The Hanging Tree
Gary Cooper ■ Maria Schell ■ Karl Malden
The story takes place in Skull Creek, an 1870's Montana gold camp. Dr. Joseph Frail (Cooper) arrives, setting out his shingle near the camp's boom-or-bust hubbub of adventurers, ladies of fortune, mountain men and just plain decent folks. As skilled with a six-gun as with a scalpel, Frail will need both. A tragic past shadows his days. The treachery of the mob clouds his future. A determined immigrant (Maria Schell), a shifty-eyed miner (Karl Malden) and a hellfire preacher (debuting George C. Scott) figure prominently in Frail's showdown with fate. Prominent, too, is the breathtaking countryside. Here the mountains are imposing. And a man alone looms ever taller.
I love this movie! Maybe it's because the story is set in gold rush-era Montana, maybe because I have read the short story it is based on, maybe because of the excellent theme song, or maybe the good acting. I'd bet, though, that it is all of those things.
I read the short story, The Hanging Tree, as a teenager because it was written by one of Montana's most well-known authors. Dorothy M. Johnson is also known for having written the stories The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and A Man Called Horse. She is one of the absolute best female western authors.
While the movie doesn't exactly follow the book it is wonderful in it's own right. When I re-read the story it was Gary Cooper's face I saw, he IS Doc Frail.
This is a story of love and redemption set in a dangerous time and in harsh and even hostile environment. Gold rush camps were not easy for men let alone an injured woman.
There is a starkness, a harshness of reality that transfers from the printed page directly onto film. This starkness is a large part of why the book and movie are convincing and well worth the time spent watching. The Hanging Tree is little known and under-appreciated but is very deserving of Classic Movie status.
Note: Again, this movie is a western and has the typical western violence. It is a 1959 movie so the violence is pretty tame and not gory.
Gary Cooper...Dr. Joseph 'Doc' Frail
Maria Schell...Elizabeth Mahler
Karl Malden...Frenchy Plante
George C. Scott...George Grubb
Karl Swenson...Tom Flaunce
Virginia Gregg...Edna Flaunce
John Dierkes...Society Red
Yakima, Washington, USA
1959 Laurel Awards
Golden Laurel Top Action Performance - Gary Cooper
3rd place Golden Laurel Top Male Supporting Performance - Karl Malden
The Hangin' Tree
sung by Marty Robbins
I came to town to search for gold
And I brought with me a memory
And I seem to hear the night wind cry,
"Go hang your dreams on the hangin' tree
Your dreams of love that could never be
Hang your faded dreams on the hangin' tree!"
I searched tor gold and I found my gold
And I found a girl who loved just me
And I wished that I could love her too
But I'd left my heart on the hangin' tree
I'd left my heart with a memory
And a faded dream on the hangin' tree.
Now there were men who craved my gold
And meant to take my gold from me
When a man is gone he needs no gold
So they carried me to the hangin' tree
To join my dreams and a memory
Yes they carried me to the hangin' tree.
To really live you must almost die
And it happened just that way with me
They took the gold and set me free
And I walked away from the hangin' tree
I walked away from the hangin' tree
And my own true love, she walked with me!
That's when I knew that the hangin' tree
Was a tree of life, new life for me
A tree of hope, new hope for me
A tree of love, new love tor me
The hangin' tree, the hangin' tree, the hangin' tree!