January 31, 2003


'A Painted House' Joins List of Arkansas-Filmed Movies
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By Craig Ogilvie, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

Now that filming for a movie based on John Grisham's novel, "A Painted House," is complete, movie buffs might be surprised to learn that quaint scenes of Lepanto, Ark. are not the same ones that inspired Grisham. While "A Painted House," published in 2001, was inspired by Grisham's childhood in northeast Arkansas, Lepanto, which has slightly more than 2,100 residents, actually served as a "stand-in" for its neighbor 20 miles to the north and the hometown mentioned the book, Black Oak.

According to the production company, the Hallmark Hall of Fame television movie will debut in the spring of 2003. Additional filming was staged in Clarkedale, a community just north of Marion in Crittenden County.

This latest movie is not the first Grisham-based film shot in Arkansas. West Memphis, Marion, Hughes and nearby rural areas have been featured in "The Firm," shot in 1992, and "The Client," shot in 1993.

Earle and West Memphis were also used in 1995 as locations for "A Family Thing," which starred James Earl Jones and Robert Duvall.

The Hallmark production is the latest in a long list of Arkansas-made movies that date to the silent-film era. In fact, Arkansas scenes have appeared in about 70 motion picture films since 1939.

Among the earliest movies shot in the state was a 1915 silent film depicting the life and death of Civil War spy David O. Dodd. The "one-reeler" was reportedly filmed in and around Little Rock, then shown in a few Arkansas towns. All copies of the movie have been lost.

The first full-length and "talkie" movie filmed in the state was "Hallelujah," made in 1929. It was shot in eastern Arkansas for MGM at a reported cost of $600,000. Featuring an all-black cast, it was a hit with critics, but did not fare well at the box-office.

Perhaps the most memorable moment in Arkansas movie history actually lasted only a few seconds on the screen. During the opening credits of "Gone with the Wind," the Old Mill in North Little Rock appears as one of the "mood scenes" leading into the all-time Hollywood classic. The Old Mill, one of only a few surviving places shown in the movie, remains a focal point of the Lakewood residential area and a popular place to visit and photograph.

Many of the scenes filmed in Arkansas have been in public places that visitors enjoy daily for their scenic beauty, historical significance or natural charm. A few examples include:

"Crisis at Central High," a made-for-television movie about a teacher at the Little Rock high school during the 1957 desegregation struggle. Joanne Woodward received an Emmy nomination for the film, which was shot during the summer of 1980. Today, Central High is a National Historic Site and has an informative visitors center.

"A Face in the Crowd," which was partially filmed in Piggott, included colorful downtown scenes from the 1950s era and served as the movie debut for Andy Griffith and Lee Remick. An exhibit of petrified trees from a nearby farm has replaced the courthouse lawn whittlers, depicted in the 1955 Warner Brothers production.

A few movies filmed in the 1970s displayed some beautiful Arkansas scenery, but failed to win critical acclaim. "The Bootleggers," which starred actor Slim Pickens, was filmed in Stone, Searcy and Izard counties in 1973. It also featured Jaclyn Smith, who later became one of "Charlie's Angels" on a hit television show.

"The Bootleggers" included several scenes of Calico Rock's unique Main Street, plus the Sylamore Swinging Bridge, the Old Mill at Mountain View and the historic Gilbert General Store. Also, during the filming the cast and crew stayed at the newly opened Ozark Folk Center State Park Lodge at Mountain View. The park will celebrate its 30th season in 2003.

"Wishbone Cutter" featured scenic photography along the Buffalo National River and starred Joe Don Baker and Sondra Locke. Filmed in 1976 and billed as a "witchcraft Western," the movie was not well received by critics. However, the wonders of the Buffalo River continued to lure thousands of visitors each year. Canoeing, hiking, camping and nature watching are among the most popular activities along America's first federally protected stream.

It was reported that more than 5,000 machine-gun blasts were recorded during the filming of "Bloody Mama," made in 1969 on locations in Yellville, Mountain Home, Scott and Little Rock. Veteran actress Shelley Winters joined a very youthful Robert DeNiro and Bruce Dern in the carnage-filled movie, which debuted in 1970. A Yellville Victorian house and historic downtown business district seen in the movie remain virtually unchanged.

The 1980s brought renewed interest in the Civil War and two miniseries projects to The Natural State. "The Blue and the Gray" was an eight-hour CBS production that premiered in 1982. Filmed almost entirely in northwest Arkansas, many of the scenes were shot in downtown Van Buren, Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park and Fort Smith. City streets were covered with dirt and became versions of Washington D.C., Vicksburg and other prominent Civil War-related cities. Gregory Peck, Stacy Keach, Lloyd Bridges and Paul Winfield were among the stars of the movie, which reportedly cost $13 million to produce. The dirt quickly removed from their streets, Van Buren and Fort Smith have continued to welcome visitors to their historic districts.

"North and South," another Civil War miniseries made for ABC in 1985, was filmed in five Southern states. The Arkansas segments were shot in and around Camden, utilizing the McCollum-Chidester House, which survived the real war, and the old Reader Railroad. Patrick Swayze and Robert Mitchum were among the stars. More than a dozen homes, including the McCollum-Chidester and several other antebellum structures, are part of a historic driving tour of Camden.

"Under Siege," another TV movie, was shot in 1985 in and around Little Rock and included the infamous "bombing" of the State Capitol building. Little Rock was chosen because the Capitol is patterned after the nation's Capitol building in Washington D.C. Other backdrops used in the film included the Interstate 430 bridge, downtown Little Rock and Pinnacle Mountain State Park, which became Camp David during the movie. E.G. Marshall and Hal Holbrook were among the stars.

Fort Chaffee near Fort Smith has been used as a location for three highly acclaimed military dramas. "A Soldier's Story" was partially filmed at the fort and in Clarendon in 1983. "Biloxi Blues" was shot in 1987, with Fort Chaffee and scenes of Van Buren used throughout. And in 1995, "The Tuskegee Airman," an HBO production, was filmed at the old base and at Fort Smith and Van Buren.

Northwest Arkansas was again selected for "Frank and Jesse," a 1994 made-for-television movie about the James brothers of outlaw fame. Van Buren, Winslow, Clifty, Chester and other communities contributed scenery for the shoot-outs depicted in the Western, which starred Rob Lowe, Bill Paxton and Randy Travis. In addition, the Eureka Springs & North Arkansas Railway and the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad supplied vintage trains for the holdup scenes. Both trains continue to provide nostalgic rides to the public.

The Eureka Springs Railway has also been featured in I-MAX productions, along with Blanchard Springs Caverns near Mountain View.

Arkansas native Billy Bob Thornton received an Oscar for his screenplay he also directed, "Sling Blade," which was filmed in the Benton area in 1995. Thornton was also nominated for "best actor" for his work in the film. Another Thornton movie, "Daddy and Them," was filmed in southern Arkansas and released as an HBO movie in 2001.

According to Joe Glass of the Arkansas Film Office, a movie production can have a great and lasting economic impact on a community. More filming may be coming to the Lepanto area due to the recent movie work, including a commercial for an automobile company. A second moviemaker is reportedly surveying the area as well.

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Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, (501) 682-7606
E-mail: [email protected]

May be used without permission. Credit line is appreciated:
"Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism"

Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, 501-682-7606
E-mail: [email protected]

May be used without permission. Credit line is appreciated:
"Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism"