ABC Television / Screen Gems
Scalplock was the pilot movie for the television series, “Iron Horse” which begat 47 episodes over two seasons on ABC from 1966 to 1968. The film starred Dale Robertson (as Benjamin Calhoun) who wins the half-built Buffalo Pass, Scalplock and Defiance Railroad (BPS&D) in a poker game (four queens beats a full house).
Flush with cash and railroad stock from the high-stakes game of chance, Calhoun decides, on a lark, to finish building the railroad west. Needless to say, the guy who LOST the railroad and his confederates are NOT pleased with this turn of events. The movie (and the series) is a chronicle of their efforts to stop Calhoun, or get the railroad back for themselves. Add to that the usual labor troubles, fistfights and loose women to contend with and Calhoun soon discovers he’s got his hands full. Let’s roll along and join the fun.
Director James Goldstone seemed to favor lots of quick, jerky, cuts in this movie making it difficult to get a good look at the locomotive. Nonetheless, here is Sierra Railroad #3 (smokestack cropped out-of-shot) with both cylinder cocks wide open and blasting steam as though it’s going to burst.
Apologizes for the fuzzy screen captures. My DVD copy is not the greatest…
The movie begins with the high stakes poker game in progress; High stakes means foolishly tossing all your railroad stock into the pot.
It’s Buckeye Sullivan (played by Herb Voland) versus Ben Calhoun (Dale Robertson doing his best Clark Gable poker face).
Well, we can guess how THIS will turn out. Of course Calhoun wins the hand, marches through town tossing legal tender at passersby and generally making an ass of himself. After acquiring a large trousseau from a local clothing merchant, his next order of business is where to stash all this stuff. But of course. This new railroad owner MUST have his own private passenger car (or PV for Private Varnish) to supervise line construction.
By the sheerest coincidence, there is a private passenger car shop just down the street. The plush, “La Bonne Chance” is nearing completion. It is being built for one of the big shots (Burton Standish, played by John Anderson) who USED to own the BPS&D. Wouldn’t you know, SCOTTY (yep, James Doohan as Scrimp) is the foundry manager – complete with Scotty’s Star Trek Scottish brogue.
Well, Calhoun wastes no time in bribing Scotty, er..Scrimp and getting him drunk. Scrimp then agrees to let Calhoun purchase the PV for himself.
Calhoun checks out the opulent interior of La Bonne Chance (Sierra Railroad car #6); Well hello there! The previous owner has already installed his mistress, Marta, (played by Diana Hyland) in one of the bedrooms.
Note the portrait of Burton Standish on the wall. We don’t actually see him in this movie until the very end. Despite her paramour’s painted presence, Marta agrees to come along with Calhoun for the ride. Good girls go to heaven – bad girls go EVERYWHERE.
Before you know it, Sierra #3 is steamed up and backing down next to the “Kansas City” depot to couple up to La Bonne Chance; As a brass band oompahs away, Calhoun exhorts the crowd (he’s still throwing money at them) and heads up the line to end-of-track.
The next morning, the train reaches Buffalo Pass. Nice little yard limit sign they made for the movie. The switch is lined for Sierra #3 to take siding.
A coming and going view of the one car train with a good view of Sierra #3 approaching the Jamestown, California water tower. What’s notable is these views show the entire train…
…unlike the zoomed-in-close shots more prevalent in this film.
Finally, Calhoun reaches end-of-track. A huge ravine remains to be bridged before the railroad can reach the town of Scalplock. Construction has stopped because the workers haven’t been paid.
Time for more speeches. Calhoun rallies the troops, then tries to pitch a little woo with Marta on the rear platform of La Bonne Chance. Old loyalties die hard and Marta manages to keep him at arms length.
Much movie plot and financial skulduggery left off HERE
Finally the bridge is completed. Will she hold? The workers swarm aboard Sierra #3 as it rolls across the trestle in triumph.
With no further obstacles in its’ path, the BPS&D soon reaches Scalplock where Calhoun and company receive a hero’s welcome.
More speeches. I include the first picture because I just LOVE Dale Robertson’s pose. That’s Calhoun’s sidekick Barnabus (played by Robert Random) on the right; The townsfolk of Scalplock are eating it up.
Gah! It’s Doctor Janice Lester! (another Star Trek, The Original Series alum). Just look at that wicked smile. At some point, Burton Standish shows up to claim Marta and they ride off into the sunset. Calhoun then takes up with Doctor Lester….the local mule skinner’s daughter, Joanna, (played by Sandra Smith), who cleans up nicely.
And….the credits roll, Petticoat Junction style. The movie Scalplock is just chock full of actors and staff associated with Star Trek and Hogan’s Heroes (ST – Sandra Smith, James Doohan, James Goldstone; HH – Lloyd Bochner, Woodrow Parfrey, Eddie Firestone)
To sum up, not a bad movie/pilot, although I wish I had a better print of it. They leave the door open for the upcoming TV series as Ben Calhoun states he intends to finish the railroad “over mountains and plains” to Defiance. Indeed, the very first TV episode of Iron Horse reuses much of the footage from Scalplock. As always, it is a pleasure to see Sierra Railroad locations and equipment dressing up an otherwise ordinary western movie.
Here’s what IMDb has to say about Scalplock:
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