The Scalphunters (1968)

103 mins | Western | 2 April 1968

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HISTORY

Several contemporary sources referred to The Scalphunters as screenwriter William Norton’s feature film debut. However, Norton had previously been credited on The Rotten Apple (1963, see entry) and The Farmer’s Other Daughter (1965, see entry). The writer had toiled for many years before meeting with any success, working as a truck driver, a hod carrier, and a park ranger at Morro Bay and William Rogers State Park, the 7 Apr 1967 LAT noted. A young agent submitted his script for The Scalphunters to Levy-Gardner-Laven Productions, who then sent it to Burt Lancaster. After signing on to produce the film, Levy-Gardner-Laven enlisted Norton to work on at least five more scripts, as stated in the 7 Feb 1968 Var.
       Telly Savalas was announced as Burt Lancaster’s co-star in the 23 Nov 1966 DV, which claimed that filming would take place entirely on location beginning mid-Jan 1967. Savalas and Lancaster had previously acted together in 1962’s Birdman of Alcatraz (see entry).
       The start of principal photography was delayed by re-shoots on Lancaster’s previous picture, The Swimmer (1968, see entry), according to a 20 Jan 1967 DV brief. The 26 Jan 1967 DV reported that shooting would begin in Durango and Torreón, Mexico, on 23 Feb 1967, but a 3 Mar 1967 DV production chart later stated that production began earlier, on 15 Feb 1967. Some filming may have taken place in Guaymas, Mexico, where producer Jules Levy and director Sydney Pollack had scouted locations, as noted in the 28 Nov 1966 DV.
       United ...

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Several contemporary sources referred to The Scalphunters as screenwriter William Norton’s feature film debut. However, Norton had previously been credited on The Rotten Apple (1963, see entry) and The Farmer’s Other Daughter (1965, see entry). The writer had toiled for many years before meeting with any success, working as a truck driver, a hod carrier, and a park ranger at Morro Bay and William Rogers State Park, the 7 Apr 1967 LAT noted. A young agent submitted his script for The Scalphunters to Levy-Gardner-Laven Productions, who then sent it to Burt Lancaster. After signing on to produce the film, Levy-Gardner-Laven enlisted Norton to work on at least five more scripts, as stated in the 7 Feb 1968 Var.
       Telly Savalas was announced as Burt Lancaster’s co-star in the 23 Nov 1966 DV, which claimed that filming would take place entirely on location beginning mid-Jan 1967. Savalas and Lancaster had previously acted together in 1962’s Birdman of Alcatraz (see entry).
       The start of principal photography was delayed by re-shoots on Lancaster’s previous picture, The Swimmer (1968, see entry), according to a 20 Jan 1967 DV brief. The 26 Jan 1967 DV reported that shooting would begin in Durango and Torreón, Mexico, on 23 Feb 1967, but a 3 Mar 1967 DV production chart later stated that production began earlier, on 15 Feb 1967. Some filming may have taken place in Guaymas, Mexico, where producer Jules Levy and director Sydney Pollack had scouted locations, as noted in the 28 Nov 1966 DV.
       United Artists ultimately spent $4 million on the production in Mexico, according to a 9 Jan 1968 DV brief.
       The film was scheduled to premiere on 12 Mar 1968 as the opening-night attraction at the newly built Fox South Coast Theater in Costa Mesa, CA. A New York City benefit premiere followed on 2 Apr 1968, raising money for Union Settlement, a community center in Harlem where Lancaster had spent time as a boy, the 10 Mar 1968 NYT noted.        Critical reception was mixed. Commenting on the recent opening in Philadelphia, PA, the 10 Apr 1968 Var stated that The Scalphunters had taken in $20,000, an estimated forty-to-fifty percent less than anticipated due to “emergency measures” that had been taken in the city following Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination on 4 Apr 1968, which had stirred racial tension and prompted riots in various U.S. cities. An article in the 1 Jun 1967 Los Angeles Sentinel had previously pointed to The Scalphunters as one of a recent spate, along with Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Hotel (1967, see entries), of films addressing racial bigotry “with both seriousness and humor.” Ossie Davis, who played the slave “Joseph Winfield Lee,” had been quoted in the Los Angeles Sentinel article as saying that The Scalphunters “could do as much in its own way for civil rights through humor as the valuable efforts of Roy Wilkins and Martin Luther King.”
       The picture was listed in the 8 Jan 1969 Var as one of the “Big Rental Films of 1968,” with cumulative film rentals of $2.8 million, to date.
       Fawcett Gold Medal Books published an initial 250,000 copies of a novelization of The Scalphunters written by Ed Friend, according to a 3 Apr 1968 Var item.
       An item in the 21 Dec 1966 DV named Dennis Weaver as a potential cast member; the 22 Mar 1967 Var stated that Pancho Villa, Jr. served as Burt Lancaster’s stand-in; and the 25 Jul 1967 LAT noted that Michael Scheff served as producer Jules Levy’s assistant on the picture.

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
23 Nov 1966
p. 10
Daily Variety
28 Nov 1966
p. 2
Daily Variety
21 Dec 1966
p. 2
Daily Variety
20 Jan 1967
p. 2
Daily Variety
24 Jan 1967
p. 18
Daily Variety
26 Jan 1967
p. 2
Daily Variety
3 Mar 1967
p. 14
Daily Variety
9 Jan 1968
p. 1, 18
Daily Variety
12 Mar 1968
p. 3
Los Angeles Sentinel
1 Jun 1967
Section B, p. 5
Los Angeles Times
25 Nov 1966
Section D, p. 30
Los Angeles Times
7 Apr 1967
Section D, p. 14
Los Angeles Times
25 Jul 1967
Section D, p. 8
Los Angeles Times
10 Jan 1968
Section D, p. 10
Los Angeles Times
4 Mar 1968
Section C, p. 31
Los Angeles Times
31 Mar 1968
Section D, p. 20
Los Angeles Times
1 Jun 1968
Section B, p. 6
New York Times
10 Mar 1968
p. 82
New York Times
31 Mar 1968
Section D, p. 15
New York Times
3 Apr 1968
p. 40
Variety
22 Mar 1967
p. 18
Variety
7 Feb 1968
p. 3
Variety
6 Mar 1968
p. 6
Variety
27 Mar 1968
p. 107
Variety
3 Apr 1968
p. 21
Variety
10 Apr 1968
p. 11
Variety
8 Jan 1969
p. 15
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
COSTUMES
Cost
MUSIC
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
DANCE
Choreog
MAKEUP
Gary Liddiard
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Prod mgr
Stunt coordinator
Horse supv
Main titles
DETAILS
Release Date:
2 April 1968
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles premiere: 12 Mar 1968; New York premiere and opening: 2 Apr 1968; Los Angeles opening: 19 Jun 1968
Production Date:
began 15 Feb 1967
Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
Norlan Productions
2 April 1968
LP38906
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
De Luxe
Widescreen/ratio
Panavision
Duration(in mins):
103
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

Trapper Joe Bass confronts a party of Kiowa Indians. Led by Two Crows, the band compels Bass to exchange mule and furs for fugitive slave Joseph Winfield Lee. Hoping for an opportunity to retrieve his possessions, Bass follows them. While imbibing Bass's whiskey, the Kiowas are ambushed by scalp hunters. Only Two Crows escapes. As Bass stalks the whites, Lee is captured. The slave quickly becomes the favorite of Kate, mistress to leader Jim Howie, and is given freedom of the camp. Aware that the gang's destination is Mexico, where slavery is illegal, Lee has little motivation to escape. Bereft of slave, mule, and furs, Bass launches a campaign of attrition, causing rockfalls, feeding the band's mounts loco weed, and slaying the marauders one by one. Under the pretense of returning the trapper's property, Howie plans an ambush, but is himself slain by Lee. Although Lee has saved Bass, the two immediately quarrel. As they grapple, vengeful Kiowa braves descend upon the remaining scalp hunters, appropriating their women and sparing only slave and trapper. Together Lee and Bass scheme to recover the ...

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Trapper Joe Bass confronts a party of Kiowa Indians. Led by Two Crows, the band compels Bass to exchange mule and furs for fugitive slave Joseph Winfield Lee. Hoping for an opportunity to retrieve his possessions, Bass follows them. While imbibing Bass's whiskey, the Kiowas are ambushed by scalp hunters. Only Two Crows escapes. As Bass stalks the whites, Lee is captured. The slave quickly becomes the favorite of Kate, mistress to leader Jim Howie, and is given freedom of the camp. Aware that the gang's destination is Mexico, where slavery is illegal, Lee has little motivation to escape. Bereft of slave, mule, and furs, Bass launches a campaign of attrition, causing rockfalls, feeding the band's mounts loco weed, and slaying the marauders one by one. Under the pretense of returning the trapper's property, Howie plans an ambush, but is himself slain by Lee. Although Lee has saved Bass, the two immediately quarrel. As they grapple, vengeful Kiowa braves descend upon the remaining scalp hunters, appropriating their women and sparing only slave and trapper. Together Lee and Bass scheme to recover the pelts.

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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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