Probably a biggest western Henry Hathaway
directed during the 60's, outside of How The West Was Won(and not forgetting True Grit), this is strangely
ignored in surveys of both his output and outdoor shows of the time. Location
stuff looks stringent. Did actors realize what they were letting selves in for?
Arthur Kennedy, then in 50's, had to wade through swamp water, then sink face-up
below muck. Others, in fact all others, suffer as much. I don't know when I've
seen so many name players put to such physical discomfort. Hathaway was a known
martinet, would not abide sissies or fraidy cats, so imaginehim cussing a cast
reluctant to go head first in mud. This may have been the last Truly Hard Man
directing movies. That he wouldn't stand misbehavior from any star stood
Hathaway in unique stead. He would literally fight an actor rather than give in
to him. I might have assumed Hathaway would clash with Steve McQueen, but
Marshall Terrill's McQueen bio says they got along, but only after HH read the
"riot act" to his star. Nevada Smith would come at breakout point
for McQueen as a truly giant star. From here, he'd be offered every
worthwhile part for a lead man, virtually all others a second or less choice.
Nevada Smith is long, episodic, studded with
character faces in and out as McQueen seeks revenge on a trio that
killed his parents. Parts notshot in swamps were done at Lone Pine, by far a
lion's share of the film set outdoors. Hathaway was one veteran who'd speed up
rather than slow down with age. I doubt there was any elder helmsman that so
consistently chose tough way of shooting, for which Nevada Smith,
whatever its narrative burps, profits nicely. Story was prequel to The
Carpetbaggers, being back story of Alan Ladd's character from the 1964 hit, also
produced by Joseph E. Levine for Paramount release.
This time with less emphasis on sex, Nevada Smith came among last ofestablishment westerns done in the face of Italo-game changers, men like
Hathaway and Hal Wallis (frequent partners) standing tall for cowboys
as traditional-known by US filmmakers. It took Sam Peckinpah and The Wild
Bunch to truly break stateside mold.