9 September 2023

Alabama Hills CA, USA

Quentin Tarantino refers to his film DJANGO UNCHAINED as a 'southern': a spaghetti western set in the deep south of the United States. The story is set in 1858, two years before the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery.

Django Unchained, 1:07:42
A major inspiration was the 1966 Italian film Django directed by Sergio Corbucci about whom Tarantino wanted to write a book. The lead actor from that film, Franco Nero, has a guest role in this film. Filming started in November 2011 in California, followed by Wyoming in February 2012 and ended in Louisiana in July. In early December 2011, production went to the Alabama Hills in California.

Mobius Arch, Alabama Hills, 13 July 2023
This range of hills and rock formations is not a National Park but a 'Recreation and National Scenic Area' on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada near the town of Lone Pine. Quentin Tarantino no doubt chose this location because hundreds of westerns were filmed here from the 1920s onwards. One of the dirt roads in the Alabama Hills has been named Movie Road. The Alabama Hills were named for the Confederate warship CSS Alabama, deployed during the Civil War. Prospectors sympathetic to the Confederates named many mining claims after the ship, eventually applied to the entire range. 

During the opening credits of the film, five enslaved men in Texas are shown being forced to walk to their next owner.
Before a trip, I look on Google Street View to see if I can find locations. Unfortunately the dirt roads of the Alabama Hills cannot be viewed online. I had hoped to recognise the striking rock formations on the spot but failed to do so in all but one location.

Django Unchained, 0:02:16
Alabama Hills, 13 July 2023

A meeting with bounty hunter and former dentist Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) has major consequences. When he offers to buy Django (Jamie Foxx), the two brothers Ace and Dicky Speck (James Renar and James Russo) who escort the transport want to shoot him but Schultz is quicker. He kills Ace and injures Dicky. After paying as he does, he leaves with Django.

During a stop, Schultz tells Django that if he helps him tracking down three wanted brothers, he will get $ 75, a horse and his freedom. This scene was also shot in the Alabama Hills. There is no visitor centre in the area, but next to one of the information signs is a box where a free map of the area can be obtained. This map shows where famous scenes were filmed, including the conversation between Schultz and King; we would never have found this spot this ourselves.

Django Unchained, 0:24:34
Alabama Hills, 13 July 2023
Django Unchained, 0:24:45
Alabama Hills, 13 July 2023
Django Unchained, 0:24:52
Alabama Hills, 13 July 2023
Django Unchained, 0:24:55
Alabama Hills, 13 July 2023

Lone Pine is home to the Museum of Western Film History. During the filming of Django Unchained, director and screenwriter Quentin Tarantino, actors Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, James Renar, James Russo and director of photography Robert Richardson visited the museum on 4 December 2011 and signed one of the walls.

Museum of Western Film History, Lone Pine, 13 July 2023
Museum of Western Film History, Lone Pine, 13 July 2023

After production was completed, Tarantino donated Schultz's dental car, his director's chair and his script to the museum. The car was designed by J. Michael Riva, grandson of Marlene Dietrich. He died unexpectedly during filming at the age of 63.

Django Unchained, 0:13:56
Museum of Western Film History, Lone Pine, 13 July 2023
Museum of Western Film History, Lone Pine, 13 July 2023
Museum of Western Film History, Lone Pine, 13 July 2023

The museum is a must-see for any film buff. Besides many film posters and props, a documentary on the history of the Alabama Hills as a film location is shown. There is also a guide for sale with film locations along the Movie Road and a brochure with locations from westerns starring Audie Murphy. 

Screenshots © The Weinstein Company/Columbia Pictures