Monday, August 26, 2013

Shootout at the Knudsen Farm (Malibu Creek State Park)

(GPS: N34 05.985 W118 43.640)
This one has been a long time in coming. It has been almost a year to the day that I visited Malibu Creek State Park to figure out where the Knudsen farm was in the movie Ride the High Country. It’s an important movie to me as will come out here.

A little bit of personal history on this one before I get started with the pictures. The Knudsen farm location was a bit of a mystery to me way before I started this blog. I remember corresponding with a few people on and offline over the years about this one. There was at least one back and forth public conversation online where I mentioned some possibilities with another person trying to find it. Originally, I thought it might have been somewhere around Griffith Park since they used Bronson Canyon for the mining camp scenes. There was another area in California mentioned, but it was not right either. Keep in mind there was really nothing online about this spot at the time. I just did a Wikipedia search for this movie and noticed it lists this park as one of the locations; that was not there last year.

In May of 2010, I wrote a few blogs about a day in Mammoth, CA where I showed some of where Ride the High Country was filmed. Near the end of that blog I asked for help if anyone had any ideas where the farm was at. I had always hoped someone would say, “Oh, I found that years ago,” or someone connected to the film would know. I posted what I thought was a clue from some old magazine mentioning that the farm and ending was filmed near or at Joel McCrea’s old property west of Los Angeles.

A few weeks after that a reader named John contacted me and said that although he did not know exactly where the farm was from the movie he was pretty sure that it was done at Malibu Creek State Park. I immediately got on Google Earth and within about ten minutes became convinced that was the right spot. Originally, I did have Malibu Creek State Park as one of the possibilities, but unfortunately most of the pictures I was referring to were using the area connected to where the TV show M*A*S*H  was filmed which is a little further to the north.

About a year and half passed. I got an email from a reader named Bob that said he also thought it was Malibu Creek State Park and sent me some pictures of the Goat Buttes. This was another further confirmation it was the right spot. So, I would like to thank both John and Bob for making me see the light on this one.

Even though I knew where to go, all this happened about the time I decided I needed to stop blogging like I had been. This location ended up being a low priority on my to do list at the time. Even after I did it a year ago I still decided to wait until the right time...which would be today.

Okay, so here we go…

In the movie, Joel McCrea, Ron Starr, and Mariette Hartley ride back to the farm where they encounter the bad guys who have set up an ambush at the house. Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea’s characters had a dispute earlier in the movie so Scott was not with them. He was watching from the distance and decides to help them by doing a charge.

He ends up hiding with them in the nearby dry ditch. This following picture is probably not where they were at, but due to the overgrowth of bushes I decided this would be the best spot to show the dry creek they were near. There were a couple of areas where the trees or bushes would block the camera's view so I didn’t bother wasting my time.
Seeing how they were in a bad situation with McCrea bleeding from a gun wound, Scott and McCrea yell at the men in the house to come out for a fair and honorable fight. They agree. The following is the perspective of Scott and McCrea as they walk toward each other during the gunfight:
One of the problems I knew before even going to this location was trying to figure out how I would replicate the gunfight here. They used a crane from above for parts of it to film down on the actors. There is a lot of back and forth really quickly where I was unsure of where some shots were. So, all I tried to do is create a close facsimile of the scene and not worry about getting everything right. This picture of the field is close, but my intuition tells me it was probably a little more to the right of this picture. It’s good enough for our purposes.

A different angle of the field where the farm and gunfight was. Randolph Scott was the last one standing. Joel McCrea was lying down dying in front of me out on this field. Which leads to the main shot I have always wanted to replicate.

The payoff. I have always loved how they made McCrea look as high as the mountains in this shot. There are a couple of ways one can interpret this, but I like the idea that it makes him look like a giant and mountain-like.

The day I did this it was really hot. I had just come from Point Dume in Malibu next to the ocean which was really cool. I parked at the park here and took off. As I was walking to this location I realized I should have taken my liquids with me since I started to sweat. My enthusiasm to do this overcame my hydration needs. So, I suffered just a little to get this one done. At some point I will show another movie spot from this place.

BTW, as an aside, I was watching some animated documentary on dinosaurs a month ago. They actually had the type of dinosaurs (I believe they were bird-like creatures) at Malibu Creek State Park. It was all CGI type of animation of everything, but I am pretty sure I saw the Goat Buttes and other fields done as animation. I'll link it here if I ever see it again. This is one of the locations that whenever I see it now I can spot it right away. I should mention it has been in lots of other westerns and tv shows. Looking back now if I had made the connections it would have been a lot easier to find. 

In my view, Ride the High Country was the end of the old westerns. That is not to say westerns weren’t filmed anymore, or no interesting westerns were filmed since then. I just think Sam Peckinpah was using the old actors in what was supposed to be their retirement movie in way as closure to that type of western. In a few years, the more violent Spaghetti Westerns, more revisionist westerns, and parodies would start showing up. So, in my view, the year 1962 was an important year for either saying the western was coming to an end or started to transition into something else. In any case, see the movie if you haven’t, or watch it again when you can.

The following video I thought was good for what I was trying to do. As I mentioned earlier, I was just trying to get a close recreation rather than get exact shots. If I were to go back today I would probably be a little more precise on things, but that’s the way it always is with this stuff:

The Shootout at the Knudsen Farm (Youtube Version)

The Shootout at the Knudsen Farm (Vimeo Version)

If you want to go back to my old blogs on the scenes in Mammoth, Ca then go here:

Ride the High Country #1

Ride the High Country #2

The music sampled from in the video is called Peaceful Desolation.