Estanicia, New Mexico
(The Filming of Spider Mike's Jailbreak)
Courtesy of Morrow Hall

Mr. Morrow Hall

Written by Morrow Hall

      I guess it was in 1977 that I got a call from Larry Hamm, who was the director of the New Mexico Film Commission. I was mayor of Estancia, New Mexico, at the time. Larry said a movie company wanted to film in town and asked if he and some of the movie people could visit with me the next day. I eagerly agreed.
     Larry arrived at my office at about 11 AM with Sam Peckinpah, the director, and three or four other men. One was the location manager, but I don’t recall other names or titles. They briefly explained what the movie was about and what part Estancia would play in it. Sam then asked if there was a bar anywhere near.
     “Right across the street,” I said. He then directed the others to go look for appropriate locations and invited me to join him at the bar. We went over to the Blue Ribbon Bar, where we stayed for several hours. Sam was buying, and I think we were drinking tequila.
     I enjoyed talking with him about some of his films, including Straw Dogs, which I thought was well done, and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, which I liked because Bob Dylan was in it. By the time the others came in with glowing reports of excellent locations, we were pretty good friends.
     I announced the planned filming in the local paper, and the town was pretty excited. In the following weeks, various fake buildings were constructed that would be crashed into by semi-trucks when filming began. All kinds of local merchants and laborers got a piece of the action and were paid a lot more than their usual fees. It was a lot of fun.
     The project was leaking money like a rusty bucket. One of the guys working on construction said he didn’t bring any tools with him. Everything was purchased new, he said, and if he was lucky he’d be taking a lot of tools back with him when they left. When it came to cost-overruns or expensive midstream changes of plan, this crew could have taught Boeing and Halliburton some tricks.
     The excitement level in the town was maintained as the actors came to town in their fancy motor-homes. Kris Kristofferson stayed in his most of the time, and it was rumored that he was busy doing lines of cocaine. This was back when that was quite a fad, and Sam himself wore a leather strap with a gold-plated razor blade on it as a necklace. That should explain a lot.
     Ali McGraw was charming, but nobody was as ebullient and friendly as Ernest Borgnine. He was everywhere, talking to everybody, enjoying life. I really enjoyed him and his wife, Tova.
     James Coburn arrived at some point and was listed as an assistant director or something. He held court every night at the Olde Co-op, a local restaurant and lounge, wearing his flat hat and smoking those skinny stogies, usually surrounded by women. He was also very friendly, but I only saw him “work” once. When the climactic scene of the semis smashing into the jail was all set up, ready to film, he strode in, looked around, and went back out.
     “I like it,” he announced, and went back to the Co-op.

     Some filming was done here, but then the crew went off to Raphael’s Silver Cloud bar near Bernalillo and some other New Mexico locations, and as time went on, the bloom was off the rose as far as our local citizens were concerned. “They keep blocking the street.” “They built fake buildings where I used to take a shortcut to the post office.” “Will they ever finish this movie stuff?”
     It was at about this time that the decision was made to take the crew to California to film the bridge scene at the end of the movie. The crew left, but the buildings and the growing irritation remained. They were gone quite a while.
     By the time they returned, that irritation had grown and apparently Sam was getting the brunt of it. I had asked him that first day if he would mention Estancia in the credits, and he said he would, but he was getting annoyed by the local annoyance, and he wasn’t as friendly with me. When the film came out, the thank-you was only to “the people of New Mexico.”
     I got to know quite a few of the people working on the film, and somebody gave me a script. I took it around and got a lot of the people to sign it – not just the actors but everybody involved. But Sam’s signature is noticeably absent. I recently donated the script to the Estancia Public Library.

     At some point, the increasing costs caused a big shot from BMI in England to come to Estancia to pull in the reins. I enjoyed meeting him, and he wrote in the script, too.  And then it was over. All the debris was cleaned up, the crew left, and I wasn’t re-elected as mayor. Despite that, I look back fondly at the experience