- The Hanging Tree, directed by Delmer Daves, is a notable Western movie due to its effective setting and visuals, which portray the beauty of the Pacific Northwest and the Rocky Mountains.
- Filmed in locations such as Nile, Yakima, and Goose Prairie in Washington, the movie successfully captures the untamed brush and greenery that convincingly double for the undeveloped wilderness of Montana.
- The simplified appearance of the backwoods towns and the majestic mountains in the opening scene of The Hanging Tree set the stage for a classic Western movie.
The 1959 American Western movie The Hanging Tree was filmed in multiple locations, which helped build an effective setting. Based on the novelette by Dorothy M. Johnson and directed by Delmer Daves, the movie follows John Frail (Gary Cooper), a doctor who comes to town in order to escape his dark past and make a new life. The messy storyline also includes Swiss immigrant Elizabeth Mahler (Maria Schell), a victim of a stagecoach robbery who goes blind and falls for Frail. The Hanging Tree holds a respectable 72% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes over 60 years later, proving the movie’s lasting impact.
Delmer Daves is considered one of the best Western movie directors of all time, so it’s unsurprising that this movie gained notoriety. One of the reasons this movie has remained a staple in the Western movie genre is the incredible setting that Daves had built for the production. While The Hanging Tree was not filmed in Montana, where it takes place, the visuals paint a picture of the Pacific Northwest and the Rocky Mountains, beautiful areas of the United States that have a rich gold mining history.
In The Hanging Tree, the characters Elizabeth, Rune (Ben Piazza), and Frenchy (Karl Malden) team up to buy a claim and a sluice so that they can get rich as prospectors. Scenes approximately two-thirds of the way through the movie 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 doubles for the undeveloped wilderness of Montana. Additionally, the nondescript appearance allows The Hanging Tree to focus on the emotional arcs of the characters.
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 the majority of The Hanging Tree in Yakima, Washington. Since both Washington and Montana exist in the same region, it wasn’t extremely obvious 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.
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 in order 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, which have the simplified appearance of backwoods towns.