Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Heart of Arizona (1938) at the Lone Pine Film Festival

HEART OF ARIZONA (1938) was the second Hopalong Cassidy film I saw at last weekend's Lone Pine Film Festival. I watched it the day after seeing IN OLD COLORADO (1941) and touring that movie's locations.

The HEART OF ARIZONA screening was special in its own way, as it included a personal appearance by 90-year-old Billy King. As a boy Billy costarred in four Hopalong Cassidy films; HEART OF ARIZONA was the third film he worked on.

After the screening Billy recounted that he and his horse Tony had become well-known in horse shows, and eventually he came to Paramount's attention. Lesley Selander, who would direct Billy in three of the four Hoppy films, including HEART OF ARIZONA, met with Billy and had him read some lines. Billy passed with flying colors, and he was signed to a year-long contract which required him to show up in Lone Pine when a movie was ready to film. (The second film also went on location in Arizona.) The contract was extended for a second year, and then Billy "retired" from the movie business.

Here's Billy waving his hat as he's introduced to the audience before the screening:

Billy is in the center of the next two shots, being interviewed after the movie:

Billy recounted that Selander wanted him to be in awe of Hoppy on screen, and he said that was no problem at all because, like most kids in that era, he had watched Hopalong Cassidy movies and was amazed to find himself in one!

He said that when he began work on the first film, HOPALONG RIDES AGAIN (1937), William Boyd came up to him and shook his hand, saying he was proud to be working with Billy and his horse Tony; Tony had been included in Billy's contract! This exchange with Boyd left Billy even more awestruck, especially because Boyd had mentioned his beloved horse.

Billy was also impressed by "Mrs. Hoppy," Grace Boyd, although he ruefully recounted that after telling Grace she was the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen, Grace told her husband and it got around the set, which left the young boy feeling rather embarrassed. That didn't seem to have changed his admiration for both Boyds, however!

When Billy was in high school a couple years after his film career ended, his drama teacher asked him if he could arrange for the class to take a tour of Paramount, and the studio kindly set up a visit. The kids' day at the studio included going out to the backlot, where Billy was reunited with Hoppy. He recounted that his classmates were very impressed with the way that "Hoppy," as they all called him, took time to speak to each of them individually. Billy clearly thought the world of Boyd, which was wonderful to hear.

Billy, incidentally, served in WWII and had two careers, first in insurance and later he spent decades teaching rhetoric at UC Davis. He was a congenial and enthusiastic speaker who attended the festival with his family, including his young grandchildren -- who he pointed out were the same age he was when he was in the movies!

Like IN OLD COLORADO, HEART OF ARIZONA was a very nice-looking film photographed by future Oscar nominee Russell Harlan.

This time around Hoppy comes to the aid of Belle Starr (Natalie Moorhead) who has returned to her ranch after serving time in jail. I found it curious that the plotline found the straight arrow Hoppy aiding an outlaw throughout the 68-minute film, albeit one who has apparently reformed.

Unbeknownst to Belle, her foreman (Alden Chase) is a cattle rustler, leading to all manner of complications.

Billy King plays Artie, nephew of Buck Peters (John Elliott), owner of the Bar 20 Ranch where Hoppy works. Hopalong Cassidy's pals in this title are Lucky (Russell Hayden) and Windy (George "Gabby" Hayes). Dorothy Short plays Belle Starr's daughter, Jacqueline.

HEART OF ARIZONA is available on DVD.


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