Cast & Crew
William A. Wellman
In 1867, outlaws Dude, Bull Run, Lengthy, Half Pint, Walrus, Jed, and leader James Dawson, who is known as Stretch, rob the bank in Rameyville and are pursued by a cavalry detachment. Jed is killed but the others manage to outride the soldiers. After dividing up their ill-gotten money, the outlaws head away from civilization across desert salt flats. The going is very rough and disputes break out among the men. Severely dehydrated, the outlaws eventually come upon a ghost town called Yellow Sky, where a woman named Mike surprises them and holds them at gunpoint but tells them of a spring nearby. Later, when Stretch tries to enter one of the abandoned houses, Mike again points a rifle at him and forbids him to go in. Stretch removes his gun belt, explaining that they only want to rest the horses for four or five days and that they need food. Stretch knocks Mike's rifle away but she socks him on the jaw, knocking him down. Mike's armed grandfather then emerges from the house and offers food for a night. Stretch warns the others to stay away from the house and from Mike, who he has learned was reared by Apaches. While the men bunk in an old saloon, Dude begins snooping around and Stretch goes looking for him. Stretch encounters Mike and tries to kiss her, but she fights him off, telling him that he smells. Although Dude tells Stretch that the old man has discovered gold nearby, Stretch still intends to move on. The next day, Stretch spruces himself up but discovers that Mike and Grandpa have disappeared into the foothills. After Dude persuades the other men to locate and take the gold, Stretch confronts him about the leadership of the gang. Their argument is interrupted when Mike shoots at Stretch and they realize they are pinned down. Waving a white shirt of surrender, Stretch approaches Mike and Grandpa while the others sneak behind them. Grandpa is shot in the leg and Mike surrenders. Back in the house, Stretch offers to make a deal, and the wounded Grandpa admits they do have gold. Mike is unwilling to give the men anything, but Grandpa suggests they split the $50,000 they have buried in the entrance to an old mine shaft. As Dude has a bad lung, he is assigned to guard Grandpa and Mike while the others start clearing the entrance to the shaft. Later, when Mike goes to the spring for water, Lengthy grabs her, but Bull Run intervenes. As a lesson, Stretch holds Lengthy's head under water for a long time. That night, after Stretch and Mike embrace, Stretch assures Grandpa that they that they will share the gold as promised. While Dude listens at a window, Stretch swears on a Bible that he will honor his part of the deal. Stretch and Mike then reveal their real names and he discovers she is really Constance May. As the men begin to recover the gold from the shaft entrance, they see a large group of Apaches in the distance. The Indians take over the town while the gang remains at the spring. Stretch goes into town to see what is happening and observes several Indians talking with Grandpa and Mike. When questioned, Grandpa claims the Apaches were merely seeking his help in resolving a problem on the reservation, and were unaware of the gang's presence. The next day, Stretch impresses upon the others that Grandpa and Mike must get their full share of the gold. However, Dude convinces the others to refuse the deal and shoots at Stretch, wounding him. Mike comes to Stretch's aid and takes him back to the ranch house. The gold-crazy Dude then tries to trick Stretch by saying he will now honor his deal with Grandpa and Mike. However, Dude draws his gun and starts shooting. Walrus and Bull Run join up with Stretch, but Bull Run is badly injured and dies. Half Pint then throws in with Stretch, who goes after Dude and the injured Lengthy. Dude is loading up his saddle bags with the gold when Stretch catches up with him. After a shootout, Mike finds Dude and Lengthy dead and Stretch wounded. After Stretch recovers, he, Walrus and Half Pint return every cent of the stolen money to the bank in Rameyville. When they return to Mike and Grandpa, Stretch presents Mike with a hat which he bought from a bank customer, and they all ride off together.
William A. Wellman
Frank Cory Jr.
Harry M. Leonard
Darryl F. Zanuck
Yellow Sky - Gregory Peck & Richard Widmark in William A. Wellman's YELLOW SKY on DVD
Yellow Sky reunites Wellman and Ox-Bow Incident producer-writer Lamar Trotti, who adapted W.R. Burnett's novel (apparently unpublished at the time, though it's unclear if Burnett's later The Goldseekers is the book on which this is based or if the touches of Shakespeare's The Tempest come from Burnett or Trotti). Yellow Sky never reaches the grim poetry of their former collaboration, but not many movies do. While that movie succeeds despite its stagebound sets, Yellow Sky makes the most of wonderfully rugged locations. After the colorfully-named gang of thieves robs a bank and eludes a posse by heading into the massive salt flats nearby, you can feel the parched heat that threatens to kill them and their horses (this section was filmed in Death Valley, and it lives up to its name). On the verge of dehydration, the gang (Gregory Peck's Stretch, Richard Widmark's Dude, John Russell's Lengthy, Harry Morgan's Half Pint, Robert Arthur's Bull Run and Charles Kemper's Walrus) stumbles through the salt flats and the nearby desert, bolstered only by the sight of a town in the distance.
The town, Yellow Sky, turns out to be a ghost town, thought empty until they're "greeted" by a rifle-toting young woman, Mike (Ann Baxter, in an atypically feisty performance). Mike makes it clear the men aren't welcome in Yellow Sky. She and her prospector grandfather (James Barton) are the only people left in the mining town that went bust (here's the Tempest similarity), and the situation gets the men to thinking. Not just about Mike's figure, but about what's keeping her and her grandfather sticking around such a God-forsaken place. Gold, perhaps?
Mike and her grandpa try to ride out this little storm, feeding the men and hoping they'll simply be on their way after their horses rest up. But this band of thieves can't help scheming. Stretch isn't the only one eying Mike, but he might be the only one who could care for her, and the two have some tasty confrontations. The first time they're together, he grabs her gun away from her and she slugs him, and when he tries to kiss her the next time, she wrestles him, headbutts him and yells, "You smell!" He then actually shaves and puts on a new shirt, so he must be semi-serious. Dude, meanwhile, a former gambler sidelined by a bullet lodged in one lung, burns with the cold determination of Widmark's strongest characters and is after the gold, with or without Stretch's help.
The other gang members periodically switch allegiances between Stretch and Dude, after the first negotiates to take only half the prospector's gold if he and Mike tell them where it's hidden and the second decides that half simply isn't enough of a haul. While we weigh the sincerity in Stretch, who may be conning Mike, Yellow Sky checks in with several dandy action sequences. Wellman had already given us a thrilling post-robbery horse chase into the Death Valley salt flats, and now he uses the majestic rock formations of Lone Pine (a favorite location of Budd Boetticher's 1950s westerns) for several shootouts: one in which Mike and her grandfather shoot down on the gang of thieves, who've chased them out of their house to look for the gold there; another, later on, when the final break between Stretch and the Dude-led rest of the gang occurs. Even the few scenes played out on sets, like the final showdown of the climax, set inside the town's long-closed saloon, have an appealing grit, thanks to the razor-sharp cinematography of Joe MacDonald, whose formidable black-and-white work for Fox also includes John Ford's My Darling Clementine, Elia Kazan's Panic in the Streets and Sam Fuller's Pickup on South Street. The dialogue also has a compatibly terse edge to it: "She's as tough of a pine nut," the prospector tells Stretch about Mike, while Peck's gang leader meets Dude and the rest of the gang's mutiny by saying, "You wanna get rid of me, you've got to run me out." The language is vivid, and not a word is wasted.
Set in 1867, with the shadow of the Civil War still looming large over the characters, Yellow Sky presents Stretch's transgressions as a war-induced aberration that he must get beyond (in a speech to Mike's grandfather, he tells of growing up on a farm in Kansas and having his parents die in an epidemic while he was in the Union army). Stretch's redemption convincingly comes across, although the domestication of Mike that comes along with it is harder to take.
The Yellow Sky comes with no extras beyond several well-stocked galleries of poster art, production stills and behind-the-scenes photos. But bonuses aren't the draw here. Smart, accessible studio-era moviemaking is.
For more information about Yellow Sky, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order Yellow Sky, go to TCM Shopping.
by Paul Sherman
Yellow Sky - Gregory Peck & Richard Widmark in William A. Wellman's YELLOW SKY on DVD
According to documents in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department Collection located at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, the studio purchased William Riley Burnett's unpublished novel for $35,000 in November 1947. All drafts of the screenplay were written by Lamar Trotti. In a memo from studio head Darryl F. Zanuck, included in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection, also at UCLA, Walter Huston was suggested for the role of "Grandpa" and Fred Clark for "Lengthy." Paulette Goddard was originally cast as "Mike." The studio cast list isolates a credit to Jay Silverheels as "Indian," but he was not identifiable in the print viewed.
Exteriors were filmed at Death Valley National Monument, with the cast and crew living at Furnace Creek Inn and Camp, which was leased from the Pacific Coast Borax Company. Clarence Y. "Fat" Jones supplied horses from Hollywood for the picture. According to a studio press release contained in the AMPAS Library, a construction crew of 150 built a ghost town on the desert near Lone Pine, CA, by demolishing a movie set, called Last Outpost, that Tom Mix had built in 1923. At the request of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the horses worked only three hours a day in the intense heat. Contemporary reviews commented on the effectiveness of the soundtrack, which contained almost no music, relying instead on natural sound effects.
The opening and closing music was taken from Alfred Newman's score for the 1940 Twentieth Century-Fox film Brigham Young-Frontiersman, which was also written by Lamar Trotti (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.0488). A radio adaptation of Yellow Sky, starring Peck and hosted by director William A. Wellman, was broadcast on Screen Directors' Playhouse on NBC on July 15, 1949. The film was remade in 1967 as The Jackals. Filmed in South Africa by producer-director Robert D. Webb, The Jackals starred Robert Gunner, Diana Iverson and, as the old man, Vincent Price. The 1967 film was not released theatrically in the U.S. but has been televised, syndicated through Twentieth Century-Fox.