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Although Hunter is originally from Kansas City, his books are set in southwestern Arkansas and southeastern Oklahoma. That may not sound like much difference to you, but my friends in the Arkansas film commission were still smarting from the fact that they lost True Grit to Colorado. Don’t feel too sorry for them now, they have a native son named Billy Bob Thornton who has put the state back on the Hollywood map, although the fight was on then, as Oklahoma had just lost Far and Away, which was a double sting because director Ron Howard was born in the Sooner state.
So one day, out of the blue, I invited Mr. Hunter to come visit Oklahoma in order to scout locations for the film version of Point of Impact. I promised him some beautiful scenery, lots of good Hillbilly food and, as he was a noted gun enthusiast, a fact not unknown by his readers, some darn good open range shootin’.
So in he flew and off we went. It was amazing, he wrote about Oklahoma and Arkansas with a unique perspective, although he had only driven through both states a single time. I worked him pretty hard, actually, because his contract gave him producer credit in the movie.
At the time, Tommy Lee Jones had signed to play Bob Lee in the movie and, as Oklahoma City was some 200 miles from the area portrayed in the book, I learned a lot about how Hollywood treats an author while on the road. Paramount wanted the Bob Lee character forever if it made Point of Impact and Hunter had deep reservations about that. I took him along perhaps the prettiest part of our state, the Talimena Skyline Drive, which is the only road in the southwestern United States built just for its view.
So we took pictures and found locations and I thought we were all a go. We made our goodbyes and I told our Lt. Governor that we had a deal. Until Tommy Lee fell out and Paramount wanted drastic script changes that would make the character younger. Of course this was Stephen’s fault not at all, he was sorta ripped off too.
Until in 2007, when Paramount finally released Shooter with Mark Wahlberg as Bob Lee. And, oh yes, all filmed in Illinois, if I recall.
But my interaction Stephen Hunter didn’t end there. While in the car, he told me about a new book he was conjuring. He wanted to know all about our state penitentiary in McAlester, he wanted to know the terrain of southwestern Oklahoma and northeastern Texas in the Panhandle. To be honest, I had forgotten about it until, several years later, a novel called Dirty White Boys, written by Hunter, was published. Every scene in the book took place in Oklahoma. I was fired up once again.
Dirty White Boys has a sort of simple plot, Lamar Pye (how about that for a bad guy moniker) and some other ruffians break out of McAlester and go a killing rampage. To stop them, the state of Oklahoma brings out of retirement Bud (when people ask I always see he’s named for me, although I’m sure he isn’t) Pewtie Mayhem ensues.
Dirty White Boys was an immediate hit on the best seller lists and MGM bought the book for legendary filmmaker John Frankenheimer, who was hot again thanks to much success in the world of television – where he originally started. At the time he was just off Against the Wall, Andersonville and George Wallace.
At the time, there was much excitement over the production of this film and I was on the phone to Hunter almost every day. At that time Shooter hadn’t been made and he was rather sick of the whole enterprise, but was reassured time and again by the studio honchos that this was a “go” film.
I wore Frankenheimer slick. Slick. In my mind, he never really made a bad movie, but after such classics as The Young Savages, The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May and, especially, The Train, he had plowed back in the 1980s with a completely nasty adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s 52 Pickup. He was very nice and pretended to put up with all my questions. (Actually, for my money, Frankenheimer is the best hands down with director’s comments on his DVDs.)
We needed two locations to make the picture work, and you would think, in Oklahoma, they would have been easily located. They weren’t. The script was significantly different from the novel – Frankenheimer wanted a younger cast instead of Hunter’s dream team of Harrison Ford and, again, Tommy Lee Jones.
Our first scene took place in a rock quarry pool, where our hero and his lady friend were, well, skinny dipping. I made sure I’d be on set when we rolled film here. My location scout, a dear friend to this day named Joel Manning and I drove all over the state. There were rock quarry pools all around, but ours needed to have overlooks for the camera angles. We finally found one or two, they weren’t perfect, but they might satisfy the location scout from MGM.
(Here’s an aside, Joel is a former policeman, with a Wambaugh-like sense of humor, and I were scouting around a large lake when we heard gunshots. Ex cops are particularly un fond of that noise so we went to the source and found two half wits shooting at cans in the middle of the lake. As we were walking away from this waste of ammo, Joel leaned over and said “those guys are going to be heroes some day if we ever get attacked by cans!)
Our next location was trickier. We had to found a white farm house that would, during wheat harvesting time, have wheat grown all the way around it on all four sides. At the end, our two principals settle their differences with, bless ‘em, wheat thrashers. We looked in over 50 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties and sorta found one that could work, but wheat would have to be artificially planted.
Frankenheimer went back to L.A. for casting and soon we heard that Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were circling the roles and the only holdup was who would play who. And it was during this time that the Weinstein Brothers’ new Miramax offshoot Dimension Films snapped up Frankenheimer for a script that had already packaged, ironically, with Ben Affleck, as well as Charlize Theron and Gary Sinise called Reindeer Games. Movie. Officially. Dead.
We had some major success stories in Oklahoma. Raise your hand if you saw Twister or The Outsiders. I just think “what if” movies are pretty fascinating.
The Latest Classics on Disc
The Shout! Factory has, this month, topped itself with some almost earth shattering classic releases.
First, the Shout! Factory has released two features long on everybody’s want list.
Starting with Hard Times, when a Walter Hill picture was release, it meant something. No nonsense, plenty of action, great stars. Hill’s reputation began to grow through such movies as The Long Riders, The Warriors, Streets of Fire and The Driver. In 1981 he released a film called Southern Comfort that was a major critical success and a fabulous action film and now Shout! has rescued it from obscurity and it’s a Blu-ray find. Keith Carradine, with whom I have spent much time and has been in more great films than Olivier, stars as well as Hill perennial Powers Boothe as National Guardsmen fighting the elements and some nesters in the Louisiana swamps.
Also from Shout! is my dear departed friend Allen Saied’s favorite film Phantom of the Paradise, starring Paul Williams in a rock and roll valentine set to the familiar Phantom of the Opera storyline, released in 1974.
And while these are important releases, they’re a drop in the bucket compared to the company’s two new box sets.
First up is an amazing limited edition Blu-ray box set celebrating the work of seminal director Werner Herzog, with 16 films on 13 discs, 15 of which are on home video for the first time. Included here are some of the greatest films of all time – Aguirre: The Wrath of God, Heart of Glass, My Best Fiend and the splendid, splendid Fitzcarraldo. There are also other special features and films and the first hundred people who order this fabulous gift will receive their set autographed by Herzog.
But here’s the gem of them all. There are those of us who feel The Marx Brothers didn’t work hard enough, whereas comedians like Laurel and Hardy made short after short and feature after feature, the Marx Brothers, well, didn’t. But now the Shout! Factory has released The Marx Brothers TV Collection that is an absolute must own. From guest appearances, to commercials, to chat shows and everything else, except for the complete You Bet Your Life series, already released by Shout! and Groucho’s turn as the Lord High Executioner in The Mikado. You can’t stop watching it.
From Twilight Time, comes a diverse set of titles which are all wonderfully restored and only 3,000 copies each.
First, we have to give a shout out to fellow Oklahoman and friend Gary Busey. He was Oscar nominated for The Buddy Holly Story in 1978 and it is presented here in all its glory. Busey actually set the tone for others in bio pics with his wondrous performance. The disc comes with Busey’s commentary (bet that’s a hoot!) and other Twilight Time regular features. Staying with rock and roll, Twilight Time is also releasing its first Elvis movie Follow That Dream from 1962.
Man Hunt is part noir part spy thriller from 1941 starring Walter Pigeon and directed by Fritz Lang and English director Ken Loach is represented with two of his comedies on in one package Ladybug, Ladybug and Raining Stones.
Twilight Time’s offbeat find of the month is a small film which should have had a bigger audience – Stanley Kramer’s The Secret of Santa Vittoria, starring Anthony Quinn. Released in 1969, the comedic tale offers a group of villagers in Italy working together to save their precious homemade wine from the Nazis. Great fun.
Warner Archive releases so much material, a new batch every week, that it’s hard to keep up. But they’re all treasures. In the last month there have been a slate of film noirs (Chase a Crooked Shadow, The Counterfeit Plan and The Crooked Road) films starring Glenn Ford (Trial, and Advance to the Rear) and the great comedian Joe E. Brown (who once, supposedly, danced with my grandmother) Elmer the Great, You Said a Mouthful and Broad Minded. Next up for Warner Archive? Blu-ray discs of perhaps the greatest of all film noirs Out of the Past and Blake Edwards’ comedy extravaganza The Great Race.
Until next time… see you at the flickers!
- Bud Elder