The first six sound movies photographed on location in Sedona were produced by the Fox Film Corp. between 1930 and 1933. Last of the Duanes, El último de los Vargas (a Spanish-language version of Duanes simultaneously made by a different cast and crew), Riders of the Purple Sage, Mystery Ranch, Robbers’ Roost and Smoky were all based on popular Western novels, four of them written by Zane Grey. Barrel-chested George O’Brien, the star of F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927), considered one of the greatest films ever to come out of Hollywood, played the leading role in four of the six. All of them should be recognized today as minor classics.
But Fox’s Sedona Westerns rarely have been seen since their initial release and never on television. It was long thought all of the studio’s pre-1935 negatives and protection masters were lost in a July 1937 fire at Twentieth Century–Fox’s Little Ferry, New Jersey, storage vaults. The only existing 35mm prints of four of the titles languished for decades until rescued by producer Alex Gordon when he was assigned by Fox to disperse the contents of its California vaults to various film archives in the 1960s. Today, five of the six films exist in various states of condition, but all of them are difficult to view outside of film-buff circles.
For those of you who’ve not seen these hidden gems if given the chance, you should jump at it – they really are that good. Pictured above is George O’Brien riding onto the Western street Fox built in Sedona in 1930 for Last of the Duanes. Christened “Blandville” after the name of the film’s villain, the set was located east of AZ-179 in the area where Broken Arrow Trail is today, in a red-sandstone-enclosed valley close to Battlement Mesa. The street had several ranch houses with adjacent bunkhouses, a stone store and saloon, a blacksmith shop, a corral, cook houses, and an Indian hogan. A garden was built behind the saloon, with cactuses and other desert plants. Fox reused the set the following year for scenes in Riders of the Purple Sage. Both films were based on bestselling Zane Grey novels.