Contains the quintessential scene of a cowboy riding hell-bent-for-leather toward the camera, firing his Colt revolver as he comes. Each shot he fires creates a large cloud of gunsmoke because of the historically correct black powder in the cartridges, and one such cloud completely obscures him until, a second later, he rides right through it and into view again.
Joel McCrea was originally cast as Westrum and Randolph Scott was Judd. But early in the production each actor went to the producer on his own, dissatisfied and ready to quit, so the roles were reversed.
According to David Weddle's book on Sam Peckinpah, "If They Move, Kill 'Em!', four days into shooting, a snowstorm on the original Inyo National Forest location forced the entire cast and crew back to Los Angeles to resume shooting the film in the Santa Monica Mountains, which resulted in the soapsuds substitution for real Sierra Nevada snow in the scenes at the Coarsegold mining camp. The substitution not surprisingly irritated Peckinpah immensely, but he pressed on. Despite these problems, the film finished a mere four days over schedule, and only $52,000 over budget.
Sam Peckinpah apparently took an inordinate interest in Mariette Hartley's costume, taking her into the bowels of the MGM costume department to find the right dress, then having the wardrobe department pad it until he thought the chest was sufficiently full. "Sam always liked breasts," Hartley said, adding that by the time he was done she was "literally walking at a tilt."
Sam Peckinpah liked to tease the naive, inexperienced Mariette Hartley. At one point, having been tipped off that Hartley had worn the wrong socks for a scene in which they would not even be seen, Peckinpah pretended to have a major fit, accusing her of ruining the shot. He also kept telling her that if she didn't perform to his liking, he would give her part to Joan Staley, another aspiring young actress of the time. But Hartley took the ribbing good-naturedly and had nothing but admiration and affection for her director.
By most accounts, Sam Peckinpah had not yet developed the difficult behaviour that was to plague his productions in later years. Mariette Hartley did note, however, that on the bus coming down from the Sierras, he started drinking and playing cards. At one point he snapped at her viciously. Having had an alcoholic father, she recognized the behaviour at once but also said it was the only time she was aware that he drank during the production.
The film was shot on various locations in and around Los Angeles, including Malibu Canyon and the Twentieth Century Fox back lot. Smoke from fires raging in Topanga Canyon and Bel Air darkened much of the sky over the area, seriously complicating shooting.
Sam Peckinpah, who tended to edit in his head as he went along, didn't shoot much extra coverage beyond the footage he knew he needed for each scene. After viewing the rushes, MGM management sent him a note: "Who do you think you are, John Ford?"
To emphasize the enmity between the Hammond brothers and the lawmen, Sam Peckinpah kept all the actors playing the mining family away from the others, having them eat by themselves and do everything as a unit. He would continually remind them, "You hate everybody here!"
Many of the actors on well with the director. L.Q. Jones said he and Sam Peckinpah almost came to blows over how to do a scene, but in the end he always realized Peckinpah was right. James Drury said the cast was lucky to have worked with him when "he was a happy man. We knew him at his best and most likeable." Drury also praised him for being "innovative, imaginative, always anxious to work with actors on their characters" without over-directing. And he noted that Peckinpah, Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott had a tremendous amount of respect for each other.
Joel McCrea said that although he got along very well with Sam Peckinpah, he didn't like the way the director treated the crew. Like John Ford, Peckinpah used to berate someone mercilessly if they made a mistake or failed to do what he wanted. Richard Lyons said on this picture, Peckinpah began his practice of firing people for one mistake, such as a young sound boom operator who allowed the boom to creep into the shot. The harsh practice became such a habit that even Peckinpah acknowledged he was prone to it, giving Lyons a photo of himself signed "To Dick Lyons - Get rid of 'em - Sam Peckinpah."
Shooting was completed in less than a month. MGM's chief editor, Margaret Booth, disliked the daily rushes and thought the film would be impossible to cut. But studio production head Sol Siegel had had faith in Sam Peckinpah and offered him the rare chance to make the first cut on the picture. Peckinpah went into intense editing sessions with veteran editor Frank Santillo, who Richard Lyons said taught the director about editing. Santillo, however, also spoke of how impressed he was with Peckinpah's ideas and changes, bringing out character nuances and other hidden potentials by substituting different shots, trimming and refining. But before they could complete the cut, things took a downward turn.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
In the original script, Randolph Scott's character doesn't survive the climatic shoot-out but Joel McCrea's does. During Sam Peckinpah's rewrite, he felt it more poignant that the Gil Westrum character (played by Scott) is redeemed by promising the dying Judd that he will deliver the gold, so the characters' outcome were reversed.