I'm developing a new feature for True West in 2017. Since so many classic Westerns were filmed over a half century ago, it seems like a good time to go behind the scenes and document how they were made.
When I was recently in Lone Pine, California for the Lone Pine Film Festival, I got a tour of the Alabama Hills with stunt rider and horsewoman, Sylvia Durando, who doubled for the female lead in the Randolph Scott classic Western "Commanche Station" (1960).
The History of A Scene: "Commanche Station" (1960)
The movie opens with an 11-minute-montage-setup with very little dialogue. A loner, Jefferson Cody (Randolph Scott) is moving through the desert landscape with a pack mule. He is soon surrounded by Commanches who he hopes will want the bounty he is packing on the back of his mule. They actually don't and take him to their chief, and after Scott throws in his Winchester, the Commanches trade the goods for a captive white woman, Nancy Lowe (Nancy Gates), they have been holding. He puts her on the pack mule and the two ride quickly out of the stronghold and make their way towards Lordsburg, and safety. Their flight makes up the heart of the story. Sylvia Durando doubled for the female lead, Nancy Gates, and here we see Sylvia, doubling for Gates, riding through the Alabama Hills in August of 1959 when the movie was filmed.
Sylvia also had this to say about the riding gear, "The mule did not have a bit in her mouth, just a halter with a frayed rope so I asked for a wire or light reins be attached to the halter just in case the rope were to break or if the rope should get dropped. The wrangler fixed it up for me. I was sitting upon a packed pack saddle, no stirrups for my feet and only the wooden forks of the pack saddle to hang on to."
Here is a still from the movie that shows Sylvia full face to the camera. Evidently the PR department thought she looked enough like the star that no one would notice:
And here's another shot of Sylvia on location taken just before the water trough sequence: