The Iron Orchard, based on the 1966 novel by the same name, opens in limited release across Texas on February 22. It will open in New York City and Los Angeles, starting March 1st. I hope it will go to on-demand later in the year.
The film is based on a novel about West Texas wildcatters, considered an instant class back in 1966. It was originally slated to film in 1970, with Paul Newman as the lead. Almost fifty years later, the story finally made it to the big screen, thanks to the Austin based Santa Rita Film Company.
Jim McNeely (Lane Garrison) finds his life thrown in the ruthless world of Texas oilfields in 1939. He must overcome hard bosses and saltier oilmen who want to keep out the competition. Jim doesn’t know what to do with himself when the wealth proves empty, and seeks the approval from his hometown. Despite success, his need to prove himself might destroy him completely.
Per the Studio: Based on Tom Pendleton’s 1966 salacious novel of the same name that defined generations of Texans to follow, THE IRON ORCHARD harkens back to a time of unfulfilled dreams and tarnished spirits that would either break men unworthy of admiration or shower them with riches that could corrupt even the most righteous of us all.
Here’s what I loved about the movie.
Between the American Gold Rush, roaring 20’s, and the Stock Market of the 1980’s, there was the oil wealth of Texas. Wildcatters sought endless fortune in speculative oil fields. Jim McNeely is a Texas version of Bud Fox, aspiring to rise above his humble station in Ft. Worth society. The film sends a clear message about the empty glitter of quick money in the heyday of oil wealth.
Our hero is also our anti-hero. McNeely and his industry friends are likable enough, but I found them all one dimensional. The characters that really shined, were the women surrounding McNeely. They are the single motivating in his life.
Jim’s high school sweetheart, painted as the perfect woman and placed on a pedestal by everyone around her, embodies the ultimate prize along the elite.
His wife has a rugged and steadfast femininity. Although she isn’t a part of the high society in Fort Worth, she is more poised and deserving of their praise.
Lesser Known History
The story highlights a little know piece of American history in oil wildcatters in Texas. Wildcatters paid for short term leases to drill in search of oil, often taking advantage of ranchers after the depression. I wish the film had gone deeper into their impact on Texas. But it piqued my interest! This could have been an miniseries at least.
From the cars, the fashion and the beer cans – I adored the style of this film. The open ranges of Texas made for an inexpensive and always beautiful background for an independent film. It impeccably recreated the new money society in Fort Worth, Texas of the 1940’s.
American Tales from the West
Iron Orchard reminded me of why I love Westerns. America’s Westerns are the struggle to cut our own path through new territory. In each era of our history, there is a new wilderness to conquer, new riches to uncover, bigger demons to fight.
If you can’t catch Iron Orchard until on-demand, whet your appetite with these tales from more recent history of America’s Western frontiers.
Of Mice and Men (1992 starring Gary Sinise and John Malkovich) – available on Amazon Prime
Wind River (2017 starring Jeremey Renner and Elizabeth Olsen) – available on Netflix
Hell or High Water (2016 starring Jeff Bridges and Chris Pine) – available on Netflix
River Runs Through It (1992 starring Brad Pitt) – available on Amazon video
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017 starring Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson)- available on Amazon video
You can find theaters showing “The Iron Orchard” HERE.
Picture Source: The Iron Orchard / Santa Rita Film Company