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‘Timberjack’ highlights area’s logging history

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POLSON - There’s a fairly good chance that when everyone — and this pretty much describes everyone who was there that night — in the Showboat Theater was seen leaving the intimate establishment smiling, they had a thoroughly grand time watching the featured film.

The film, Timberjack, made a special appearance as part of the Polson Community Foundation’s 100-year celebration. The film, made in 1955, is about two logging company moguls who are essentially trying to put each other out of business. It was filmed in Polson, featuring the old Klein House at 212 3rd Ave, E.

The house speaks for itself. What was so impressive is that the film, made by what was then considered a major movie house, Republic, is truly a remarkable piece of moviemaking that showcases some talented actors.

Among them, Sterling Hayden as Tim Chipman; Vera Ralston as Lynne Tilton; David Brian as Croft Brunner; and Hoagy Carmichael as Jingles.

While Hollywood’s definition of so-called “leading men” consisted of recognizable names such as Gregory Peck, Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant, this movie offered up several characters who were just as notable for their acting and stage presence. Translated:  They weren’t bad to look at either, at least if judging by the reaction of some in the audience.

As for Ralston, she was pretty much the only woman in the film with memorable lines. Indeed, some of her lines surpassed those of her two male stars, Hayden and Brian. Brian possesses a rather stunning resemblance to J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) of that once long-running television series, “Dallas.”

But this was a Montana moment, and the three primary actors - Hayden, Brian and Ralston - did not disappoint. And of course, Carmichael, that master of the piano who arguably influenced jazz as much as any of the great American composers, resonated with the audience for his authenticity and accurate portrayal of a piano player.

No doubt, it doesn’t hurt if that’s what you do for your night gig as did Carmichael, whose name is attached to countless jazz pieces.

As such a wide-open state with unending beauty, Montana then - and probably now - made for a great movie setting. The fact the state was in its early days as far as resettling and the birth of the logging industry made this the perfect backdrop.

The house at 212 3rd Ave. E only received periodic mentions but when it did, the audience usually let loose a quiet nod of approval.

“Yes, I know where that’s at,” seemed to be the prevailing sentiment.

Apparently, according to historical accounts, Hayden didn’t particularly like acting. Too bad. He was really good. There are more than a few of today’s highly paid brats who call themselves actors who could learn from a Sterling Hayden and a David Brian, who was as good a villain as there ever was. The same could be said for many of the female brats whose names best go unmentioned, simply because they probably never have and never will endure the sort of obstacles Ralston faced, no doubt, a sign of the male-dominated times.

The movie also features scenes of what is now a resort and gambling casino on Flathead Lake, and numerous scenes of what was once Montana’s bustling railroad industry.

But all was not perfect then, and Hollywood certainly had its share of miscues. One was the buggy scene featuring Jingles and Lynne. Even with the backdrop of trees, it was pretty obvious it was a stage prop.

Oh well, special effects weren’t around, and Steven Spielberg was a far cry from ET and Jaws.

Leaving the theater that evening (the first performance was a sellout), those who could remember many of the things profiled in the movie felt in many ways a certain validation, not for their own lives but more for the ethic that permeated life. This was a story about the American way, hard work and determination that occasionally runs against the grain of those with sinister motives.

To be sure, the two logging companies portrayed could easily be today’s major oil companies, major banks, major automakers, major communications companies and even the major computer software makers.

When one thinks that 1955 was only 55 years ago, it gives pause to the notion that things tend to change slowly. This was a simpler time occupied by people who embraced a simpler life.

That in itself makes it a movie of memorable note, not to mention, one remarkable story to tell.

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