Appaloosa–The Making of a Western

As lovers of the Old West, we are truly fortunate to have another Western film release so close on the heels of “Broken Trail” and “3:10 to Yuma”.  Yay!  I’d only recently heard of the movie–right here on P & P as a matter of fact!–so you can imagine my curiosity to learn more about it.  The film is just now being shown in theaters, and I found it interesting how “Appaloosa” came about.

If you thought the story is about a horse–nope!  You’re wrong.  Appaloosa is a tiny town needing protection and justice against a local rancher who’s been roughing up the place.  The community decides to hire a couple of gunmen who are best friends to help them out by stepping in as the law.

The movie is based on the novel of the same name, written by Robert Parker.  Actor-director Ed Harris read the book while in Ireland back in 2005.  By the time he’d read 35 pages, he was so taken with the story, he had a fervent desire to both direct and act in it.  He immediately called his agent to acquire film rights, then later met with Robert Parker to discuss the project.  Not surprisingly, Parker was honored and impressed that a man of Ed Harris’ caliber wanted to adapt his book for the screen.

Every writer’s dream, eh?

From the get-go, Harris insisted on staying as close to Parker’s story line as possible, and the screenplay was written as such.  The two main characters, Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch, gave the story its depth and meaning.  If you’re looking for a movie busting with special effects and non-stop action, you won’t find it in Appaloosa.  Harris falls back on the westerns we remember by using a less hurried pace and more focus on the characters.

Ed Harris admits the screenplay was a tough sell since few westerns are made these days and don’t fare as well overseas.  Today’s actors, in their 20s and 30s, never cut their eye teeth on westerns, either, as the previous generation had.  These factors, along with a mega-budget of $20 million, had production companies dragging their feet.

Eventually, however, Ed Harris wrestled financing and film distribution into place and turned his attentions to casting.  With Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch the crucial thrust of the story, Harris knew he needed a strong presence to work beside him.  He’d taken on the role of Cole–the first person he thought of for Hitch?  His ol’ buddy, Viggo Mortensen.  Viggo agreed to do the project, but his tight schedule pushed Harris’ project back until Viggo could squeeze some time in to start shooting.

Next, Harris set out to woo Renee Zellweger to play the part of Allie, a woman of questionable character and indiscretions who feels she must align herself with the most powerful man to survive.  Renee fell in love with the part and signed on.

Intense research into the period of the 1880s compelled Ed Harris to choose a villain who was less a thug but more like the thousands of immigrants pouring into this country at the time.  Jeremy Irons, a British actor, fit the image Harris created, and with that, his cast was complete.

Last October, near Austin, Texas, filming began, eventually moving to Ford Ranch outside of Santa Fe.  I found it interesting that the same set was used for Russell Crowe’s “3:10 to Yuma”, completely transformed, of course, into the town of Appaloosa.

A well-regarded cinematographer highlighted the landscape and its expansive beauty, key in giving the film a strong Western look and feel.  Both Viggo Mortensen and Renee Zellweger praise Ed Harris for keeping the film slower, simpler, to really ‘see’ the characters, the landscape, and of course, Appaloosa itself.

“I just tried to cut to the chase and articulate the characters and their relationships and keep the action moving,” Harris says.  “Hopefully, it’s an entertaining adventure.”

Indeed!  I can hardly wait to see another Western on the full screen! 

How about you?  Have you seen Appaloosa yet?  Will you be going?

What kind of non-western movies do you prefer?   Do you like the high-tech special effects?  Lots of action and violence?  Or are you more into tear-jerking chick-flicks? 

I’ll add that Titanic is probably my favorite movie of all I’ve seen, but I’ve seen Wizard of Oz the most times in my life.  The biggest tear-jerker had to be Love Story with Ryan O’Neal.

What’s your favorite movie ever?


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Pam has written 30 romances, most of them historical westerns, but her newest releases are contemporary sweet romances featuring the Blackstone Ranch series published by Tule Publishing. Stay up on the latest at

40 thoughts on “Appaloosa–The Making of a Western”

  1. I have always been a Western Fan, I do love the chick flicks. The computer special effects are good in somethings, but when you have men and women doing things that aren’t possible thats just dumb.

    My favorite movie ever and don’t laugh is “It’s a wonderful life”. The Ten Commandments comes in second. How weird is that

  2. Oh by the way I can’t wait to see Appaloosa, Love to watch Westerns on the big screen. If it is any where close the 3:10 it will be great. 3:10 is the best western I have seen in a long time.

  3. I love westerns…I grew up watching them with my grandfather!

    I am so excited about this movie…My husband and I are planning on going this Saturday to see it! The bad part is…it’s not playing in the city I live in at either we have to drive 40mins to the next city to be able to watch it! I think it will be worth the drive though-my husband is actually excited about this movie as well and he’s not a huge fan of westerns!

    We both enjoyed 3:10 to Yuma as well…the language was a bit rough..but-it was worth it to see the movie!

    Special effects are good sometimes-they have their place, but not every movie can benefit from them!

  4. Good morning, Sherry! Oh, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a classic. We watch it now and again over the holidays. It had such a good message, didn’t it? And the Ten Commandments is an icon in itself!

    Yes, I loved 3:10, too–but the one thing that would’ve made it rank even higher on my list was a love interest, maybe for Russell Crowe. (It’s the romance writer/reader in me. 🙂 )

  5. Melissa! Ed Harris should know you’re driving 40 miles to see his movie. He’d be very gratified, I think. And what a nice opportunity to spend some time with your hubby.

    Do let us know what you think of it!

  6. I love Ed Harris. The man just cannot do a bad job as far as I’m concerned. Throw in a western and I’m so THERE.
    I can’t wait.

    The first time I’d heard of this was here at P & P, too. We’re the go-to place for all cowboy info. 🙂

  7. I agree with Mary. Ed Harris can do no wrong. Appaloosa is definitely on our list of things to do this week. As for Viggo…anybody see Hidalgo? Great movie. I read that he loved that horse so much he bought it and took it home to his ranch.

    I seem to be unable to pinpoint a favorite movie…Titanic is way up there, I love Westerns. (Open Range and Broken Trail, both with Duvall, are great…) as is Armageddon (go figure) but if I have to decide, I think #1 would have to be Notting Hill. I’ve got it memorized.

  8. Pam,

    I am so excited about this movie! I can’t wait to see it. It’s showing at our theater here and I plan on seeing it this weekend. I’m in the mood for a good gritty western. There are too few of them and that’s a pity.

    I like my movies dripping with gut-wrenching emotion. No special effects or extra violence for me unless it makes the story more compelling.

    Great blog today! 🙂

  9. Hi, PamT–you’re right about every writer’s dream. I would loooove to know how much Robert Parker got for the rights! LOL.

    And hey, scheduling a blog with you is on my list of things to do.

  10. Hi, Tanya–yep, I saw Hidalgo, too. That horse was incredible.

    You know, for my birthday, Doug and I paid $8.75 a ticket to see Righteous Kill with Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino. My birthday–his choice of the movie (I agreed because I knew he wanted to see it. It was good, but not $8.75 worth of good. I was wavering between that and Batman, which I hear is THE best one yet.

    But anyway, if I would’ve known Appaloosa was coming out only a few days later here, I would’ve waited. Ah, well.

    Glad you enjoyed the YouTube, dear!

  11. Linda, we girls love that emotion, don’t we? Reviewers are saying that while Appaloosa does have its share of violence, it’s low on the special effects scale, and likely won’t be nominated for big awards. 🙁

    But it’s heavy on the characterization, and that’s what every good story is about. The people.


  12. Favorite films in our family: Transformers, Star Wars, Princess Bride, all John Wayne films, Student Body, all Disney films. BTW, my favorite Ed Harris film is Apollo 13!

    Pat Cochran

  13. HI Pam!

    Fascinating. I don’t watch TV and hardly ever go to movies, but this does look very good. I love Westerns (of course) and I’ve missed those others that you miss. Am I the only person in this country that doesn’t watch TV or go to only a few movies? Perhaps.

    This one looks like a keeper, Pam. I’ll really look for it.

  14. Hi Pam -I saw the movie and as eager as I was to really like it, I found it slowly paced and unbelievable in some respects. It wasn’t just me, the group I was with also agreed that it was slow. And as we walked out of the theatre, we all heard negative comments. I did eat up all the scenery and props and all things western, but you know the old saying “They don’t make um like they used to.” 🙂 More style than substance. A few people nodded off in the theatre. Oh well ….

    I love so many movies, that I don’t have a favorite but I am a fan of the old movie classics. Beleive it or not, the best movie I saw this year was Iron Man. 🙂

  15. Karen, you and your hubby have amazing willpower. Some days, I think TV and movies are a double-edged sword in that good entertainment is a rarity, but I don’t think I could not have a TV in the house. Watching the News is important to us. But you’re savvy in the political world, so you must listen to the radio?

    Thanks for stopping by. I know you’re ver-ry busy!

  16. Charlene, how disappointing you were disappointed! Dang! And yet that was what attracted Ed Harris to the book was the dialogue and friendship between the 2 main characters, so much so that he tried to keep the movie as close to the original work as he could.

    I’ll be curious to see what everyone else thinks!

  17. I LOVE Apollo 13.
    I love The Rock. Ed Harris is a bad guy, but a bad guy with honor. He dies.
    What was the Ed Harris Movie with Viggo where Viggo was a former mob guy who’d started a new life? A History of Violence. Weird movie but it stayed with me.
    I remember Mario Bello, after there’s trouble and ummmm passion let’s say, walks into the room with Viggo, furious at him, wearing a robe hanging completely open.
    My beloved husband, after the scene was over and he’d finished STARING, turns to me and says, “Well, THAT was completely gratuitous.”

    😀 No kidding, honey.
    Ed dies pretty quickly in that movie. But he is just one of those guys who, even if I don’t like the movie, I always like him.

  18. If I had lower expectations, then maybe I would have liked it more. It’s worth seeing, beleive me, just for the costuming and sets and the acting was very good. But it all boils down to plot. But you know, the friendship between the two men was very good. I just wished I liked it more. It’s not a movie that I’d say, “you have to go see it.” I liked 3:10 to Yuma far better.

  19. I haven’t seen the film yet but my brother and sister-in-law, both of whom are critical movie goesrs, loved it. I plan to go Friday.

  20. Hi Pam! I’d love to see it! I thought it was about a horse . Glad you straightened me out! I love the cinematography in these Westerns. I’ll stay away from reading any reviews till after I see it.

  21. Oh I think it’s going to be a good movie and definitely want to see it. I like a variety of movies and actually prefer seeing chick flicks once their on DVD’s and enjoy the action movies on a big screen. My favorite movie is Forever Young (an older Mel Gibson movie) that makes me laugh and cry every time.

  22. Pat and Charlene,

    Everything is subjective, isn’t it? Just like our books. Some people love ’em, some people wouldn’t pick up a romance, or a western, or a historical, or a contemporary, to save their souls.

    We just have to decide for ourselves whether we like Appaloosa or not!

  23. Hi, Jeanne! The big screen certainly does justice to high-action flicks. Altho, we have a new TV in the kitchen that has a way of throwing sound around the room. Sometimes I have to look over my shoulder to figure out where the noise came from!

    Chick flicks really are nice to watch at home. I agree. If we want to cry, we don’t have to be embarrassed!

  24. Hi Pam, Thanks for the preview. My husband and I take turn picking movies, and I get the next pick. It’s been Appaloosa and Fireproof. Even with poor reviews, I’ll go to a western. I can always look at the cowboys, the horses and the scenery : )

    My all time favorites movies are: Jane Eyre (all of them), Sound of Music, Witness, and Tombstone. I have a mixed reaction to Unforgiven. It’s an amazing movie, but it’s disturbing to watch. I can’t call it a favorite, but I always get caught up in it.

  25. I hope you DO get to see Appaloosa, Estella! The more people who see it will help make westerns profitable again. It’ll also prove that they can be viable and that TPTB should produce more!

    Thanks for stopping by, dear. 🙂

  26. Oooh, Sound of Music!! Yes, Vicki! That one just raced up my list of favorites and most-seen. How could I forget that one? I had every single song memorized. I could probably sing them today!

  27. I love any western that has Tom Selleck in it,he cant do a bad western,I do like the old movies,havent seen too many good movies lately,too much bad language

  28. Tom Selleck was one good-lookin’ hunk of cowboy, wasn’t he, Vickie? Hubba-hubba and yee-haw!

    And oh, you are right on about the bad language these days. It’s ridiculous. Doug and I rented Knocked Up the other night. Okay – I admit we were clueless. The premise of the story sounded so good and the potential for romance really drew me in. But I tell you–it ended up being the raunchiest movie I had ever seen. The absolute raunchiest!


  29. Going to see Appaloosa tomorrow – because my husband really wanted to see it. I read him your comments about the filming location and his response was, “You mean Appaloosa is a town not a horse?” It’s a good thing we are on vacation and I am in vacation mode!!!

  30. Hi, Karin! It’s so nice you’re thinking of us and take a few minutes to stop by when you’re relaxing on vacation.

    Glad you learned something from our blog today. 🙂

  31. LOVED it & plan to see it again! People shld know that Harris directed, co-wrote the screenplay and…SANG the song at the end of the movie that summarizes the story! (I always stay & watch the music credits & wait for the lites to come on bef I leave – don’t want to miss anything!) Why didn’t he have Amy Madigan play Mrs French? I see 1 to 2/week & write reviews for my friends. Have many favs in many categories; this will be one of them. A recent fav: Kit Kittredge, American Girl.

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