Where Was the Hanging Tree Filmed? The Western Movie’s Filming Locations Explained

The Hanging Tree is a 1959 Technicolor Western film directed by Delmer Daves and starring Gary Cooper, Maria Schell, Karl Malden, and George C. Scott. The film is based on the 1957 novella of the same name by Dorothy M. Johnson.

While not as popular or acclaimed as other Westerns, The Hanging Tree has developed a cult following over the years. It is noted for its stunning cinematography and theme of redemption. In this article, we’ll look at the key filming locations used in the movie and what they brought to the overall story.

The Hanging Tree was shot in different locations like Nile, Yakima, Goose Prairie in Washington, Sedona, Apple Valley and Wildrose Canyon in Arizona.

1. Nile, Washington

In The Hanging Tree, the characters Elizabeth, Rune (Ben Piazza), and Frenchy (Karl Malden) team up to buy a claim and a sluice to get rich as prospectors. Approximately two-thirds of the movie’s scenes include the trio setting up their mining system before finding a significant amount of gold underneath a large tree stump. All these mining scenes were filmed in Nile, Washington.

The untamed brush and greenery convincingly double for the undeveloped wilderness of Montana. Additionally, the bland appearance allows The Hanging Tree to focus on the characters’ emotional arcs.

Where Was The Hanging Tree Filmed? The Western Movie's Filming Locations Explained
Ben Piazza in The Hanging Tree (1959) | Source: IMDb
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2. Yakima, Washington

The Hanging Tree follows Joseph Frail, a doctor, gambler, and gunslinger, as he rides into Skull Creek, Montana, where he hopes to set up a medical practice. However, Baroda Productions filmed most of The Hanging Tree in Yakima, Washington. Since both Washington and Montana exist in the same region, it wasn’t pronounced that they didn’t film on location in the exact setting.

The trees, mountains, and landscape offer a beautiful backdrop that’s visibly part of the Pacific Northwest. It’s unclear whether the interior shots were also filmed in Yakima.

3. Goose Prairie, Washington

In the first scene of The Hanging Tree, Joseph comes to Skull Creek and saves the injured Rune, who got shot while attempting to steal gold from a sluice. Joseph then forces Rune into servitude to pay back his debt for the medical treatment.

This entire opening sequence was filmed in Goose Prairie, Washington. The mountains immediately set the scene for The Hanging Tree, especially the buildings with the simplified appearance of backwoods towns.

4. Sedona, Arizona

The majority of The Hanging Tree was filmed on location in the Oak Creek Canyon area outside of Sedona, Arizona. Sedona is known for its dramatic red rock formations and mesas, providing an iconic backdrop for a Western film.

Specifically, the production utilized the scenic Holy Cross Mesa, Chicken Point, and the hills around Oak Creek for outdoor scenes. The stunning views of the canyon and Creek are featured prominently throughout the film, with the rocky terrain almost acting as another character in the story.

Familiar Sedona spots like Cathedral Rock can be glimpsed in the background of several shots.

5. Apple Valley, California

Several main street scenes in the frontier town of Skull Creek were filmed on the Allied Artists Ranch in the Apple Valley of California. While Sedona offered the natural scenic backdrop, Apple Valley provided the producers with a practical permanent town set to shoot additional exterior scenes.

This included the exterior of the saloon, bank, and jail. The production utilized sound stages for interior shots at Allied Artists studio in Hollywood.

Interestingly, scenes depicting the Skull Creek townspeople’s homes were filmed at a historic Tucumcari, New Mexico ranch. The relatively untouched nature of the TeePee Ranch provided a window into what actual homesteads of the era resembled. The dwellings there had been constructed in the late 1800s by homesteaders staking claim in the area. This gave the living quarters in Skull Creek an authenticity and lived-in quality that would have been hard to reproduce on a studio set.

Where Was The Hanging Tree Filmed? The Western Movie's Filming Locations Explained
George C. Scott in The Hanging Tree (1959) | Source: IMDb
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6. Wildrose Canyon, California

While much of the filming focused on the natural beauty around Sedona and Apple Valley, the production also shot in Wildrose Canyon within Death Valley National Park for a week.

The harsh, arid environment is featured in scenes with Doc and the town outcast Elizabeth traversing the desert together. Death Valley stood in for the film’s “Dead Man’s Gulch,” an aptly named setting for this bleak portion of Doc and Elizabeth’s journey.

The scenes conveyed a sense of danger and desperation fitting to characters forced to travel through such a remote, barren wasteland.

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7. About The Hanging Tree

The Hanging Tree is a 1959 American Western film directed by Delmer Daves, based on the novelette The Hanging Tree, written by Dorothy M. Johnson in 1957. Karl Malden assumed directing duties for several days when Daves fell ill.

The film stars Gary Cooper, Maria Schell, George C. Scott, and Malden, and it is set in the gold fields of Montana during the gold rush of the 1860s and 1870s. The story follows a doctor who saves a criminal from a lynch mob, then earns the enmity of several prospectors while trying to protect a young woman whom he has nursed back to health after she was injured in a coach robbery

The film represented the first cinematic appearance of George C. Scott.


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