Selling Maureen O’Hara Dripping Wet – The Pressbook for “The Deadly Companions / Trigger Happy” (1961)

Pathe America didn’t have much idea how to sell The Deadly Companions. So they went for the obvious. Maureen O’Hara bathing.

And that was basically it. Out of the eight pages in the A3-sized Pressbook all but two were devoted to a picture of Maureen O’Hara in a desert pool. There were 29 advertisements in varying sizes in the Pressbook and all focused on that central image, even the smallest advert featured O’Hara in the water.

Even more extraordinary, given that  O’Hara (regardless of her current marquee status) was a star of some magnitude, over two decades in the business, female lead to some of the biggest actors in Hollywood like John Wayne and Tyrone Power, occasionally top-billed in her own right, working with directors of the magnitude of Alfred Hitchcock and John Ford, was how little space was devoted to her for a movie of which she was the denoted star.

Foreign distributors avoided the bathing image in favor of straightforward action.

Out of the two pages – A3-size remember – set aside for material that might attract the attention of showbiz editors on regional newspapers, a grand total of 28 lines was devoted to the star. Stuntman Chuck Hayward was allocated more space – two articles were written about him, not just one. Details about the props received more space. The extras received more space. Information about a cave received more space. The famous Arizona cacti received more space. The musical instruments used in the score received more space.

Even so, Maureen O’Hara with all her experience, would surely have plenty stories to tale, some juicy nuggets to snag the interest of the entertainment journos. A reflection, perhaps, on time spent in the company of Wayne (three movies), Errol Flynn (Against All Flags, 1952), Oscar-winning Alec Guinness (Our Man in Havana, 1959), Power (The Black Swan, 1942), and Charles Laughton (Jamaica Inn and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, both 1939).

Nope. You guessed it, every line of space given over to Maureen O’Hara concerned the bathing scene. It was her first ever, as if that was some kind of rite of passage. We discovered the water was “scarcely above freezing. It had come down to the Arizona lake from the melting January snow.” And there was no body double for the brave O’Hara. “She insisted on doing the scene herself, so the audience is not cheated.” For the river scene, in which she was accompanied by Steve Cochran, the water was no warmer and was completed on the first take, indication perhaps of Peckinpah’s lowly status. Later in his career he would have demanded retakes.

The main image of O’Hara in the water is overlaid with threat. Her three “deadly” companions surround her, even though such a scene did not occur in the picture. The tagline spells it out: “An Unholy Alliance! Three hell-driven men stalk a beautiful, tempting woman alone in an untamed land!…Savage action and explosive emotions erupt on the screen.” Accompanying that are three other images of the companions: “See – the deadliest gundown of them all!” / “See – the vicious crunch of fish against flesh!” / “See – the terror of Apache cruelty.”

There were some tagline variations on the theme: “Men without women in an untamed land…they forced their way into her life!” / “Trapped…by her past and the sins of the men who pursued her through a savage land!” / “Alone – in an untamed land – with three men who forced their way into her life.”

Change of marketing approach came too late.

O’Hara’s character’s profession, not spelled out in the movie where she is passed off as a “dance hall hostess,” is more clear-cut in one ad. “Trapped…Money gave men the right to her lips!” Some identifiers provide an insight into the companions – Brian Keith described as “Deadly…Hate and revenge were all he lived for.” Steve Cochran was portrayed as “Deadly…Nothing stood between him and what he wanted.” While for Chill Wills it was “Deadly…Half-crazed with greed and dreams of grandeur.”

However, some exhibitors, who were after all funding this enterprise, believed the Pressbook came up short, resulting in Pathe America creating a one-page supplement which presented O’Hara in a different light. Now she moved closer to her fiery screen persona, lashing out with a whip rather than languishing as a victim. The bathing image was retained but reduced in size, the emphasis now on action, on gun and fists. The tagline became: “Pages torn from the diary of a frontier dance girl…The greatest adventure love story in years.” Switching the focus to the O’Hara-Keith relationship was a bit of a stretch, but it was better than the original idea of O’Hara as a male plaything

The distributors stressed action even more when the movie was reissued the following year with a new title Trigger Happy. This time the tagline read: “They fought with guns worn low…Lust and revenge…romance and hate. A motion picture of great impact.”

Oddly enough, though the book by scriptwriter AS Fleischmann was promoted in the Pressbook, there was no mention of O’Hara singing the theme song, or cutting a single, a well-known promotional device for targeting radio stations. Otherwise, promotional ideas were in short supply.

Exhibitors were encouraged to hire three horsemen to ride through the town with signs “I am one of The Deadly Companions” or to set up headless cut-outs in the lobby and let children fire water pistols at them.

Even allowing for the relative inexperience on the production-distribution side, this was a particularly poor collection of marketing notions. Almost as if the producers believed that, considering the movie was made by exhibitors for exhibitors, it would get a free pass as regards the marketing aspects.

Author: Brian Hannan

I am a published author of books about film - over a dozen to my name, the latest being "When Women Ruled Hollywood." As the title of the blog suggests, this is a site devoted to movies of the 1960s but since I go to the movies twice a week - an old-fashioned double-bill of my own choosing - I might occasionally slip in a review of a contemporary picture.

6 thoughts on “Selling Maureen O’Hara Dripping Wet – The Pressbook for “The Deadly Companions / Trigger Happy” (1961)”

  1. Interesting there was some controversy on its launch. Here it came and went without any notice! Except for Maureen, the rest of the cast had no box office appeal. As expected, it fared badly.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I doubt if the public were aware of the controversy. It died a death in the US as well despite O’Hara’s box office appeal and it would have reamined in obscurity, I guess, except that Peckinpah’s next film was a critical success and after The Wild Bunch interest in his earlier work grew.

      Liked by 1 person

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