Chicago is a popular place to shoot Hollywood movies, but rural Southern Illinois has never been a location shooting Holy Grail. Nevertheless there have been a few movies shot in Southern Illinois, a couple of them pretty heavy hitters. Here’s a quick look at them.
The Oscar-winning best picture, In the Heat of the Night (1967) was set in Sparta, Mississippi, but filmed in Sparta, Illinois, 100 miles or so east and south of St Louis. The railroad station that was one of the sets used for the film is now an art gallery (611 W. Second St.) honoring local sketch artist Roscoe Misselhorn (1902-1997) featuring more than ink drawings, cartoons, advertising art and much more focusing on favorite topics, including steam locomotives, historical buildings, paddle wheelers, the historical Missouri rivertown of Ste. Genevieve. There is also a permanent exhibit featuring photographs and other memorabilia from the Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger classic. The bridge that was featured in the film is in Chester, southeast of Sparta, spanning the Mississippi River.
Dreamer (1979) was billed as “the Rocky of bowling” and was shot at an Alton-area bowling alley. This theatrical release starred Tim (“Animal House”) Matheson and Jack Warden. It used plenty of local extras, did some shooting on the streets of the Alton area, and sank like a rock when released.
Matheson appeared in another movie shot in the Alton area, a TV movie offered up as Runaway Barge 1975). Matheson is the young newbie paired up with Nick Nolte was deckhand on a tugboat captained by Big Jim (“Dallas”) Davis. Set somewhere on the Mississippi River in the South (and ignoring that there aren’t any locks and dams south of St Louis, a few miles below Alton), the movie included some locations in Alton with a car chase on the Great River Road. The heroes try to recover a runaway chemical-filled barge, hence the title, which will emit deadly gas if it crashes into the dam several miles away. Tight shots of the bridge masked the city of Alton perched on the Illinois side of the dam.
U.S. Marshals (1998) starred Tommy Lee Jones back as Lt. Samuel Girard, again chasing an escaped prisoner as he did in The Fugitive. This time, Wesley Snipes is the innocent victim turned loose in Southern Illinois as the result of the crash of a plane carrying him to prison. The airplane is still in Southern Illinois, a site for divers in a scuba-friendly water-filled quarry in Massac County called Mehmet Lake.
One of the settings for How the West Was Won (1962) with its all-star cast was the actual 55-foot wide Cave in Rock where river pirates like Samuel Mason once held forth between the 1790’s and 1870’s. Pirates seized keelboats heading down the Ohio from westbound homesteaders. Aiding their scheme, as depicted in the movie, was a tavern set up in the cave itself, offering the last service of its kind for many a mile to come. Reputedly, the pirates salted away their loot in one or more locations in the area.
Disney’s Davy Crockett and the River Pirates (1956), appropriately enough, was also filmed at Cave in Rock. In the movie, Crockett and Mike Fink fight Samuel Mason and his pirates.