today we hit sedona, arizona. in the golden age of the hollywood western, sedona was a favorite location for film crews and i can see why. the vistas are incredible, the topography has just about every feature you could want, and the weather is beautiful. dozens of anonymous cowboys (and hundreds of horses) have passed through here over the years but there are two women that cast a couple of awfully long shadows over the landscape. the precarious mental states of both the characters and the women who portrayed them are among my favorite cases of madness that the big screen couldn't quite contain.
the first, gene tierney, starred in leave her to heaven (1945). while not a western (and just this side of an exploitation film), the scene they shot here where she gallops furiously across the landscape casting her father's ashes to the four winds is precisely the kind of scene filled with tumultuous emotion that you can only shoot with the wide, western sky as a backdrop.
the movie, as a whole, is average melodrama but this scene is a real high point for me. tierney is at her best here when she is wordless, reckless, driven by her electra complex. and i believe it works so well because this is tierney relinquishing a little control to her own demons. her battles with mental illness are well documented, sometimes so severe she was unable to work. but when she was able to harness some of that darkness and put it behind those green eyes it could be astounding.
the other woman i had in mind was joan crawford. we all have heard the stories by now but when they set up camp here to make johnny guitar (1954) i don't think the locals (and some of her fellow cast members) were aware of her reputation. the film itself is another of nicholas ray's brilliant, twisted efforts full of psycho-sexual landmines we are still unearthing today. it is notable in the western genre for having not one, but two, towering female figures who, in a welcome reversal, reduce all the men in the film (including sterling hayden, no slouch) to second-class citizens. obsession, guilt, guns and costume changes galore. the production itself suffered from no shortage of drama either. crawford scattered mercedes mccambridge's costume all along the arizona highway in a fit of jealousy and both mccambridge and hayden called her out, mccambridge going as far as to describe crawford as a "mean, tipsy, powerful, rotten-egg lady". this is the old west. you better look a woman in the eye when you say that.
i'll talk to you next from los angeles. in the meantime, check these out and see these ladies in all their unhinged glory and take in some lovely arizona scenery.