Cast & Crew
George C Scott
After drifting into the goldrush town of Skull Creek, Montana, Dr. Joseph "Doc" Frail buys a cabin on the hill above town from a penniless prospector. Soon after, Rune, a young wanderer, tries to steal a gold nugget from a sluice box and is pursued by a bloodthirsty mob, guns ablaze. Hearing the injured Rune's cries for help, Doc rescues the boy and bandages his wound. In payment for his services, Doc demands that Rune become his bond servant, threatening to expose him as a thief if he refuses. Doc then sets up practice, and although he exhibits compassion for his patients, he can be imperious and severe when dealing with others, prompting Tom Flaunce, the town storekeeper and an old acquaintance, to comment that "Doc carries his soul in his doctor's bag." When Doc is assailed by George Grubb, a raving drunk who accuses him of being the devil, Doc, an expert marksman, drives Grubb off at gunpoint. While at the saloon one evening, Doc strikes a gambler who questions him about burning down a house in Illinois. One day, a stagecoach is attacked by a band of robbers, causing the horses to bolt and the carriage to careen over the side of a cliff. With his dying breath, the driver reveals that a woman passenger, the sole survivor, is trapped in the coach. Frenchy Plante, a lecherous prospector, Rune and Flaunce head a search party for the woman. While camped around the fire for the night, Flaunce informs Rune that Frail is a name the Doc assumed because he felt that it described the state of mankind. Flaunce then relates the story of a doctor named Temple, who torched his grand house on the river after discovering the dead bodies of a man and a woman inside. The next day, Frenchy finds the missing woman, whom he dubs "Lost Lady." After they carry the unconscious woman to a shack in a nearby meadow, Doc examines her and declares that she is suffering from temporary blindness. He arranges for her to be transported to Flaunce's abandoned cabin, which is situated across from his own, and Rune volunteers to care for her. Three days later, the woman regains consciousness, although she remains blind. After identifying herself as Elizabeth Mahler, she learns that her father was killed in the robbery. When Elizabeth tells Doc about emigrating from Switzerland to the "wonderous" America, Doc cautions her that she will find no glory in the wretched town of Skull Creek. Soon after, Flaunce's wife Edna, a mean-spirited, priggish woman, drives to the cabin to determine if Elizabeth is "decent," and is turned away by Doc. That night, after Doc leaves to play cards at the saloon, Frenchy sneaks into the cabin. When Elizabeth senses his presence, he claims that he has come for his canteen. As Frenchy is about to sexually attack the blind woman, Doc appears and orders him to leave. Later, at the saloon, Doc thrashes Frenchy and threatens to kill him if he ever returns to the cabin, and Frenchy vows revenge. As the days pass, Rune accuses Doc of trying to control people and objects to his isolation of Elizabeth. One day, Elizabeth is on the verge of recovering her eyesight when she lapses back into hysterical blindness. Doc inspires her to see again, but when she embraces him, he coldly informs her that she must leave the next day. Doc then gives Rune his freedom and presents him with a horse. The following morning, Rune and Elizabeth ride into town and Elizabeth shows Flaunce a brooch, an old family heirloom, and asks to use it as collateral for a grubstake. When Flaunce reports Elizabeth's request to Doc, Doc gives him the money to lend to her. Entering into partnership with Frenchy, Elizabeth and Rune establish the "Lucky Lady" mine. A month passes, and Doc continues to funnel money into the mine, unbeknown to Elizabeth. While out delivering a baby one day, Doc stops to say hello to Elizabeth. Jealous of Doc's intrusion, Frenchy manhandles Elizabeth and she decides to move into town. When Elizabeth comes to the store for another advance, Edna cruelly informs her that the brooch is worthless and accuses her of prostitution. Furious, Elizabeth accuses Doc of trying to play with people's lives and he admits that the rumor about the grand house on the river is true and that the man and woman were his wife and brother. In the midst of a violent rainstorm one day, a giant tree near the Lucky Lady is uprooted, revealing a pit filled with gold nuggets. To celebrate the strike, Frenchy plies the townsmen with liquor. While Elizabeth repairs to Doc's cabin with her sack of gold, the drunken revelers below turn mean and set the town on fire. Barging into Doc's cabin, Frenchy hurls Elizabeth onto the bed and assaults her. Doc returns to find the town in flames, then hurries to his cabin and throws Frenchy down the stairs. When Frenchy pulls his gun, Doc shoots him and then kicks his lifeless body over the hillside. Grubb seizes the opportunity to incite the frenzied crowd to lynch Doc, and as they place a noose around his neck, Elizabeth, bruised, hobbles down the hill and offers her gold in exchange for Doc's life. The greedy mob stampedes to the mine, leaving Doc behind. After Rune removes the noose from his neck, Doc bends down and caresses Elizabeth's face and they embrace.
George C Scott
Rae M. Lee
E. Jane Maddux
Larrie L. Armstrong
George William Schrindel
John V. Dale
Marjorie O. Best
Daniel B. Cathcart
Lou La Cava
Frank M. Miller
R. Miller Jr.
Bernt G. Sad
The Hanging Tree
Underrated at the time of its release, The Hanging Tree (1959) is now considered a superior western from the waning years of that popular genre which coincided with the end of the studio era. It is also considered one of Gary Cooper's best performances from his final decade in film, comparable to his fine work in High Noon (1952) and Man of the West (1958).
Adapted by screenwriters Wendell Mayes and Halsted Welles from a novella of the same name by Dorothy M. Johnson that won the Western Writers of America Golden Spur Award, The Hanging Tree was a Baroda Production, a company owned by Gary Cooper for the express purpose of selecting and producing hand-picked projects. Delmer Daves, who had helmed several other well-regarded Westerns such as Jubal (1956), 3:10 to Yuma (1957) and The Badlanders (1958), was selected to direct and the movie marked the film debut of George C. Scott in the small but scene-stealing role of Dr. George Grubb, a wild-eyed religious fanatic and alcoholic. (It might have been more than 'Method Acting' on display since Scott was going through a difficult period of deep depression and drunken rages in his personal life). The film also marked the American film debut of playwright/stage actor Ben Piazza in the role of Rune.
The Hanging Tree was filmed on location near Yakima, Washington from mid-June to mid-August of 1958 on a budget of $1.35 million dollars. Part of this expense went toward the creation of the mining town of Skull Creek and the final result has an authenticity and rustic allure that evokes the unruly, makeshift mining towns that sprung up in the middle of nowhere during the gold rush era. Once production began, however, Delmer Daves became ill and had to be hospitalized for ulcers. Co-star Karl Malden, who had recently directed his first film Time Limit (1957) and had been a film actor since 1936, was approached to complete the film for Daves despite his reservations. Cooper encouraged him to do it and offered his support and Malden guided the film to completion. (Director Vincent Sherman has been credited in some sources as contributing his services to one day of production).
It turned out to be a good experience for Malden who became a personal friend of Gary Cooper as well as a great admirer of the actor's working method. "I found that Cooper couldn't communicate with me in words when I told him how I thought a scene should be done," he recalled in Coop: The Life and Legend of Gary Cooper by Stuart M. Kaminsky. "He said, 'Show me,' and I did, acting out the scene with Maria [Schell], improvising. Then he took over and did exactly what I wanted him to do, not at all rigid as people have said. If there was a problem, it was with the directors who used him....Cooper knew himself and he knew the lens of the camera...Cooper knew what to avoid and what to do. He always relaxed in front of the camera and concentrated on the role. He knew what would appear on the screen and he played for it. People have often mistaken his ability to relax on the set for indifference, but he was very interested in the making of the film, the acting process."
During the filming of The Hanging Tree, Cooper was not in the best of health and suffered from hip pain from an earlier injury in his career. This made it difficult for him to ride a horse and explains his unusual riding style of leaning to the left on the saddle. According to biographer Kaminsky, Cooper incorporated his physical problem into a character trait of Frail's: "Two hands on the horn of his saddle, Cooper would list to the left as if resting and move to a position in which he could pay rapt attention to the other characters in the scene."
When The Hanging Tree was released, it received respectable reviews but was not a big box office hit. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote, "Delmer Daves has directed the gold camp action for a great deal of clatter and bang, and it all looks rambunctious and authentic on the vividly colored screen. Indeed, what with one thing and another, the story is absorbing to the end. It keeps you wondering and wishing -- finally wishing it were a little better, that's all." The Variety review was more affirmative, stating, "There are fine performances from a good cast, but the main contribution comes from the director. The natural splendor of the Washington location is thoroughly exploited in Technicolor, but Delmer Daves doesn't allow his characters to get lost in the forest or mountains." The film would also earn an Oscar® nomination for the title theme song, written by Jerry Livingston and Mack David and sung over the opening and closing credits by Marty Robbins.
After a span of more than fifty years, The Hanging Tree enjoys a reputation that separates it from the glut of routine Western programmers released during the fifties and looks ahead to Robert Altman's lyrical frontier fable, McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971). The entry for the film in The BFI Companion to the Western best sums up the movie's unique qualities: "This is Daves' most complex and ambitious film and certainly his finest western. It was also his last...it is a brooding, romantic, opaque work of great dramatic intensity and breathtaking visual beauty. The film is an almost explicit critique of the Bildungsroman schema that underlies so many Hollywood Westerns and has certain interesting parallels with Andre Gide's novel La Symphonie Pastorale and the 1946 film made from it. Where The Hanging Tree really scores, though, is in its style: few Westerns have been as successful in their dramatic use of space."
Producer: Martin Jurow; Richard Shepherd
Director: Delmer Daves; Karl Malden (finishing, uncredited)
Screenplay: Wendell Mayes, Halsted Welles (screenplay); Dorothy M. Johnson (novel)
Cinematography: Ted McCord
Art Direction: Daniel B. Cathcart
Music: Max Steiner
Film Editing: Owen Marks
Cast: Gary Cooper (Dr. Joseph 'Doc' Frail), Maria Schell (Elizabeth Mahler), Karl Malden (Frenchy Plante), George C. Scott (Dr. George Grubb), Karl Swenson (Tom Flaunce), Virginia Gregg (Edna Flaunce), John Dierkes (Society Red), King Donovan (Wonder), Ben Piazza (Rune, Frail's Bond Servant).
by Jeff Stafford
Coop: The Life and Legend of Gary Cooper by Stuart M. Kaminsky (St. Martin's Press).
Gary Cooper: American Hero by Jeffrey Meyers (William Morrow and Co.)
George C. Scott: The Man, the Actor and the Legend by Allen Harbinson (Pinnacle Books)
The BFI Companion to the Western, edited by Edward Buscombe (Da Capo Press) www.afi.com
The Hanging Tree
According to the film's daily production reports, director Delmar Daves's last day on the production was July 25, 1958, after which he became too ill to direct. Karl Malden took over directing the film on July 29, 1958 and continued to the end of post-production recording. On July 30, 1958 only, Vincent Sherman served as co-director. Although a February 1958 Los Angeles Examiner news item stated that James Webb had written the script for this picture, the extent of his contribution to the released film has not been determined.
Studio publicity materials contained in the production file for the film in the AMPAS Library add that the film was shot on location near Yakima, WA. The picture marked the screen debuts of George C. Scott and Ben Piazza and the initial effort of the producing team of Martin Jurow and Richard Shepherd. A modern source adds Bud Osborne to the cast. Jerry Livingston and Mack David's song, "The Hanging Tree," was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song.
Released in United States on Video June 2, 1993
Released in United States Winter February 1959
Screen debut for George C Scott.
Karl Malden directed some scenes when Delmer Daves was ill.
Released in United States Winter February 1959
Released in United States on Video June 2, 1993