Deadly Companions

A Carousel Production
Maureen O'Hara
Brian Keith
Steve Cochran
Chill Wills

Produced by Charles B. FitzSimons
Directed by Sam Peckinpah
Written by: A.S. Fleischman
This page updated 1-27-06
(Click on underlined names above to read interviews of Mr. FitzSimons and Mr. Fleischman)

The Deadly Companions" was produced by Maureen's brother, Charles FitzSimons in 1961.  The screenplay was written by A.S. Fleischman. The haunting theme for the opening and closing credits was written (also lyrics) by Charles FitzSimons and sung beautifully by Maureen. Though somewhat obscured by lack of promotion and distribution, I was delighted this film was transferred to video.  From my side of the camera this is one of Maureen's best films. If it were marketed on the big screen today I predict it would be top box office because of it's feminist quality. I love the storyline that pits a woman against a man, in a man's world.  Also, it was good to see Maureen in a role that is totally unglamorous.  Maureen is normally quite gorgeous...messed up and in disarray...she's even more gorgeous. No fancy costumes and elegant coiffeur for Maureen in this one. Nothing to detract of her wonderful acting ability.  In fact other than her simple blouse and skirt she wears to church services, and a brief appearance in a saloon girl attire,  she wears one plain cotton dress throughout the major portion of the film. This will always be a favorite of mine.     Below are some scene captures.

Kit Tilden is devastated when her young son is accidentally shot and killed  in cross fire of a bank robbery. Years earlier as a new bride of just a few weeks, Kit's husband was killed in an Indian raid at Siringo as they traveled west.  Kit, then alone, continued on to Gila City.  Alone, and  not only a widow, but pregnant, Kit began her life in Gila City as a social outcast because the cruel, provincial ladies of the town refused to believe her story of  her husband's death. They chose to believe she was pregnant out of wedlock. In order to support herself and her child, she went to work as a saloon girl. Both Kit and her son were socially ostracized but they braved the town's unfair discrimination.  Meade (named after his father) is seen being teased by other children and then mournfully playing his harmonica for comfort. The tragic death of Meade took away from Kit the only person in the world she loved, and who loved her. It is even more tragic because it was an accident caused by the poor aim of Yellowleg, a former Union soldier (Brian Keith) who suffered a shoulder and arm injury. He simply missed the target and a stray bullet hit Meade who was running from the area.  In the scene above he is admitting to Kit that it was his bullet that killed the boy.  Yellowleg had just that day arrived in Gila City after hooking up with two rather seamy characters, Billy (Steve Cochran) and Turk (Chill Wills).  Yellowleg suspects Turk is the rebel solder who scalped him during the war, and left him forehead with an ugly scar for life. By befriending Bill and Turk, Yellowleg is waiting for just the right time for his revenge. This tragic accident left Yellowleg guilt ridden and wanting to help Kit in some way. For the time being he must put away his plans for revenge on Turk, and somehow try to make it right with this lonely, devastated woman

Billy, the ladies man, and Turk the rather crazed rebel deserter, think their new friend Yellowleg is going to mastermind a bank robbery (which was foiled by other robbers in Gila City).  Kit, now determined that her son will be buried in Siringo, next to his father, of course, gets no help from the locals. Siringo is now a ghost town in the middle of Apache territory and the mission, though noble, is a very dangerous one.  Seeing this as an opportunity to make amends for accidentally shooting her son, Yellow leg offers to escort her there.  Kit is livid and then unforgiving of Yellowleg and sets out on her own.  Yellowleg convinces his unsavory saddle partners that they need to follow her and make sure she gets safely to Siringo.  The reluctantly agree.  Billy, however, doesn't mind quite as much because he figures this lovely redheaded saloon girl would be quite a conquest for him.
When they catch up with Kit out on the Arizona desert, she is at first reluctant to accept their help, but after obstacles that need a man's strength began to occur, she begins to relent.  Not until Billy tries to force himself on Kit in the night, and Yellowleg defends her, do Billy and Turk disappear (setting out to complete the bank robbery without Yellowleg).  Now Yellow leg is faced with a decision.  If he continues on with Kit to Siringo he loses track of Turk (whom he wants to repay by a vengeful scalping) - a man he has tracked for years.  The temptation for revenge is too great.

Kit watches sadly as Yellowleg rides away, leaving her alone in her mission to bury her young son in Siringo. Moments later she is left weeping, sitting on the desert floor after her horse which she tries to bridle drags her a distance, and then runs off. Kit is then alone with a wagon, her son's casket, and no one. However, Yellowleg's conscience gets the better of him and after riding less than a mile out into the desert, he does return, letting Kit know that he does so with reluctance. Kit's mission then continues, but against tremendous odds.  They are in Apache country and must travel with extreme caution with danger at every turn.  One Indian begins to stalk them and systematically disables their journey, bit by bit, eventually killing their horse.

After their horse is killed, Kit, in utter frustration begins to cry and Yellowleg awkwardly reaches out to her.  This is the much needed shoulder to cry on she has been without for so many years. Kit regains her composure quickly, however, and backs away as she remembers this is the man who killed her son. She resumes her "distance" and again focuses on their mission.  They are almost to their destination, Siringo, and now must carry her son's coffin.  The Indian re-appears, ready for the final attack, and Yellowleg leaves Kit in a cave, armed with a rifle, as he sets out to climb a hill in an attempt to kill overtake their stalker.  Knowing it is possible Yellowleg may never come back, Kit utters a weak, desperate, "thank you" which he doesn't hear.  The feeling at that moment is one of utter futility.  Kit, driven by the need to take the one thing in the whole world she loved to the respectability of a final resting place by his father, and Yellowleg, in pursuit of a pointless act of revenge, could be turning their back on the one thing they both, and one another. Though Yellowleg has a visible, ugly scar on his forehead; Kit is scarred also, emotionally.  Only moments after Yellowleg is out of site the Indian appears at an opening in the cave ceiling and in fear and reflex action, Kate fires the rifle, bringing down her stalker.

The weary pair, then continue on to Siringo, with Kate at one end of the coffin, and Yellowleg at the other, carrying it into the deserted village.

While Yellowleg takes a shovel and searches for Meade Tilden's grave, Kit hurriedly searches for some flowers to adorn it. Yellowleg returns informing her that he cannot find Meade's grave. Kate quickly joins the search and then not finding the marker, frantically begins turning boards over as tears well up in her eyes. Had she come all this way only to find another obstacle?  The scene is then interrupted by the appearance of Billy and Turk who have returned from their bank escapade.  Billy shuts Kit and Yellowleg in a deserted mud hut, and again, not knowing if they even had a future, let alone one together, leveled with one another.  He told her about his mission to kill the man who scarred him during the war (which was why he never removed his hat); and Kit in a round about way, told him that it just didn't matter.  She told him of her scars, and then he bravely removes his hat...she smiles at him. After a confrontation Billy is shot and killed and that leaves Yellowleg free to find Turk, who is hiding, and finally get his revenge.  He ignores her, find Turk, and has his knife poised about Turk's forehead, when Kate appears and pleads one more time with Yellowleg not to do it - and she leaves.  Moments later Yellowleg emerges from the building admitting he couldn't do it.

Kit embraces Yellowleg, knowing he is truly a good man - and now completely hers. All of the  violence and unfairness in their lives is resolved in their love for one another.
The sheriff and his men arrive, and take Turk into custody, and "just like in the movies"..Kit and Yellowleg ride off into the sunset together.

Making of "The Deadly Companions"

"The Deadly Companions" crew moved in on Tucson, Arizona in January of 1961. Tucson was quite accustomed to having movie crews in their fair city on the desert (along with "Old Tucson") but it was apparent they particularly enjoyed this production.  I have collected some newspaper articles from local newspapers.

Forum To Feature Movie Personnel
Jan. 28, 1961

     Movie stars and other cinema personnel in Tucson for the filming of the movie "The Deadly Companions" will be guests tonight at a Tucson Press Club forum in the Santa Rita Hotel.

     They are Maureen O'Hara, Brian Keith, Steve Cochran, Chill Wills, director Sam Peckinpah and producer Charles FitzSimons.  The forum, which is open to the Press Club members and guests will begin at 8:30.

Bugle Be-Quieted - Children Will Visit Film Set
Feb. 6, 1961

     A bugle blast will replace the traditional "Quiet! Rollem!" yell at the Old Tucson movie set this morning.

     Two Dubliners, actress Maureen O'Hara and the Rev. Kevin McArdle, of the SAnta Cruz School, got together this week to talk about mutual friends back in Ireland.

     Miss O'Hara, in Tucson for the filming of "Deadly Companions" invited the priest to bring some of his students out to the movie set.

     Fr. McArdle couldn't very well take only a few of his students; so at 9:30 am this morning more than 100 Santa Cruz pupils in two buses will go out to the set.

    To make sure the kids don't disrupt the filming, Fr. McArdle has taught them some signals. Two notes from a bugle will mean they are free to talk, but one loud blast means "Shaddup!"

Click on photo above to visit site with statements from Maureen's make-up man, Jim Barker.  Above he applies makeup for "The Deadly Companions."


More "Behind the Scenes" facts and notes

The below typewritten document was found in my research material and I can find no credits for the composition and content.  I apologize for not being able to give credit to the source but humbly thank the author.

Filming on the Arizona desert: - Cholla is a wild beautiful cactus of the Arizona desert that attracts color photographers from all parts of the globe.  however, during one scene, Brian Keith's horse hit some Cholla with its withers and filming had to stop for an hour while needles were removed with pliers.  Barrell cactus has need sharp fish hooks actually used by Indians for fishing. It can rip to pieces tires of the vehicles than drive over it.  For these reasons, Cholla Barrel cactus heretofore have not been seen in close scenes on the screen.

Stuntman Chuck Hayward is considered one of the great stuntmen of his time.  In "The Deadly Companions," Hayward executed a wild stagecoach ride with eight top Hollywood stuntmen impersonating Indians who had just massacred the stage's occupants.  Before taking a 40-foot fall into an out-of-camera-range net, Chuck first dropped a 100 pound sack into the net to see if it would split.  It didn't - then Chuck jumped.  He says stuntmen get hurt mostly when they're working with non-pros. Another dangerous stunt that ended up as a very "close call" was witnessed by cast and crew.  It occurred a day prior to the shooting of the scene in which he drives a stagecoach on a wild, careening run and finally deliberately topples it.  During a test run the horses bolted and Hayward guided them for a half a mile through dense woods before the stagecoach struck a tree, flipped in the air and crashed. There were a few tense moments before he emerged from the wreckage, unhurt.  Hayward stated later that never in his years as a circuit rodeo rider and professional bronco buster had he experienced such a rough ride.

Bathing scene:  Maureen plays a "bathing" scene in this film (away from the warmth of an in-studio set.) Her scene takes place in water out on the desert that was "barely" (pardon the pun) above freezing.  Maureen bravely insisted on doing the scene herself for realism. Another scene that required a very chilly dip in cold water was during a struggle with STeve Cochran. Goose bumps prevailing - the first take had to be a print.

Indian personnel for "The Deadly Companions" were from Apache and Papago tribes. The menacing Indian who pursues Kit and Yellow Leg was Buck Sharpe, who is half Apache and half Papago. Buck, a very warm and kindly man, had with him on the set, a young hearing impaired native of another tribe with whom he conversed in sign language.

Authentic Sets and Props:  An exact replica of Tucson, Arizona, as it appeared a hundred years ago was used in this film. Gila City was completely authentic, having been built to exact to exact scale from pioneer artists' drawings of the early 1860's.  The doctor's chair shown in the doctor's office is a sturdy relic used by a frontier surgeon. Most of the larger props were loaned by the Arizona State Museum and some were made available by individual owners, third and fourth generation Arizonans.

Arizona's Natural Cave: The huge cave used as the setting for one of the most dramatic scenes in "The Deadly Companions" is an actual cave formed by an earthquake fault.  Producer FitzSimons learned about the cave from the Archeological Department of Tucson University. The opening is 50 feet high and 40 feet across and spirals hundreds of feet into the mountain. The roof is made up of precariously hanging boulders weighing hundreds of tons. For this reason, great care was taken by cast and crew not to make any sudden movement, which might dialogue a boulder.  In this scene Maureen had to explode a shotgun at a lurking Apache. For safety, flash powder was used instead of a cartridge (the detonation of which could have brought down the roof.)  The use of the cave, no matter how dangerous, definitely lent realism to the scene, particularly the echoed resonation of sound.

Unusual Soundtrack: Probably the most unusual combination of instruments ever assembled for recording a motion picture score was the ones used to create the music for this film. The instruments in the hands of specially selected musicians interpreting Marlin Skiles' score (under the direction of Kaoul Kraushaar) were a conventional guitar, electric guitar, banjo, harmonica, electric organ, saloon piano, marimba, toy trumpet, xylophone, vibraphone, kettle drum, bandoneon and a cracked bell. The unique scoring was suggested by Producer FitzSimons, who, with Skiles, wrote the words and music of the film's theme song, "A Dream of Love" (sung by Maureen during the opening and closing credits). The guitarists in the recording group were the internationally known Laurindo Almeida and Robert Bain. The bandoneon (German parent to the accordian) was played by Mario Peralta.

"The Deadly Companions."  1-26-06
(please click on photo below to visit Mr. Fleischman's webpage)

1.    Is it easier to write a story from a script or visa-versa?

     I find it easier to write a novel than to adapt a script from one.   All sorts of new problems arise.  For example, in a novel, it's easy to reveal a character's thoughts.  In screenplay, if the character is alone  -- does he talk to himself?   If there's a lot of interior monologue, you sometimes opt for the voice of a narrator.  Or introduce a Sancho Panza for hero to talk to and reveal what's in his head.

     A major problem in adapting is length.   Say the novel is 275 pages long, or longer.   How do you squeeze it into a 105 or 110 page script?  And consider that a script page contains about half the wordage of a book page, so the tightening problem is even more demanding.

2.    Was the story/script idea that of Charlie or yourself or did you work together?

    It's true, that in The Deadly Companions, I did the reverse -- adapt the novel from the film script.  That meant expanding every script page to two or three times its original length for the novel,  Or do you add new scenes to take up the slack?

     After writing The Deadly Companions, under its original title, Yellowleg, as a film script, it was optioned by Marlon Brando.   To give the story added visibility, I turned it into a novel.   Meanwhile, Charlie FitzSimons got wind of the script and wanted it.  He patiently waited to see what Brando would do.   After a year holding the script under option, Brando passed on it to make a western he himself had written, One-Eyed Jacks.  Meanwhile, the novel was published under the title: Yellowleg.

     Charlie, together with Maureen, and I formed a film company, Carousel Productions, to make the picture.   We followed the original script and novel very closely.  Charles had a fine sense of detail and we made many scene improvements. When Sam Peckinpaw was signed on as director and sent to Arizona to scout locations around Tucson, he began to dictate his own script.   When Charles discovered this, he tossed the Peckinpaw pages away and told him to "shoot the script."

     The novel was then reissued under the film title: The Deadly Companions

3.     I know I've seen your name on movie screens before.  Have you written a lot of scripts....or mostly just stories that are adapted to scripts?

     My first screenplay, based on my own novel, was Blood Alley, with John Wayne, directed by William A. Wellman, who directed three of my films.  I have been a screenwriter since 1954, then under contract to Wayne.  My most recent script was an adaptation of my children's novel, The Whipping Boy, with George C. Scott, which Disney released.  I adapted this book (it won the prestigious Newbery Award) as a musical as well.   We opened in Seattle, running 144 performance.  I am now finishing the lyrics for a musical based on another of my novels, a California gold rush story called By the Great Horn Spoon.etc.

4.     I've talked with many fans about this movie and each one of us typically has a different take on the characters.  I see it as what is termed today as a "chick flick" - and see Yellow Leg as just a man seeking revenge who is not so pleasantly diverted by a woman in need....but I see Kit as a true heroine.  That's probably just my female mind interpretation.  How do you as the writer see this story?

    The term 'chick flick" hadn't surfaced when I wrote this story.   But I wanted to write a story with the heroine having equal strength as the hero,   I think it was her gutsiness, without a loss of her femininity, that first attracted Charlie to the project as a vehicle for Maureen.

5.     When you write a story that is a script for a movie, do you feel that the screen adaptation is usually not the way you would have presented it on the screen?

     As I am usually on the set of my films, I generally am able you fend off lunacies.   But not always.  An important change was made in the script for The Whipping Boy so offensive to me that I took my name off as screenwriter.   It is credited to Max Brindle, a detective character in my first novel, who never existed.

     I would have even more control of my scripts if I chose to direct them.   But I have no interest, and no time, for directing.   My heart and head are in writing.   The Deadly Companions was a pleasure because of Charles and Maureen's dedication to the script as written, and we became friends.  I talked with Charles mere days before he died.

With kindest regards,


Back to cover

Charles FitzSimons Interview 10-93

This page prepared and published 4-11-99 - Updated 1-29-06
Copyright: ©June Parker Beck 2006