About 150 people turned out for the 50th anniversary screening of the western film classic Ride the High Country held at the Saturday night.
Presented by the Cultural Arts Council (CAC), the film was directed by Sam Peckinpah and produced by Richard E. Lyons.
Lyon’s son, David Lyons and David Weddle, an author, screenwriter and television producer who wrote a documentary on Peckinpah’s life, introduced the film.
Lyons, who runs CommCinema, an outdoor movie screening company, worked with the CAC last year to present a small screening of Casablanca on the Reyes Adobe grounds. For the anniversary of Ride the High Country, he approached the council about doing this year’s presentation.
“The film deserves to be shown to an audience like yourselves in this environment,” Lyons said as he took the stage. “Hopefully, this is kind of a prelude to some more events where we celebrate local Ventura County film-makers.”
Before he showed a slideshow of photos taken during the filming of Ride the High Country, Lyons gave a nod to his own son, who was in attendance.
“My family’s been living in this area since 1975," he said. "I don’t plan to leave it. Hopefully my son will keep living in Calabasas and in 25 years, hopefully, he’ll take this mic and show this movie again.”
Ride the High Country was shot over the course of 24 days on an $800,000 budget in the Agoura Hills area, at Bronson Canyon in Hollywood and in Malibu, Lyons said.
The film was originally commissioned to be the second of a double feature and got very little advance coverage before its opening. However, after it premiered, New York critics called the film a “minor masterpiece,” and that helped catapult it from "B" feature status to international fame, notably beating Federico Fellini’s masterpiece 8½ to take the grand prize at the Belgium International Film Festival in 1963.
Starring then-Thousand Oaks resident Joel McCrea, Randolph Scott and Mariette Hartley, Ride the High Country is the story of two aging lawmen who are struggling to adapt to the changing times.
The situation of the main characters was an allegory to Americans during the time period it was filmed, Weddle said.
“This is the year of the Bay of Pigs, this is the year that Vietnam was gearing up, from 16,000 advisers to 50,000 advisers. It’s the year of [the books] One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Catch 22. America is going into the greatest social upheaval since the Civil War,” he said.
The film illustrates the struggle that Americans felt during the post-World War II transition, Weddle said.
“The film is about what America had been and what America is becoming, the values it had and how those were changing, how America was going through a much more turbulent, troubled time where right and wrong were not as easy to delineate. It was a change in the whole American psyche,” he said
Fifty years later, the film is still just as relevant to today’s world, he said.
“Think about political and social debates that go on today between red states and blue states, how people like to draw lines in the sand for what’s right and what’s wrong. How there’s no middle ground in between, no ambiguity,” Weddle said. “This movie is about how it’s more complicated than that.”
Weddle said that the characters in Ride the High Country struggle with the same questions that led the United States to a recession today.
“The moral dilemma in [the film] is about grabbing a bunch of money because you can and who cares? It’s the bank's money, it’s not people’s money," Weddle said. "It speaks right to the soul of the American struggle right today.... Is it okay to just grab money because everyone’s a thief anyway, or is it important to follow some inner moral guidline?”
Zack Miller, recreation manager for the City of Agoura Hills, called the night a success.
“We’re very happy that we have a direct tie to the people who made the film here tonight, in addition to our local business and brewery, , which is here selling beer,” Miller said. "This is a great way to bring together the community, business and film lovers."
Miller said he was also happy that the film was screened at the Reyes Adobe.
“As far as venues in Agoura Hills, we don’t think it gets much better from our perspective than the adobe for this sort of thing,” he said. “This area traditionally has been about western motion pictures, with Paramount [ranch] being so close, and , as well as the over 150 years of the adobe history. It just seems right having it here."
Miller said the CAC hopes to continue to screen films at this historic location.
“Our Cultural Arts Council is looking to do a film society that will highlight films that wouldn’t normally be shown in bigger theaters or aren’t mainstream,” Miller said. “Their goal is to take this model and reproduce it multiple times throughout the course of the year. So we’re looking forward to that.”
(If you are interested in being involved in the film society, visit 91301.org for more information.)
Laurie Gimbrel, who saw a flier for the event when she was walking her dog in the park a couple days before, was in the audience with her husband.
“We love old movies," Gimbrel said. “You see movies today that are really edgy and you don’t know what’s going to happen in them, but these, not that they’re predictable, but they just have a comfortable, easy feeling that we grew up with.”