Though Yakima may be a little over a thousand miles away from the bright lights of the Entertainment Capital of the World, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get a little touch of Hollywood now and then. After all, with 300+ days of sunshine, over 34 lakes and ponds, up to 170 miles of rivers, and over 90 parks to choose from, along with a vibrant downtown to boot, the beauty of the Yakima Valley is hard to resist for those picture-perfect movie screen backdrops. The potential is inescapable, and here are just a few examples of when Yakima rolled out the red carpet to debut movies filmed here on the big screens of Hollywood!
Yakima’s First Hollywood Debut Was To Hell and Back
Yakima debuted on the big screen in the 1955 film “To Hell and Back,” based on Audie Murphy’s World War II memoir of the same name, with Murphy playing himself. The American war film portrays his own experiences during the war, with Murphy having been a real-life war hero who became one of the most decorated combat soldiers of World War II.
Casual moviegoers would never guess that the depicted European battlefields on the big screen were actually shot here, but Yakima residents are always quick to spot the familiar rides and easily recognize the sage plants that grow in and around the one and only Yakima Training Center. Much of the picture was filmed there, along with nearby Fort Lewis in Tacoma. And yes, those are actual soldiers from Fort Lewis, now Joint Base Lewis-McChord, in the film. The story goes that in one scene, the production crew wasn’t happy with how the blanks fired from a machine gun looked on film, so the Army allowed them to use live ammunition for the right effect.
The Hanging Tree Brings the Wild West to Yakima
Next to be filmed in Yakima was “The Hanging Tree,” an American Western film directed by Delmer Daves and based on a novel by the same name written by Dorothy M. Johnson in 1957. The film stars then Hollywood heartthrob Gary Cooper and the stunning Maria Schell.
The movie follows the story of Joseph Frail (Cooper) – doctor, gambler, and gunslinger – who rides into the small town of Skull Creek, Montana, along with miners in a gold rush, looking to set up a doctor’s office. As he settles in, he becomes involved in the lives of the town’s residents, including that of a young Miss Elizabeth Mahler (Maria), who is accused of murder and is seemingly destined for the hanging tree.
While the film explores morality, justice, and redemption, its backdrop is set against that of the American West and what better place to portray the wild frontier than the Yakima River Canyon? Much of the film was shot on location in the Oak Creek Wildlife Area in the mountains just west of Yakima. The film was well received by audiences and critics upon its debut and was even the acting debut for the infamous George C. Scott, a rival faith healer who sees Frail moving to town as a threat to his practice.
In Dubious Battle Came to Yakima Valley for the Orchards
James Franco’s 2016 adaption of the John Steinbeck novel “In Dubious Battle” depicts a strike by apple pickers in 1930s California during the wake of the great depression. As one can imagine, setting the scene for early American apple pickers would require an orchard, and with Yakima County leading the nation in apple production with over 55,0000 acres of orchards, its no surprise as to why filmmakers set their sights on the bountiful valley.
Much of the orchard scenes for the film were made in Tieton’s orchards, as they were in far better shape than those in drought-ravaged California. Franco even used period farm equipment from the Central Washington Agricultural Museum, which earned both an on-screen credit and a donation from the production company. Additionally, many of the apple-picking extras in the film were local Yakima residents.
Cement Suitcase Depicts Yakima Valley’s Wine Country
There’s no secret that Yakima has a rich history and has played a formidable role in Washington wines, which is perhaps why it was picked as the backdrop for “Cement Suitcase” in 2014. Granger native J. Rick Castañeda shot the indie film in various locations in Yakima Valley, including portions of the Lower Valley’s wine country.
The setting fits the storyline, as the movie tells the tale of Yakima Valley’s best wine salesman, Franklin, and how his life is falling apart. It starts with him discovering that his girlfriend is cheating, and he doesn’t even have the self-respect to tell her he knows. When he meets the “other guy,” who turns out to be a terrific person, he decides it’s time to get his life together and start letting some things go or let go of some baggage, as the film’s name suggests.
The Magic of Everyday Life is Showcased in the Film All Sorts
Another, more recent hit of Castañeda was also filmed in his regional home entitled “All Sorts” in 2019. The adorable, romantic comedy tells the story of a lonely data entry clerk who stumbles into the world of championship folder filing on main character Diego’s quest to desperately find a job, excitement, and love. Upon being hired on to a new company, he meets an incredibly fast filer named Jane, and the two journey through a wildly unexpected office adventure. One review described the film as “The Office meets Beetlejuice.”
The 94-minute movie was filmed in several locations in Yakima and even features a cast of Yakima Valley residents and is considered by creator Castañeda as a “truly community-made film.”
So, grab the popcorn and get settled in for an epic movie night marathon of amazing films filmed that gave Yakima a little touch of Hollywood, and don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for those special Easter eggs that can only be found here! Half the fun is seeing how many streets, businesses, and landmarks you can recognize while watching these movies filmed in Yakima.