I've lived in Arizona for 70 years (Tucson, Glendale, and Sedona). I love writing about Arizona history, antiques, books and travel.
Seven Films Shot in and Around Sedona, Arizona
Following is a list of four Westerns, two really bad movies, and one New Age movie filmed in Sedona, Arizona. Read interesting factoids about their history, stars, and more.
- Angel and the Badman (1947)
- Broken Arrow (1950)
- Johnny Guitar (1954)
- The Rounders (1965)
- Stay Away Joe (1968)
- Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)
- Sedona, the Movie (2011)
The earliest film shot in Sedona of note, filmed in 1923 in Oak Creek Canyon and Sedona, was Call of the Canyon, based upon the novel by Western author Zane Grey. Although Call of the Canyon was silent, the surrounding scenery "spoke" volumes to those who saw the film, and it wasn't long until Sedona was being touted as "Little Hollywood" as Western films filmed in Sedona were so popular.
1. Angel and the Badman (1947)
Angel and the Badman is a black-and-white Republic Films movie starring John Wayne and Gail Russell. Angel and the Badman was Wayne's first time as the producer of a film; in addition, Wayne plays Quirt Evans, a gunslinger who is nursed back to health for gunshot wounds by the Worth Quaker family.
Gail Russell is Penelope, the young daughter of the Quaker family, who falls in love with Quirt and tries to convince him to become a farmer and join the Friends Society or Quakers. Quirt is drawn into a crooked deal and returns to his former ways.
Angel and the Badman was not a typical Western film of the times and was not a box office success. Critics dubbed it more of a romance than a Western. John Wayne had several comical scenes, including a real classic with a baby, and today's John Wayne fans compare this film to The Quiet Man.
Gail Russell is beautiful in this film. Her film career was short-lived, as she passed away at age 36. The town scenes were filmed on a Western set in front of Coffee Pot Rock, and the other areas that viewers will recognize include Bell Rock, Courthouse Rock, and Slide Rock in Oak Creek Canyon. The Worth family ranch was located in Little Horse Park, which has been called the Chapel area since 1957, when the Chapel of the Holy Cross was built.
Because the copyright was allowed to elapse, the film became public domain and can be found on YouTube and regular television. Angel and the Badman was remade for TV in 2009 with Lou Diamond Phillips in the role of Quirt Evans.
2. Broken Arrow (1950)
The story of Broken Arrow, starring Jimmy Stewart, Jeff Chandler, and Debra Paget, is based on the true-life story of US Army captain and Indian Scout Tom Jeffords during the Apache Wars in the Arizona Territory.
Jeffords was in charge of an Overland (Butterfield) mail line, and he dared to enter the stronghold of the Chiricahua Apache to convince Chief Cochise to allow the mail riders to pass through Apache territory unharmed.
Jeffords, acting on the authority of Army General O.O. Howard, convinced the tribe to sign a peace treaty that would allow the Chiricahuas to remain on and to keep their land.
The treaty was signed in 1872, but unfortunately, it was broken, and the Apache Wars continued until 1875, when Geronimo, the chief of the San Carlos Apaches, was captured.
The film, which was nominated for three Oscars, was groundbreaking because instead of portraying the Indians as savages, it attempted to portray Cochise as an honorable man trying to preserve the Chiricahua way of life. The film was one of the first to suggest that the Indians were driven off their land and received broken promises from the US government.
Jimmy Stewart played Tom Jeffords; Jeff Chandler played Chief Cochise and was nominated for an Oscar. Debra Paget played the Apache maiden who married Tom Jeffords. The marriage was a Hollywood fiction, as was the Sedona setting since the actual Cochise Stronghold is in the Dragoon Mountains in Southern Arizona.
The Technicolor color is wonderful, and a number of Sedona's Red Rock formations, such as Schnebly Hill Road, Merry Go Round Rock, Bell Rock, Red Rock Crossing, Little Horse Park (Now Chapel area), are easy to identify.
Following the success of the film, a 72-episode Broken Arrow TV series was made, and a hiking trail named Broken Arrow, in honor of the movie, is a popular trail in Sedona.
3. Johnny Guitar (1954)
Johnny Guitar is a Trucolor Republic Films movie starring Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden, Mercedes McCambridge, and Ward Bond.
It's a Western drama that featured a power struggle between the cattlemen and the railroad, but more unusual was the power struggle between Vienna, played by Joan Crawford, a saloon owner where "undesirables" hung out, and Emma Small, played by Mercedes McCambridge, who was trying to force Vienna out of town.
Fighting, a bank robbery, and a lynch mob during the story were Western film "standards." The events forced a final showdown shootout between the two women.
The best story is the events that took place between Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge during the filming. Both actresses were drinking heavily during the filming, and there was "bad blood" because Mercedes believed that the director was having an affair with Crawford. Crawford's husband was said to have dated Mercedes.
Eventually, Crawford threw Mercedes's costumes into the street in a drunken rage. The director called it a "dream situation" because the looks of hate and body language between the two women were real.
In 1954, while not a smash hit, Johnny Guitar was a box office success. In the 1980 biography Conversations With Joan Crawford by Roy Newquist, Joan is quoted as saying, "I should have had my head examined. No excuse for a picture being this bad of for me making it.
Years later, director Martin Scorsese said, "Johnny Guitar is an example of a minor film grown to achieve the status of a classic. There is really no other film like it."
Today, Rotten Tomatoes gives Johnny Guitar a 5-star rotten rating, and an overall fan rating is 85% approval. The story was eventually made into a Broadway musical.
4. The Rounders (1965)
The Rounders is a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Western/comedy in Metrocolor starring Glenn Ford, Henry Fonda, Sue Ann Langdon, and Hope Holiday. Two aging bronc buster cowboys, Ford as Ben Jones and Fonda as "Howdy," try to earn some quick money breaking horses for the boss man, played by Chill Wills.
Instead of wages, they opt to take "Ol' Fooler," an old bucking bronco, to a rodeo, where they plan to bet against any cowboy being able to ride him. The bronc busting scenes occur in the current area of the Village of Oak Creek, with the rodeo scenes at Posse Grounds and the rodeo parade filmed in Uptown.
Lots of comedy occurs when Ben and Howdy visit two sisters whose pappy makes fine moonshine. The sisters go skinny-dipping with Ben and Howdy, and Ben and Howdy take them along to the rodeo. A classic line used by both Ben and Howdy during the film is "Whatever suits you-tickles us plum to death."
Metro-Golden-Mayer released The Rounders as a second billing film, which meant it was intended to play second during a double-feature, but TMC Classic film critics call The Rounders what we would call a "sleeper" today, and if The Rounders had had the right advertising, it would have been a box office hit.
5. Stay Away Joe (1968)
Based upon a book by Dan Cushman that was intended as a comical farce, Stay Away Joe; a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film starring Elvis Presley, Burgess Meredith, Katy Jardo, Joan Blondell, Quentin Dean; was panned as an embarrassing, tasteless, forced slapstick comedy that was offensive to Native Americans.
Presley played Joe High Cloud, a good-looking rodeo rider who returns home. His father, played by Meredith, is supposed to be a Navajo living in an ancestral teepee. (No matter that ancestral Navajos lived in Hogans.)
Jardo played the stepmother of Presley, who lived in an interesting tar paper shabby house. Blondell played a bar owner with the hots for Presley, but his interest was in her 19-year-old daughter, played by Dean.
The plot, if there is one, is that Joe earns money by encouraging a prize bull to do his thing. Meanwhile, Presley sings less than memorable songs, fights, herds cattle in a convertible, and has scenes with Dean.
The only notable thing during the filming was that Priscilla Presley and the other wives of Presley's entourage came to Sedona for part of the shoot, which was unusual. As an Elvis fan, I admit that he was looking fine in Western wear, but even that doesn't save this dumb and offensive movie.
6. Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)
Kingdom of the Spiders is a sci-fi cult classic and horror film produced by Dimension Films and starring William Shatner, Tiffany Boling, and Woody Strode. It was filmed in Sedona, Oak Creek Canyon, and Camp Verde in the Verde Valley.
Veterinarian Dr. Rack Hansen, played by Shatner, is called to determine the cause of death in a prize calf. A lab determines the death was caused by spider venom, and archaeologist Diane Ashley, played by Boling, is called in for advice. She believes the spiders (tarantulas) are attacking because their natural food sources are being eradicated by pesticides.
The tarantulas continue to attack animals and people by wrapping them in a giant cocoon before injecting them with venom. Many people still living in the area worked as extras and remember the excitement when the film crew brought in 5,000 tarantulas.
Since tarantulas are shy, streams of air were required to move them forward toward people. The acting and the attacks are so bad that the film makes most people laugh, and the film is considered a cult classic.
7. Sedona, the Movie (2011)
Sedona, the Movie is a Pasidg Productions film starring Francis Fisher, Tommy Stovall, Seth Peterson, Beth Grant, and Barry Corbin. This movie genre was alternatively classified as a New Age film, an adventure, a comedy, or a drama, depending on the viewer or critic.
The premise is that two stressed-out people, (unrelated) one a lawyer and the other an advertising executive, experience a life-changing day in "mystical" Sedona because "Sedona is where you will find your truth."
One thing is certain and agreed upon—the cinematography of the red rock formations and locations in Sedona is beautiful. The character of Deb Lovejoy as the New Age manicurist would have been better if the real Deb Lovejoy manicurist had played herself.
The reviews of Sedona, the Movie ranged from one star to five stars. Most moviegoers who live in Sedona went to see the film, as other than commercials, Sedona was the first full-length movie filmed here in a long time. In my opinion, the red rocks are the real stars of this film.
Sources on Sedona Films
I have watched each of these films several times and lived in Sedona for more than 20 years. In addition, I consulted the following resources:
- The archives of the Sedona Heritage Museum Library
- Arizona's Little Hollywood by Joe Mc Neill. Northedge & Sons. Sedona, Arizona, 2010
© 2018 mactavers
Mark Tulin from Long Beach, California on November 01, 2018:
Great article on Sedona and movies. One of my favorite places to visit and I could see why so many Westerns were shot there.
Robert Sacchi on October 19, 2018:
At any rate Tucson and Sedona had good runs.
mactavers (author) on October 19, 2018:
I grew up in Tucson in a time where many Westerns were filmed at Old Tucson Studios, including episodes of Little House on the Prairie and High Chaparral and other TV series. Then when the original Old Tucson burned, it became a theme park with rides and outside of a few commercials, I don't think any Westerns are being filmed there either.
Robert Sacchi on October 18, 2018:
The movement of the filming location for Westerns over the years would seem an interesting topic.
mactavers (author) on October 18, 2018:
Sad to say, I don't think that there has been any feature films made for awhile, but tons of commercials are still filmed here.
Robert Sacchi on October 18, 2018:
Do they still make film in the Sedona area, or is that just a part of Sedona's past?