On Film

Movies of Enchantment

New Mexico made movies to help pass hours of hibernation


Although not all these titles were shot entirely in New Mexico, they all have some scenes that were filmed in the state, and each may help you from suffering pandiculation.

  • Recently restored, “The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez” is based on the true story of the title character who, in the early 1900s, eluded a posse that pursued him for days after the accidental killing of a sheriff. Although the real story takes place in Texas, it was shot in New Mexico and is directed by the inimitable Robert M. Young (DVD and YouTube)
  • “Lonely are the Brave,” shot entirely in New Mexico, stars Kirk Douglas and is based on a book by one-time New Mexico resident Edward Abbey. Douglas claimed for years that this was his favorite film of all those that he made. (Netflix, Amazon, YouTube)
  • Sticking with the late, great Douglas, “Ace in the Hole,” was shot in Albuquerque and in the Gallup area. It’s a terrific “film-noirish” type movie based on a true incident that occurred in Kentucky. Directed by the great Billy Wilder, it flopped at the box office in its 1950s release, even with a title change, but has been rediscovered and restored in recent years. (Netflix, YouTube, Amazon)
  • Although it took years to find a distributor, and ironically opened in El Paso when finally released, “Bless Me Ultima,” based on the famed book by New Mexico author Rudolfo Anaya and shot in New Mexico, is a true wonderment. (Amazon, Netflix, YouTube)
  • This movie was also restored a few years back and even though many have not heard of it, it should be seen by all. “The Hired Hand” stars and was directed by Peter Fonda. It was his first film after the phenomenal release of “Easy Rider” (also partially shot in N.M.), and the chowderheads at the studio tried to sell it as “Easy Rider” on horseback. It is not. It is a somewhat esoteric and believable feminist Western, which co-stars Verna Bloom (YouTube and Netflix)
  • Entirely New Mexico, the well-known “Milagro Beanfield War” was made in N.M., based on a novel by Taos author John Nichols, and pretty much covers all the things that one finds in New Mexico – beans, landgrabbers, cars and the “manaña” attitude that strikes some as part of our culture. All it needed was a side of chile. Directed by part time N.M. resident Robert Redford.
  • Though difficult to find since it has never been released on DVD or even VHS, “Red Sky at Morning” from about 1970, is a beautiful coming-of-age work that stars Richard Thomas and Richard Crenna. The book it was based on was written by Santa Fe resident Richard Bradford. (fuzzy version on YouTube – try and find the version that opens with a sailboat scene.)
  • One of the first movies of value to be shot in Las Cruces that didn’t involve zombies or guns, “The Burning Plain” debuted at the Fountain Theatre (post film-festival screenings) with director Guillermo Arriaga as a guest. It features Jennifer Lawrence in one of her first major roles. Arriaga, who had worked on “Traffic” (a couple of minor scenes shot in Las Cruces), insisted that he be able to shoot in Las Cruces despite static from the state film office. (YouTube and Netflix)
  • Although never released in the USA, “Elvis Has Left the Building” is a great film to watch as you turn off your brain. Starring Kim Basinger and a host of Elvis impersonators, the 2004 film deserves a second chance and is directed by the guy who also did “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” Joel Zwick. (Amazon, YouTube, Netflix)
  • Film noir fans have probably already seen “Ride the Pink Horse,” a 1947 film that was partially shot in Santa Fe, but those who haven’t need to watch this edgy, dark work, which got Thomas Gomez a nomination for an Oscar, the first Hispanic actor/actress to be so chosen. He lost.
  • Another work based on the work of a New Mexico author, Max Evans, “The Hi Lo Country” was shot entirely in New Mexico, but it was the last release of a studio that went under, thus dooming it to be a box office failure. The movie is based entirely on characters who Evans knew during his years cowboying and has a great performance by Woody Harrelson. Sadly, it was also the last American-made film that Katy Jurado acted in. (DVD only at Amazon – but worth it!)
  • Although only a few scenes were shot in the Bisti Badlands near Farmington, the American remake of a terrific French film, “Wages of Fear,” is one of the most gripping and dark dramas ever to hit the screen. Titled “Sorcerer” by director William Friedkin (“Exorcist”) this film is NOT about witches, warlocks or sorcerers, but is the story of four disparate men stuck in an awful South American town who are hired to haul nitro to an oil-well fire. This is one of my favorite films of all time. (Netflix, Amazon, YouTube)
  • Last but not least, a film that drew a full house (and turned away even more people) at the Fountain Theatre when I screened it there in 2010 or so is the unbelievably coarse, vibrant and funny “Lust in the Dust.” This “Western” stars Divine, Tab Hunter and Lainie Kazan, and it must be seen to be believed. It is totally irreverent and, as does “Elvis Has Left the Building,” requires one to decommission one’s brain for 90 minutes. (Amazon and YouTube)

If you want more, check out “All the Pretty Horses,” “Red Dawn,” “Powwow Highway,” “White Sands,” “Them,” “Rocky Mountain,” the 2010 remake of “True Grit” and, if you are really daring (and bored), N.M.’s only (known) softcore pornography flick, “Teenage Seductress,” shot in Taos and starring a 28-year-old as a teenager! DVD is easy to find at Amazon.

Contributor and former full-time film reviewer for the Las Cruces Bulletin, Jeff Berg is the author of “New Mexico Filmmaking,” a book about the history of movies made in the state, “Historical Theatres of N.M.,” which describes itself, and the recent release “100 Things to Do in Santa Fe Before You Die,” (which could now be titled “100 Things You Used to Be Able to Do in Santa Fe Before You Die.”  His next book (late 2020) is “Lost Restaurants of Santa Fe,” and he hopes to write a biography of author Charles Bowden. Available in Las Cruces at COAS.