STAMPEDE!

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(this article appeared in American Cinematographer magazine, October 1983)

As Newsweek enthusiastically informed its readers in the March 4, 1963 issue, "The buffaloes make the whole . . . picture worth seeing. The stampede lasts forever. From a small moving mass at the horizon, they come looming down to fill the whole screen with a great, gray, shaggy blur. They fan out, 90 abreast, galloping at an unlikely speed, a swath of dirty fur and deafening noise. They roar up to sheds, a small house, a water tower, and trample them all flat in a fantastic display of mindless animal might. It is one of the great moments in the history of movies.''

That "great moment" almost never happened as Joe LaShelle remembers.

'We were on location in South Dakota at Custer State Park, where a large buffalo herd is allowed to roam free. They bad spent two months rounding them up from all over the state. They had about 200 of them in an enclosed valley where they were being fed. Over the hill was the camp we set up with shacks, tents and the locomotive which had been shipped up from Hollywood.

"We thought that once we shot the buffalo coming down, they're gone. They're in the next county. So when we were finally set up it was a big deal.

"We had Indian riders who had to look like they were trying to get out of the way of the buffalo while actually herding them so they would go through the camp. Now, buffalo are pretty unpredictable. They can be running full speed and turn on a dime. They could turn into a horse and it could never get out of the way. We didn't know the Indians were scared to death of tbem and wouldn't get close to them for love or money.

"So here we were, set up to shoot the big drive with four cameras in pits and one on a jeep. The buffalo came charging down the hill but when they saw the camp, they just veered over to one side and never went through it. Everybody just about died.

"For a long time we just sat there discussing how many weeks it would take to get those things back again. Suddenly somebody yelled. We looked up and on the hill, here comes a trail of buffaloes right back to the valley where they started from. They went around in a big circle and I don't think we lost a one. They must have liked the free food they were getting.

"So we sent to Hollywood and got a lot of cowboys and stuntmen and fixed them up as Indians. I guess they didn't know about buffalo because they stayed real close to them. We shot it three or four times. And let me tell you, when they started to go through that camp, they went through it.''

Time thought so. "The huge screen goes black except for a dancing fringe of buffalo hooves silhouetted along the bottom. It is a moment of pure impressionist cinematography."

- END-

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