Richard Schickel's audio commentary error
I really wish that DVD and blu-ray producers would stop using Richard Schickel for the audio commentaries of classic films. Far too often (in my opinion) he comes off as rambling, off-the-cuff, lackadaisical, and at times almost somnambulistic. Worse still, it's painfully obvious that he makes sloppy factual errors due to improper research.
At around 26:30 into his commentary for The Big Trail he states that Hal G. Evarts (the film's screenwriter) was a fictional name and the actual author was Frederick Faust, aka "Max Brand", who wrote many western novels and also created the character of Dr. Kildare. In fact, I am quite sure that Faust/Brand had nothing to do with this film. As for Hal G. Evarts … wake up, Mr. Schickel, he was a real person! There is a biography about him, Skunk Ranch to Hollywood: The West of Author Hal Evarts, written by his son, Hal G. Evarts, Jr. This book is available from Amazon.com and offers this publicity blurb:
The Evarts clan breeds storytellers, as this biography of Western fiction writer Hal G. Evarts confirms. Born in 1887, Hal Sr. was a true 'American Original.' Dropping out of the school in the ninth grade, he became a gypsy of the west: trapper, professional hunter, self-taught naturalist, and general hell-raiser. In 1915, he moved with his young family to Skunk Ranch, remotely near Cody, Wyoming. Here, he was stricken with one of the diseases endemic to the snow-bound north - boredom. Huddling over a table in front of the kitchen stove, dressed in a fur cap and mackinaw, he passed the time by transporting his life of adventures in the wild onto paper. Unbeknownst to Hal, his sister sent these first stories off to New York publishers. And just when his ranching operation went belly-up, the stories sold, launching his meteoric career as a bestselling Western fiction writer in the 30s. Then, as if graced by a lucky but whimsical star, his trail took a turn to Hollywood when three of his novels were made into movies - one of which introduced another rising star, John Wayne. Affectionately written by his son, Hal Evarts, Jr., this is a colorful history told with broad humor and a knack for sniffing out the comic and extraordinary details of Evarts extraordinary life.
Here is a link to Amazon's listing for this book:
The three Evarts novels that were adapted into films are The Silent Call (1921), a now-lost vehicle for dog star Strongheart, Tumbleweeds (1925), the last hurrah for William S. Hart, and of course The Big Trail, which gave John Wayne his first starring role. The Big Trail was based on Evart's novel The Shaggy Legion, and was first serialized in the Saturday Evening Post from November 30, 1929, to January 4, 1930. It was later published in book form and can now be read online:
Meanwhile, Bill Evarts, the grandson of Hal G. Evarts and son of Hal G. Evarts, Jr., is a professional photographer who currently lives in Escondido, California. His website is here:
I would be interested to know what he thinks about Richard Schickel's comment… share