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September 26, 2014

Owens Valley - 1940

Owens Valley 1940 from the film Brigham Young

In the 1940 Darryl Zanuck film Brigham Young, the Owens Valley in California played the role of the Salt Lake Valley in Utah as Brigham Young first saw it and announced "This is the place." The film showed Brigham Young (played by Dean Jagger who himself was baptized a Mormon in 1972) striding across this grand view of the Valley shot from the Sierra mountains above Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills, but I've edited it to remove the church leader from the scene.

Dean Jagger playing Brigham Young in the Sierra above Lone Pine
Dean Jagger as Brigham Young looking down on Owens Valley from the Sierra
.

Owens Valley 1940 from the film Brigham Young (2)
The other Mormons taking a gander
.

The movie itself is a moderately fictionalized version of the trek from Nauvoo to Utah which received the full endorsement of the Church of Latter Day Saints. From listening to the commentary on the DVD, I learned this expensive film was considered a Really Big Thing at the time, comparable to The Grapes of Wrath, but it lost money and over the years lost its fame. I think I probably heard about it during my visit to the Lone Pine Film History Museum.

Zanuck intended the persecution of the Mormons to be seen as a metaphor for the German persecution of the Jews (this was 1940). Apparently most people understood it that way too, even though the film had to be bit light-handed in suggesting that metaphor, since it simultaneously suggested the non-Mormon Americans were in the role of the Nazis. Early in the film Brigham Young delivers a fictional speech in which he expounds on the freedoms guaranteed by the first amendment from a 1930s point of view. In the 1840s it was yet to be settled whether the Bill of Rights applied to the states as well as the federal government.

The film includes scenes of the cricket invasion and seemingly miraculous appearance of the seagulls. Those scenes were shot in Nevada during a genuine cricket invasion where seagulls really did show up to complete the verisimilitude! In the commentary on the DVD it is said that the gulls did not show up until after the official church liaison to the production prayed over the day's shooting.

The film used some other beautifully mountainous area of the west to represent Council Bluffs, Iowa, and the area that would become Omaha some day. I'm not going to bother with that. I'm sure it brought much amusement to the residents of that area during the dark days of the early 1940s.

Filed under California,Film/Movies,History,Religion | permalink | September 26, 2014 at 10:31 AM

Comments

No, I don't know if my contacts with Mr. Jagger (several) were before or after his conversion. I was not aware of his faith at the time.

Posted by: Russ at Sep 28, 2014 1:44:02 AM

Do you remember if those contacts occurred before or after his 1972 conversion to Mormonism?

Posted by: Ron's Log at Sep 27, 2014 10:55:28 AM

As a young police officer in Santa Monica in the early '70's, I had several unpleasant contacts with Dean Jagger usually involving alcohol. I really liked him as an actor though....especially "12 O'clock High"
With Gregory Peck and "King Creole" with Elvis.

Posted by: Russ at Sep 27, 2014 10:54:23 AM

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