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Ten movies that speak to Utah's history and character

Published August 26, 2011 2:59 pm

Movies • Utah's scenery provides the backdrop for a wealth of stories.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Hollywood has come to Utah many times, seeing the state as the Wild West, a planet where apes evolved from men, and an all-American high school (where the kids sing and dance!).

Making a list of 10 essential Utah films — movies that speak to the state's history and character, as well as its stunning locations — is a matter of eliminating many potential entries. But here goes:

'Brigham Young' (1940)



Director Henry Hathaway turns the story of the Mormon migration to Utah into a rousing adventure, with a love story between Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell, and a cool depiction of the Mormon Cricket infestation. The Salt Lake City sequences were filmed in California, but the trek across Nebraska and Wyoming was shot in southern Utah.

"The Searchers" (1956)

Director John Ford made Monument Valley the symbolic home of the Old West with "Stagecoach" (1939), "My Darling Clementine" (1946) and his Cavalry trilogy — "Fort Apache" (1948), "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" (1949) and "Rio Grande" (1950). But "The Searchers" is the quintessential Western, starring John Wayne as the racist Confederate veteran who must find his niece (Natalie Wood), who has been kidnapped by Comanches.

"The Conquerer" (1956)

John Wayne plays Genghis Khan, and yes, it's as bad as it sounds. The movie has a weird historical postscript, though: During filming around St. George, the cast and crew were exposed to fallout from nuclear testing in Nevada — and some 90 of the 220 people working on the film (including Wayne, Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead and director Dick Powell) were diagnosed with cancer (though many of them, like the Duke, also smoked like chimneys).

"The Greatest Story Ever Told" (1965)

Did you know Jesus was baptized in Lake Powell, delivered the Sermon on the Mount at Canyonlands National Park and was crucified near Kanab? In George Stevens' epic telling of the Gospels, Utah served as the backdrop for Jesus (Max Von Sydow) and an all-star cast.

"Jeremiah Johnson" (1972)

In modern times, Robert Redford has meant more to Utah filmmaking than any other person, starting with "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969) and the Sundance Institute that got its name from that movie. But "Jeremiah Johnson," his collaboration with director Sydney Pollack, may be the toughest movie Redford ever made in Utah — a grim tale of a mountain man who vows vengeance on the Crow Indians who murdered his family.

"Footloose" (1983)

Long before he directed the "High School Musical" trilogy, Kenny Ortega proved Utah could dance when he choreographed director Herbert Ross' pop classic about a rebel (Kevin Bacon) bringing the beat to a straitlaced small town. Filmed around Utah County, with Bacon's signature dance scene shot at the Lehi Roller Mills silo.

"Thelma & Louise" (1991)

They said they were driving through Oklahoma, but really it was Utah — specifically Arches National Park, Monument Valley and other parts of southern Utah — where two angry women (Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis) got back at male authority, committed crimes and led the cops (led by Harvey Keitel) on a chase that ended at the Grand Canyon. (Oh, that scene was filmed in Utah, too.)

"Plan 10 From Outer Space" (1995)

Utah counterculture had its fullest flowering in local maverick Trent Harris' off-the-wall comedy, which puts a sci-fi spin on Utah history and Mormon mythology — as Brigham Young's 28th wife (Karen Black) and her brigade of beehive-headed space aliens wreak havoc on Salt Lake City.

"High School Musical" trilogy (2006, 2007, 2008)

High school is a singing and dancing extravaganza in this popular series of films, all shot in Utah (the first and last in Salt Lake City, the middle one in St. George) and directed by Kenny Ortega. The series made stars out of Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Tisdale, turned East High School into a tourist destination, spawned a cottage industry of Wildcats merchandise and paved the way for "Glee."

"127 Hours" (2010)

Most people heard the story of Aron Ralston, the climber who had to cut off his arm to escape a boulder in a Utah slot canyon, and thought of it as a gruesome tabloid headline. Director Danny Boyle thought it was a compelling drama about human survival, of a man (masterfully played by James Franco) discovering the limits of individualism and the joys of community.

Sean P. Means writes The Cricket in daily blog form at www.sltrib.com/blogs/moviecricket. Contact him via email at movies@sltrib.com. Follow him on Twitter at @moviecricket, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/themoviecricket. —

Going Hollywood

I What essential Utah movies have we missed? For a possible future update of this list, send your suggestions to movies@sltrib.com with the subject line "Essential Utah movies."

 

 

 

 

 

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