Marvin (“Meatball”), Clause Akins (“Horrible”)
Scenes filmed in: Yosemite National Park (Ahwahnee Hotel, Glacier Point Firefall)

Forever, Darling (1956)
Director: Alexander Hall
Cast: Lucille Ball (Susan Vega), Desi Arnaz (Lorenzo Xavier Vega), James Mason (The Guardian Angel)
Scenes filmed in: Yosemite National Park

One-Eyed Jacks (1961)
Director: Marlon Brando
Cast: Marlon Brando , Karl Malden
Scenes filmed in: Death Valley National Park

How the West Was Won (1962)
Director: Henry Hathaway, John Ford, George Marshall, Richard Thorpe (uncredited).
Cast: John Wayne, Debbie Reynolds, James Stewart, Richard Widmark, others
Scenes filmed in: Badlands National Park, Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site (pre-renovation)

Mackenna's Gold (1969)
Director: J. Lee Thompson,
Cast: Gregory Peck, Omar Sharif, Julie Newmar, Telly Savalas
Scenes filmed in: Canyon de Chelly National Monument

My Name is Nobody (1973)
Director: Tonino Valerii
Cast: Henry Fonda, Terrance Hill, Leo Gordon
Scenes filmed in: White Sands National Monument

Mountain Men, The (1974)
Director: Richard Lang
Cast: Charleton Heston, Brian Keith
Scenes filmed in: Grand Teton National Park

Man Who Fell to Earth, The (1976)
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Cast: David Bowie (Thomas Jerome Newton), Rip Torn (Nathan Bryce), Candy Clark (Mary-Lou), Buck Henry (Oliver Frnsworth)
Scenes filmed in: White Sands National Monument

Man Who Would Be King, The
Director: John Huston
Cast: Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer
Scenes filmed in: Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Rocky II (1979)
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Cast: Sylvester Stallone (Rocky Balboa), Talia Shire (Adrian), Burt Young (Paulie), Carl Weathers (Apollo Creed)
Scenes filmed in: Independence National Historical Park


Was "Spencer's Mountain" with Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Hara filmed in the Grand Tetons?
Connie Hopkins

That was a very nice catch, Connie. Of course Spencer's Mountain belongs on the list, and not as just an honorable mention. Watch for me to fix that omission soon. I expect that other readers will soon be yanking my chain about obvious omissions or honorable mentions that deserve promotion to the top-choices list. I'll wager that the current dozen top choices will increase to around twenty. With the addition of Spencer's Mountain we've already got a baker's dozen.

Six films from the Blackstone River Valley NHC:

"A Civil Action" with John Travolta and Robert Duvall among other good actors, included themes shot in the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor. The theme of the movie, the effort to restore environmental quality in despoiled cultural landscapes, is also a main theme of the very good movie. The other other main theme: 'those big corporations will eat you alive !' is also a theme (sort of) of the NHC.

"Ah, Wilderness !" the film version of Eugene O'Neill's comic play, with Wallace Beery, Lionel Barrymore and Mickey Rooney, also was filmed within the boundaries of the Blackstone River Valley NHC, although the area had not been designated way back then. The Folly prominent in the middle of the Town Common was actually built by the film company as a set. However, the people of Grafton, MA liked it so much, they incorporated it into the Common, where it still sits today. Surprisingly, it is not tacky at all, looks great, and fits right in this beautiful and archetypal Town Common.

In perhaps a less-successful effort, but again consistent with the historic themes of the Valley, the sequel to "Love Story," or "Oliver's Story," with Candice Bergen and Ryan O'Neal, Oiliver goes to the Blackstone Valley to rediscover his lost love Jenny's (Ali MacGraw from the first movie) working-class roots.

Many films have Providence RI locations within the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, among them:

"Armistad" the famous film about the revolt aboard a slave ship, with Morgan Freeman, Matthew McConaughey, Stellan Skarsgard and Anthony Hopkins, includes scenes of John Adams shot in the Rhode Island State House.

"Federal Hill" as a film about Providence RI, has of course numerous places within the Blackstone River Valley NHC, most notably Waterplace Park in downtown Providence.

"There's Something About Mary," a romp, with of course Cameron Dias, Matt Dillon and Ben Stiller.

-- Bob, don't forget that when Shane rode away, he was wounded, adding to the ambiguity at the end. Did he die in the Tetons?

"Men In Black" with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones has several fabulous shots of the Governors Island National Monument, especially the giant pan at the end of the movie. Another great shot has Will Smith sitting next to Castle Clinton National Monument looking across New York Harbor at Governors Island. That Castle Clinton location has been used by numerous movies

Another Governors Island movie is "Working Girl" by the great Mike Nichols, starring Melanie Griffith, Sigourney Weaver and Harrison Ford. Sigourney has this great view of Governors Island National Monument right outside her palatial office window.

You've listed some fine movies with scenes shot in the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, Anon, but I'm afraid that I can't expand this particular list to include any of them unless you can show that they have scenes that were filmed on National Park System property. Although the National Park Service does provide technical assistance and some limited financial assistance to National Heritage Areas, NHAs aren’t part of the National Park System.

For the benefit of Traveler readers who may not have heard of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor (established 1986), here is a capsule description from the current NPS Index appendix:

This area is composed of 24 cities and towns on 454 square miles of land in the watershed of the Blackstone River. Beginning in the 1700s, the Blackstone Valley provided the setting for a remarkable transformation from farm to factory, a local story that became the model for a national phenomenon— the American Industrial Revolution.

For me, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) gets first place for scenery and backdrops in Zion National Park, as well as outstanding acting and a story very well told on film. That's also the summer when I had the pleasure and priviledge to work in Zion as a park ranger-naturalist.

Memorable scene: "I can't do that, can you do that?" "Who are those guys?"

Owen Hoffman
Oak Ridge, TN 37830

A short part of the 1954 film "Caine Mutiny" was filmed in Yosemite National Park and featured the famous firefall from the top of Glacier Point.

Thanks, Owen. As you may have seen, while compiling this new list I have shamelessly stolen ideas from you, MRC, d-2, and others who commented on the last list. I cannot attribute each and every one of the ideas/suggestions because that would take up too much space and also tie my brain into knots. BTW, I do not precisely recall the scene you refer to, although I do recall the lines. Was that where Butch expressed astonishment at the skill of the guys tracking them?

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