Grand County plays backdrop to 1950s film
February 22, 2008
Take a step back into Grand County’s past with the Granby Library on Saturday afternoon as it features “On Dangerous Ground,” a film with scenes from this area more than half a century ago.
The film was directed by Nicholas Ray, who remarked how he and his team could just about plant the camera anywhere, “aim it in any direction and come up with a magnificent pictorial shot.” The area was so beautiful that Ray said the crew had to be careful that the background didn’t detract from the actors and storyline.
“The temptation to drop everything else and make a travelogue about Colorado was, at times, almost overpowering,” he told a “Colorado Wonderland” magazine writer in July 1950.
Ray discusses the film, originally called “Mad with Much Heart” after a book of the same name by Gerald Butler, during an introduction to the story. The library will also show commentary on DVD by Glenn Erickson, film historian specializing in film noir.
Interesting points include rumors surrounding “maverick industrialist” Howard Hughes who shelved the film for two years before releasing it in 1952. Hughes purchased the RKO (Radio-Keith-Orpheum) Radio Studios company from Orson Welles.
It is also noted that a cabin that appears on a hill above the gate entering the Red Fisher Ranch in the movie was one that was built for the filming project.
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Stars include Charles Kemper, Ward Bond and Anthony Ross, with Ida Lupino and Robert Ryan. All the other parts were said to have been filled by county residents, including Al Hodgson, Bill Thompson (walking on a snowy hill above the Horn Ranch), Roy Alexander, Francis Jenkins and her son Jay (who is the boy in the movie who says, “Dad here they come”), Don Yager, Ted and Vern Birdsill and Andy Vaughn. Guest “actors” were paid the same wages as the true celebrities, receiving $55 for speaking one line and $10 daily for stand-ins. Transportation and lunch was also included.
Other locals who are said to have had their day in the spotlight include Louis Heckert,
Mary (Dyger) Baumberger, Eddie Linke Jr. and Clint Hardenbrook (as part of the posse).
Some thought Betty (Gorman) Roberts came on the project as Lapino’s backup but Roberts has clarified the rumor as untrue.
The feature includes scenes from U.S. Highway 34, Junction Ranch and Stillwater Point in and around the Grand Lake area, as well points in Tabernash, including the Bob Pitt house and shots south of the grade school. It is also thought to include portions of the Amos Horn Ranch and several members from the family plan to join the film audience Saturday.
The movie is a detective story, but rather than focusing on a chase and murder, it analyzes the life and character of the gumshoe himself. The detective is troubled by the violence he continually runs into while working.
An RKO cast of about 40 men and women, and Director Ray made what was then a four-hour flight from Hollywood to Denver to hang around Grand County for two weeks in March and April, filming a third of the film in the county. The presence of a film crew caused quite a stir throughout the county and rumors spilled out into the streets.
One tale from the rumor mill was that two of the male actors bought a drill bit from Wright’s hardware to drill a peephole and look in on Lapino at her motel room at the El Monte Motor Inn.
Word also spread about how sincere everyone was in Colorado in helping the troupe feel comfortable and have fun. Donna (West) Childress and a girlfriend offered actor Ryan a ride in their car. Jerry Hale and Jim Craig delivered lunches to the set from Craig’s Cafe, which was hired to feed the company. (A tent was also put up at the Horn Ranch for meals. Bond was usually at the front of the supper line but would let children go in front of him.)
When it was time to say good-bye, the Grand County Dude Ranchers held a farewell party in the film company’s honor at the Hitching Post. Ray predicted that in the following years more pictures would be captured in Colorado than in any other state.
“We may have overlooked this scenic wonderland in the past, but we’re not going to make that mistake a second time,” he said.
The El Grande Theatre played a series of six shows of the story in 1952 (admission was 65 cents for adults and a quarter for children) and it was said to attract a record crowd of almost 1,500 people. Residents reviewed it as “very good with extremely fast action.”
Now audiences have a chance to relive the experience, as well as share it with those new to the film. Catch a glimpse of the county (and Denver) before more than five decades of change drifted in.