Hanging Tree, The (1959): Delmer Daves Directs Gary Cooper in One of his Last Movies, Co-Starring Maria Schell

In one of his last pictures, the popular Western “The Hanging Tree,” directed by Delmer Daves, the rapidly aging Gary Cooper plays Doc Joe Frail, a frontier doctor running away from a personal tragedy.

Due to his past, he takes his Hippocratic oath with a little gambling and gun-fighting in Skull Creek, a wild gold camp in Montana.  Early one, Doc saves an accused thief from a posse and, afterwards they become friends.  Doc then treats a young Swiss girl named Elizabeth Mahler (Maria Schell, sister of actor Maxmillian), for shock and blindness suffered from exposure to the sun after a stage holdup.

Doc helps Elizabeth in a grubstake and, with her partners Frenchy and Rune, she soon strikes it rich.  Frenchy tries to force his attentions on Elizabeth, forcing Doc to kill him.  In retaliation, the townsfolk’s take him to the hanging tree.  However, Elizabeth stops them by offering them her rich mine.

The greedy, cowardly townspeople accept and she releases Doc from captivity.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Song: “The Hanging Tree,” by Mack David and Jerry Livingston, sung by: Marty Robbins.

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winners of the Best Song Oscar were James Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn for “High Hopes,” from Frank Sinatra’s comedy, “A Hole in the Head.”


Gary Cooper (Doc Joseph Frail)

Maria Schell (Elizabeth Mahler)

Karl Malden (Frenchy Plante)

Ben Piazza (Rune)

George C. Scott (Dr. George Grubb)

Karl Swenson (Tom Flaunce)

Virginia Gregg (Edna Flaunce)

John Dierkes (Society Red)

King Donovan (Wonder)

Slim Talbot (Stage Driver)

Guy Wilkerson (Home Owner)

Bud Osborne (Horseman)

Annette Claudier (Dance Hall Girl)

Clarence Straight (Dealer)



A Baroda Production.

Warner release

Director: Delmer Daves.

Producers: Martin Jurow and Richard Shepherd.

Script: Wendell Mayes and Halsted Welles.

Photographer: Ted McCord.

Art Director: Daniel B. Cathcart.

Editor: Owen Marks.

Sound Recorder: Stanley Jones.

Musical Score: Max Steiner.

Orchestrator: Murray Cutter.

Assistant Director: Russell Llewellyn.

Maria Schell’s Costumes: Orry-Kelly.

Costumer: Marjorie Best.

Set Decorator: Frank Miller.

Makeup Artist: Gordon Bau.

Song: “The Hanging Tree,” by Mack David and Jerry Livingston, sung by: Marty Robbins.

From the Novella, “The Hanging Tree” by Dorothy M. Johnson.