AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
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The Plainsman
Director: Cecil B. DeMille (Dir)
Release Date:   1 Jan 1937
Production Date:   Picture started 21 Jul 1936, closed 8 Sep 1936; picture reopened 13 Sep 1936, closed 23 Sep 1936
Duration (in mins):   112-113 or 115
Duration (in feet):   10,154
Duration (in reels):   12
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Cast: Starring Gary Cooper (Wild Bill Hickok)  
  And Jean Arthur (Calamity Jane)  
    James Ellison (Buffalo Bill Cody)  
    Charles Bickford (John Lattimer)  
    Helen Burgess (Louisa Cody)  
    Porter Hall (Jack McCall)  
    Paul Harvey (Yellow Hand)  
    Victor Varconi (Painted Horse)  
    John Miljan (General George A. Custer)  
    Frank McGlynn Sr. (Abraham Lincoln)  
    Granville Bates (Van Ellyn)  
    Frank Albertson (A young trooper)  
    Purnell Pratt (Captain Wood)  
    Fred Kohler (Jake, a teamster)  
    Pat Moriarty (Sergeant McGinnis)  
    Charles Judels (Tony, the barber)  
    Harry Woods (Quartermaster sergeant)  
    Anthony Quinn (A Cheyenne indian)  
    Francis McDonald (A river gambler)  
    George Ernest (A boy)  
    George MacQuarrie (General Merritt)  
    George Hayes (Breezy)  
    Fuzzy Knight (Dave)  
    Irene Bennett (Girl)  
    Louise Stuart (Girl)  
    Gail Sheridan (Girl)  
    George Sparks (Boy)  
    Curtis Nero (Roustabout)  
    Billy McClain (Old servant)  
    Arthur Singley (First man)  
    Bud Flanagan (Second man)  
    Ralph Malone (Third man)  
    E. W. Borman (Bartender)  
    Walter McGrail (First gambler)  
    Wilbur Mack (Second gambler)  
    Max Davidson (Third gambler/Banker)  
    Buck Connors (Old timer)  
    Oscar Rudolph (Younger man)  
    Philo McCullough (Stagecoach guard)  
    Jack Clifford (Orderly)  
    Frank Layton (Adjutant)  
    Noble Johnson (First Indian with painted horse)  
    Sonny Chorre (Second Indian)  
    Richard Robles (Third Indian)  
    Greg Whitespear (Fourth Indian)  
    Chief Thundercloud (Fifth Indian)  
    Clay Deroy (Sixth Indian)  
    Wesley Giraud (Young bugler)  
    Chuck Hamilton (Trooper)  
    Hank Bell (Trooper)  
    Lane Chandler (Trooper)  
    Myron Geiger (Trooper)  
    Bob Burns (Trooper)  
    Duke Lee (Trooper)  
    Jack Walters (Trooper)  
    Frank Watson (Trooper)  
    Kenneth Gibson (Trooper)  
    Ben F. Hendricks (Trooper)  
    James Baker (Trooper)  
    Kenny Cooper (Trooper)  
    Cecil Kellogg (Trooper)  
    Whitey Severn (Trooper)  
    Ervey Collins (Trooper)  
    Frank Cordell (Trooper)  
    John Eckert (Trooper)  
    Lloyd Saunders (Trooper)  
    Al Burk (Trooper)  
    Slim Hightower (Trooper)  
    Jimmy Phillips (Trooper)  
    Captain William H. Royal (Corporal Brannigan)  
    Ted Oliver (First teamster)  
    James Mason (Second teamster)  
    Richard Alexander (Third teamster)  
    David Clyde (Second miner)  
    Hooper Atchley (Captain)  
    Robert Wilber (First cavalry private)  
    Bud Osborne (Second cavalry private)  
    Francis Sayles (Man on Deadwood Street)  
    Franklyn Farnum (Man on Deadwood Street)  
    Don Rowan (Man on Deadwood Street)  
    Earl Askam (Tim)  
    Stanley Andrews    
    Sherwood Bailey    
    Edgar Deering    
    Edwin Maxwell    
    Bruce Warren    
    Mark Strong    
    P. E. "Tiny" Newland    
    Sidney D'Albrook    
    Ed Schaefer    
    Bob Ellsworth    
    Nelson McDowell    
    Marty Joyce    
    Blackjack Ward    
    Jess Caven    
    Jane Keckley    
    Cora Shumway    
    Everett Brown    
    Louis Natheaux    
    Colin Chase    
    Jack Fife    
    Bud Fine    
    Blue Washington    
    Charles Stevens (Charley)  
    James Mason (Card player who removes gloves)  

Summary: At the close of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln is assassinated in the East while General George Custer fights the Indians in the West. As John Lattimer arrives in Leavenworth, Missouri, to sell seven-shot rifles to the Indians, Buffalo Bill Cody and his new wife Louisa are reunited with Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. Following the massacre of half the garrison at Fort Piney by thousands of Sioux Indians, General Custer orders Cody to take ammunition to the fort, while Hickok goes after their chief, Yellow Hand. As Louisa confesses her pregnancy to Jane, Cheyenne Indians attack the Cody home and Jane is taken to the Cheyenne camp, where the Indians threaten to kill Hickok unless she tells them Cody's whereabouts. Jane, in love with Hickok, saves his life, but sacrifices Cody's men, who are ambushed by Cheyenne using Lattimer's rifles. As Hickok makes his way to the front, he sends Jane to alert Custer. Cody and Hickok, along with what is left of the men at Fort Piney, defend themselves against the Indians. As the fort's bugler dies, Custer's bugle is heard in the distance and the Indians retreat. Back in town, Hickok challenges John Lattimer to a draw, but is forced to kill three of Lattimer's men, former soldiers, instead. After Hickok follows Lattimer into the Black Hills, Custer orders Cody to bring him Hickok dead or alive for murdering soldiers. Weeks later, as Cody tracks Hickok, a lone Cheyenne Indian, carrying the U.S. 7th Cavalry's flag, tells of Custer's defeat. Meanwhile, Yellow Hand and Sitting Bull plot to extinguish the white man using Lattimer's rifles as Hickok and Cody meet in Deadwood to the stop Lattimer's shipment. There Hickok shoots Lattimer dead in self-defense and rounds up his co-conspirators in the Bella Union saloon, where they play poker. As Hickok plays his hand of black aces and eights, Jack McCall, who had earlier warned Lattimer about Hickok, shoots him in the back, killing him. McCall is then arrested by Merritt and Cody's troopers, and Merritt exonerates Cody. Calamity kisses the dead Hickok, saying, "That's one kiss you won't wipe off."  

Production Company: Paramount Pictures, Inc.  
Production Text: A Cecil B. DeMille Production
Distribution Company: Paramount Pictures, Inc.  
Director: Cecil B. DeMille (Dir)
  Arthur Rosson (Assoc dir)
  Richard Harlan (Asst dir)
  Edwin Maxwell (Dial supv)
Producer: Adolph Zukor (Pres)
  Cecil B. DeMille (Prod)
  William LeBaron (Exec prod)
Writer: Waldemar Young (Scr)
  Harold Lamb (Scr)
  Lynn Riggs (Scr)
  Jeanie Macpherson (Material comp)
  Grover Jones (Contr to scr const)
  Wallace Smith (Additional writing, uncredited)
  Stuart Anthony (Additional writing, uncredited)
  Virginia Van Upp (Additional writing, uncredited)
Photography: Victor Milner (Photog)
  George Robinson (Photog)
Art Direction: Hans Dreier (Art dir)
  Roland Anderson (Art dir)
Film Editor: Anne Bauchens (Ed)
Set Decoration: A. E. Freudeman (Int dec)
Costumes: Visart (Cost des)
  Dwight Franklin (Cost des)
  Joe DeYong (Cost des)
Music: Boris Morros (Mus dir)
  George Antheil (Orig mus by)
Sound: Harry Lindgren (Sd rec)
  Louis Mesenkop (Sd rec)
Special Effects: Farciot Edouart (Spec photog eff)
  Dewey Wrigley (Spec photog eff)
  Gordon Jennings (Spec photog eff)
Stand In: John Eckert (Stunt doubles)
  Lloyd Sanders (Stunt doubles)
  Al Burk (Stunt doubles)
  Slim Hightower (Stunt doubles)
  Jimmy Phillips (Stunt doubles)
Country: United States
Language: English

Source Text: Based on stories by Courtney Ryley Cooper and the novel Wild Bill Hickok, the Prince of the Pistoleers by Frank J. Wilstach (Garden City, NY, 1934).
Authors: Courtney Ryley Cooper
  Frank J. Wilstach

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number Passed By NBR:
Paramount Pictures, Inc. 1/1/1937 dd/mm/yyyy LP6847 Yes

PCA NO: 2597
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Noiseless Recording

Genre: Western
Sub-Genre: Historical
Subjects (Major): Calamity Jane
  Cheyenne Indians
  Buffalo Bill Cody
  Dakota Indians
  General George Armstrong Custer
  Wild Bill Hickok
  Little Big Horn, Battle of the, 1876
  Scouts (Frontier)
  Sitting Bull
  United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865
Subjects (Minor): Black Hills (SD and WY)
  Deadwood (SD)
  Abraham Lincoln
  Poker (Game)
  St. Louis (MO)
  United States. Army. Cavalry
  Chief Yellow Hand

Note: The ending of the film following the poker game was missing from the viewed print. The conclusion of the plot summary was taken from the release dialogue script found in the Paramount Script Collection at the AMPAS Library. The film's opening narration states, "Among the men who thrust forward America's frontier were Wild Bill Hickok and Buffalo Bill Cody. The story that follows compresses many years, many lives, and widely separated events into one narrative--in an attempt to do justice to the courage of the plainsman of the West." The closing narration states: "It shall be as it was in the past.../Not with dreams,/but with strength and with courage/Shall a nation be molded to last." Wild Bill Hickok's well-deserved reputation as a gunfighter was established in an interview with Colonel George Ward Nichols published in Harper's New Monthly Magazine in 1867. Hickok was a good shot and probably killed at least seven men. He was a scout in the Union Army during the Civil War and after the war, he became a marshal in Hays City, KS, and then in Abilene, KS. He appeared in a play with Buffalo Bill Cody in 1873, and in 1876, Hickok was shot in the back by Jack McCall during a poker game in Deadwood, Dakota Territory. For more biographical information about Buffalo Bill Cody, please see then entry above for Buffalo Bill , and for additional information on General George Armstrong Custer, please consult the entry below for They Died With Their Boots On .
       As reported in DV and HR , shooting on a three-acre set of Deadwood City in 1865 built by Paramount began on 21 Jul 1936. While DeMille directed interiors, he gave instructions to second unit director Arthur Rosson, who was on location, via telephone. DeMille had with him a ten-foot model of Rosson's location scenes, as well as charts marked with every camera set-up. The cavalry sequences were shot with the Wyoming National Guard at Pole Mountain, Wyoming, twenty-one miles east of Laramie. On 17 Jul 1936, HR reported that two guardsmen has been badly hurt the previous day while Rosson was shooting a charge scene. The scene of Custer's massacre was shot on the Cheyenne Indian Reservation at Lame Deer, Montana, where two thousand Indian actors were used as extras. Additional scenes were also shot in Birney, Montana. While location work continued in Montana, one production unit went on location at the Paramount ranch outside Los Angeles on 24 Jul 1936. According to a HR news item on 16 Jul 1936, DeMille engaged actor Edwin Maxwell to serve temporarily as dialogue director. According to modern sources, Paramount studio executives wanted "Wild Bill" to survive the card game shoot-out at the end of the film, but DeMille resisted. Modern sources list the following character names: Edgar Dearing ( A courier from Custer ), Edwin Maxwell ( Stanton, Secretary of War ) and Bruce Warren ( Purser of the "Lizzie Gill" ). Modern sources also add the following names to the cast: Francis Ford, Irving Bacon, John Hyams, Charles Stevens, Arthur Aylesworth, Douglas Wood, George Cleveland, Lona Andre, Leila McIntyre, Harry Stubbs, Davison Clark, Charles W. Hertzinger, William Humphries, Sidney Jarvis, Wadsworth Harris, Tex Driscoll, and Stanhope Wheatcroft. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Film Daily   24 Nov 36   p. 7.
Daily Variety   7 Jul 36   p. 3.
Daily Variety   22 Jul 36   p. 2.
Daily Variety   24 Jul 36   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   1 Jul 36   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   16 Jul 36   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   17 Jul 36   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   20 Jul 36   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Jul 36   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   21 Nov 36   p. 3.
Motion Picture Daily   23 Nov 36   p. 6.
Motion Picture Herald   28 Nov 36   p. 66.
New York Times   14 Jan 37   p. 16.
Variety   20 Jan 37   p. 14.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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