When Hollywood Came to Utah: Utah in Film

This book review is part of the 2021 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge hosted by Raquel Stecher’s Out of the Past blog. Click here for a list of the classic film books I am reviewing this summer and here for a list of the reviews from others written so far.

Ever since the silent era, Hollywood filmmakers have traveled all around the world seeking realistic and exotic locations to shoot their films. During the classic era, Utah became one of the more frequent locals outside of California that Hollywood films used. Boasting desert locals in the southern part of the state, snow-tipped mountains in the north, and stunning red rock in Zion, Bryce, and Arches National Parks, Utah provides a plethora of locations used to recreate the wild west or to stand in for ancient Israel or desert planets.

In When Hollywood Came to Utah, James D’Arc details the history of filmmakers coming to the state to shoot hundreds of pictures, including such classics as Stagecoach and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. D’Arc uses his decades of experience as a film archivist in the state to inform his research of numerous firsthand accounts from the stars, crew, and Utah locals who worked on hundreds of Hollywood films. Perhaps my favorite nugget from the book was the story behind how Raoul Walsh got his famous eye patch during the filming of 1929’s In Old Arizona when a jackrabbit bolted through his windshield, sending shards of glass into his eye.

A picture of a page in the When Hollywood Came to Town that features vintage film posters, behind the scene photographs, and publicity stills.

The whole book is littered with vintage film posters, behind the scene photographs, and publicity stills.

The book’s chapters each focus on the history of filmmaking in one county and the films shot in the county. While this structure may be a bit confusing for anyone unfamiliar with Utah geography, this regional approach keeps films shot in the same location together and allows you to see which filmmakers enjoyed coming back to the same locations over and over again. Many of John Ford’s classic Westerns shot in Monument Valley can all be found in the chapter on San Juan Valley County while many of Robert Redford’s films are neatly packaged near the end of the chapter covering Washington County.

In the book’s appendix lies a valuable, comprehensive filmography that lists every film and TV series shot on location in Utah. Starting from 1913 and kept up-to-date through 2018, this filmography is a dream for researchers and film nerds, listing specific locations and whether the film’s primary location was Utah or somewhere else.

The book’s second edition, released in 2019 nine years after the first edition, brings to life the colorful history covered by D’Arc. Packed full of hundreds of lush film posters, behind the scene snapshots, and iconic film stills of Utah locations, the book would make a great addition to any film lover’s coffee table. I highly recommend the book for any classic Western fan who can learn about the interesting production history of some of their favorite Westerns and find dozens of lesser-known, smaller Westerns shot in the state. Anyone who loves classic film and is familiar with Utah would also enjoy learning about how Utah became the favorite location of numerous filmmakers.

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