Gary Cooper is the star of Desert Rider, a very good western directed by William Wyler, but did you know that he had to shoot it?
The Desert Rider (The Westerner) is a western directed by william wylerand brings together Gary CooperWalter Brennan and Doris Davenport. But behind the scenes, nothing was easy, because the star of the film refused to make this feature film which has now become a classic of the genre.
The story sees Cole Hardin (Cooper) being arrested for a horse theft he didn’t commit. After a speedy trial, he was sentenced to death by Judge Roy Bean (Brennan). He escapes hanging, at least temporarily, by promising to bring him a lock of hair from the beautiful Lily Langtry, whom he claims to know and with whom the judge is madly in love…
Except that Gary Cooper takes a dim view of the script, which seems to give the good role to Roy Bean, a character who really existed and whose interpretation was popularized by the album The judge by Lucky Luke. It will be years later embodied by Paul Newman and even Pierre-Perret ! Quoted in Gary Cooper, An American HeroCooper says:
We would have said [le] film [de Walter Brennan]. A cowboy arrives on horseback, exchanges a few shots at the judge’s expense, but it’s really a coincidence. I didn’t see why the presence of Gary Cooper was necessary for this role.
The Desert Rider is financed by the independent producer Samuel Goldwyn, who is quite embarrassed by the situation. In response to questions from the star, he replies to the actor that his role will be extended and reminds that he is bound by contract to shoot the film. After this threat, Cooper writes to him again, and persists and signs:
After careful consideration, I regret to inform you that I find the character of Cole Harden to be still inadequate and unsatisfactory for me, as is the story. (…) Like you, I have a position to hold, my standing was compromised from the start.
Except Goldwyn has the right for him, and Cooper is obligated to make the film. In 1936, the actor signed a six-year contract with the producer for six films, and he cannot break this agreement. He therefore accepts reluctantly to do this western in which he does not find the role sufficiently developed to hold the top billing.
Once the first crank is given, Gary Cooper, who had already filmed with Brennan before, has a friendly relationship on the set, the latter imitating Goldwyn garlanding Cooper. They will meet again for four other films after Le Cavalier: The man in the street, Sergeant York (1941), Vanquisher of Destiny (1942) and Horizons in flames (1949).
Moreover, on the set, Cooper, a great connoisseur of the American West, is consulted by the screenwriter Niven Busch to refine the scenes. He was not mistaken in the importance of Roy Bean’s role, however, because when The Desert Rider came out, Brennan won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of the famous Western Judge.
Despite behind-the-scenes tensions, Cooper will owe Goldwyn two more features, which he will fulfill with romantic comedy Fireball (1941) and the biopic about baseball player Lou Gehrig: Winner of fate (1942).
Finally, note that two other westerns bear the title The Westerner but offer a completely different story: a film with Tim McCoy (1934) and the 13-episode series created by Sam Peckinpah with Brian Keith (1960).