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Seven Memorable Movies Filmed in Sedona Arizona

Updated on June 26, 2019
mactavers profile image

I've lived in Arizona for 68 years (Tucson, Glendale, and Sedona). I love writing about Arizona history, antiques, books, and travel.

A Photo Display at the Sedona Heritage History Museum

A very young John Wayne and Gail Russell in Angel and the Badman.
A very young John Wayne and Gail Russell in Angel and the Badman. | Source

Classic Westerns Filmed in and Around Sedona Arizona

The earliest film of note, filmed in 1923 in Oak Creek Canyon and Sedona was Call of the Canyon and was based upon the novel by Zane Grey. Although Call of the Canyon was silent, the surrounding scenery "spoke" volumes to those who saw the film and it wasn't long until Sedona was being touted as "Little Hollywood" as Western films filmed in Sedona were so popular.

ANGEL AND THE BADMAN: 1947. Republic Films, Black and White, staring John Wayne, Gail Russell.

Angel and the Badman was John Wayne's first time as the producer of a film, in addition, John Wayne, played Quirt Evans, a gunslinger who is nursed back to health for gunshot wounds by the Worth Quaker family. Gail Russell is Penelope the young daughter of the Quaker family who falls in love with Quirt and who tries to convince him to become a farmer and the Friends Society. Quirt is drawn into a crooked deal and returns to his former ways. Angel and the Badman was not a typical Western film of the times and was not a box office success. Critics dubbed it a romance more than a Western. John Wayne had several comical scenes, including a real classic with a baby, and today's John Wayne fans compare this film to The Quiet Man. Gail Russell is beautiful in this film. Her film career was short lived, as she passed away at age 36. The town scenes were filmed on a Western set in front of Coffee Pot Rock, and the other areas that viewers will recognize include Bell Rock, Courthouse Rock and Slide Rock in Oak Creek Canyon and the Worth family ranch was located in Little Horse Park which since 1957 is called the Chapel area once the Chapel of the Holy Cross was built.. Angel and the Badman was remade for TV in 2009 with Lou Diamond Phillips in the role of Quirt Evans.

BROKEN ARROW: 1950, in Technicolor, starring Jimmy Stewart, Jeff Chandler, and Debra Paget *Nominated for 3 Oscars

The story is based on the true life story of US Army Captain and Indian Scout Tom Jeffords during the Apache Wars in the Arizona Territory. Jeffords was in charge of an Overland (Butterfield) mail line, and he had the courage to enter the Stronghold of the Chiricahua Apache to convince the Chief Cochise to allow the mail riders to pass through Apache territory unharmed. Jeffords, acting on the authority of Army General O.O. Howard, convinced the tribe to sign a peace treaty which would allow the Chiricahuas to remain on and to keep their land. The treaty was signed in 1872, but unfortunately the treaty was broken and the Apache Wars continued until 1875 when Geronimo, the chief of the San Carlos Apaches, was captured. The film was groundbreaking because instead of portraying the Indians as savages, it attempted to portray Cochise as an honorable man trying to preserve the Chiicahua way of life. Jimmy Stewart played Tom Jeffords, Jeff Chandler played Chief Cochise and was nominated for an Oscar. Debra Paget played the Apache maiden who married Tom Jeffords. The marriage was a Hollywood fiction, as was the Sedona setting, since the actual Cochise Stronghold is in the Dragoon Mountains in Southern Arizona. The Technicolor color is wonderful, and a number of Sedona's Red Rock formations such as Schnebly Hill Road, Merry Go Round Rock, Bell Rock, Red Rock Crossing, Little Horse Park (Now Chapel area), are easy to identify. Following the success of the film, a 72 episode Broken Arrow TV series was made, and a hiking trail named Broken Arrow in honor of the movie is a popular trail in Sedona.

JOHNNY GUITAR: 1954, Republic Films, Trucolor, starring Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden, Mercedes McCambridge and Ward Bond.

A Western drama, that featured a power struggle between the cattlemen and the railroad, but more unusual was the power struggle between Vienna, played by Joan Crawford, a saloon owner where "undesirables" hung out, and Emma Small, played by Mercedes McCambridge who was trying to force Vienna out of town. Fighting, a bank robbery, and a lynch mob during the story were Western film "standards." The events forced a final showdown-shootout between the two women. The best story is the events that took place between Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge during the filming. Both actresses were drinking heavily during the filming, and there was "bad blood" because Mercedes believed that the director was having an affair with Crawford. Crawford's husband was said to have dated Mercedes. Eventually, in a drunken rage, Crawford threw Mercedes's costumes into the street. The director called it a "dream situation" because the looks of hate and body language between the two women was real. In 1954, while not a smash hit, Johnny Guitar was a box office success. Years later, director Martin Scorsese said, "Johnny Guitar is an example of a minor film grown to achieve the status of a classic. There is really no other film like it." Today Rotten Tomatoes gives Johnny Guitar a 5 star rotten rating, but an overall fan rating is 85% approval. The story was eventually made into a Broadway musical.

THE ROUNDERS: 1965, Metro Golden Mayer starring, Glenn Ford, Henry Fonda, Sue Ann Langdon and Hope Holiday, Western/Comedy in Metrocolor

Two ageing bronc buster cowboys, Glenn Ford as Ben Jones and Henry Fonda as "Howdy" try to earn some quick money breaking horses for the boss man played by Chill Wills. Instead of wages, they opt to take Son of a Buck, an old bucking bronco, to a rodeo where they plan to bet against any cowboy being able to ride him. The bronc busting scenes occur in the current area of the Village of Oak Creek. Lots of comedy occurs when Ben and Howdy visit two sisters whose pappy makes fine moonshine. The sisters go skinny dipping with Ben and Howdy, and Ben and Howdy take them along to the rodeo. A classic line used by both Ben and Howdy during the film is "Whatever suits you-tickles us plum to death" Metro Golden Mayer released The Rounders as a second billing film which meant it was intended to play second during a double-feature, but TMC Classic film critics call The Rounders what we would call a "sleeper" today and if The Rounders would have had the right advertising, it would have been a box office hit.

Scene from the Rounders. Glenn Ford and Henry Fonda. Bell Rock in Background

Photo taken of a film display at the Sedona Heritage Museum.
Photo taken of a film display at the Sedona Heritage Museum. | Source

Some Memorable Really Bad Movies Filmed in Sedona

STAY AWAY JOE: 1968, Metro Golden Mayer, staring Elvis Presley, Burgess Meridith, Katy Jardo, Joan Blondell, Quentin Dean

Based upon a book by Dan Cushman that was intended as a comical farce, Stay Away Joe was panned as an embarrassing, tasteless, forced slapstick comedy that was offensive to Native Americans. Elvis played Joe High Cloud a good looking rodeo rider who returns home. His father, played by Burgess Meridth, is supposed to be a Navajo living in an ancestral tee pee. (No matter that ancestral Navajos lived in hogans.) Katy Jardo played the step-mother of Elvis who lived in an interesting tar paper shabby house. Joan Blondell played a bar owner with the hots for Elvis, but his interest was in her 19 year old daughter played by Quentin Dean. The plot, if there is one, is for Joe to earn money by encouraging a prize bull to do his thing. Meanwhile Elvis sings less than memorable songs, fights, herds cattle in a convertible, and has scenes with Quentin Dean. The only notable thing during the filming was that Prescilla Presley and the other wives of Elvis'es entourage came to Sedona for part of the shoot which was unusual. As an Elvis fan, I admit that he was looking fine in Western wear, but even that doesn't save this dumb and offensive movie.

THE KINGDOM of THE SPIDERS: 1977, Si-Fi Cult Classic, horror film, Dimension Films, starring William Shatner, Tiffany Boling and Woody Strode.

Filmed in Sedona, Oak Creek Canyon and Camp Verde in the Verde Valley. Dr. Rack Hansen, played by William Shatner, a veterinarian, is called to determine the cause of a death in a prize calf. A lab determines the death was caused by spider venom, and Diane Ashley an archaeologist, played by Tiffany Boling is called in for advice. She believes the spiders (tarantulas) are attacking because their natural food sources are being eradicated by pesticides. The tarantulas continue to attack animals and people by wrapping them in a giant cocoon before injecting them with venom. Many people still living in the area worked as extras and remember the excitement when the film crew brought in 5,000 tarantulas. Since tarantulas are shy, streams of air were required to move them forward toward people. The acting and the attacks are so bad that the film makes most people laugh and the film is considered a cult classic.

Kingdom of the Spiders So Bad it's a Cult Favorite

Cover of my Kingdom of the Spiders DVD
Cover of my Kingdom of the Spiders DVD | Source

Viewers Can't Decide

SEDONA the Movie: 2011, PASIDG Productions, staring Francis Fisher, Tommy Stovall, Seth Peterson, Beth Grant, Barry Cobin

This movie genre was alternatively classified as a New Age, an adventure, a comedy, or a drama depending on the viewer or critic. The premise is that two stressed out people, (unrelated) one a lawyer and the other an advertising executive, experience a life changing day in "mystical" Sedona, because "Sedona is where you will find your truth." One thing is certain and agreed upon; the cinematography of the red rock formations and locations in Sedona is beautiful. The character of Deb Lovejoy as the new age manicurist would have been better if the real Deb Lovejoy manicurist had played herself. The reviews of Sedona the Movie ranged from one star to five stars. Most movie goers who live in Sedona went to see the film, as other than commercials, Sedona the Movie was the first full length movie filmed here in a long time. In my opinion only, the red rocks are the real stars of this film.

Which is your favorite movie filmed in Sedona?

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Promotional Postcard Mailed to Sedona Residents Before the Movie Opened


© 2018 mactavers


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    • Mark Tulin profile image

      Mark Tulin 

      24 months ago from Santa Barbara, California

      Great article on Sedona and movies. One of my favorite places to visit and I could see why so many Westerns were shot there.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      2 years ago

      At any rate Tucson and Sedona had good runs.

    • mactavers profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago

      I grew up in Tucson in a time where many Westerns were filmed at Old Tucson Studios, including episodes of Little House on the Prairie and High Chaparral and other TV series. Then when the original Old Tucson burned, it became a theme park with rides and outside of a few commercials, I don't think any Westerns are being filmed there either.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      2 years ago

      The movement of the filming location for Westerns over the years would seem an interesting topic.

    • mactavers profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago

      Sad to say, I don't think that there has been any feature films made for awhile, but tons of commercials are still filmed here.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      2 years ago

      Do they still make film in the Sedona area, or is that just a part of Sedona's past?


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