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Thief River Falls Snowmobile Movie Remembered

 

October 26, 2019



In 1972, a little bit of Hollywood came to Thief River Falls, Minnesota … riding on a snowmobile.

On the November 1 anniversary of its premiere at the Falls Theater, Pioneer 90.1 will broadcast a history of the film, “It Ain’t Easy.” The radio documentary features comments from former Arctic Cat racers, the founder of the Carmichael-Lynch advertising agency, the film’s music composer, and the son of the movie’s director.

Decades before YouTube and pocket-sized video cameras, the news that a professional film crew would put Thief River Falls, some of its residents, and its chief export – the Arctic Cat Snowmobile – on the big screen, captured the imagination of the town.

In the weeks leading up to the premiere, the Times printed articles and photos of the movie’s stars, including Lance Hendrickson, who would later star in the “Terminator” films.

The movie’s theme song, written by Dale Menten of the Twin Cities band The Gestures, was heard often on KTRF-AM.

“It Ain’t Easy” was reported at the time to be the first feature film made completely in Minnesota. It sprang from a series of short films that were produced for Arctic Cat by Carmichael-Lynch. The promotional films used the theme, “This is the Year of the Cat.”

Aspiring filmmaker Maury Hurley, who died in 2015 at the age of 75, wrote and directed the film. His son Michael, who now works for Universal Pictures in Los Angeles, said Maury had hoped “It Ain’t Easy” would be his ticket to a career in film. “It was supposed to be the “Easy Rider” of snowmobiles,” Hurley said, in reference to the Peter Fonda- Dennis Hopper film.

Though the movie didn’t turn out the way he wanted, Maury Hurley did go on to write many episodes of “Miami Vice.” He also co-created “Star Trek, The Next Generation” with Gene Roddenberry.

Arctic Cat race team members Ken Beito and Larry Coltom were stunt doubles in the film. Beito trained the actors, most of whom had never driven a snowmobile. Both men recalled rigging a snowmobile to explode for one action scene.

On the evening of the premiere, a chartered plane carrying newspaper columnists, TV personalities, dignitaries, and business leaders flew north from the Twin Cities for the screening. On the way to the theater, their tour bus drove by locations used in the movie: the Fountain Café, Ole’s Northern Supply, and the Arctic Cat testing facility.

Outside the theater, the Lincoln High School Band played “We’re from Thief River Falls.” WCCO TV’s Bill Carlson, who was born in Thief River Falls, was the master of ceremonies.

Arctic Cat president Lowell Swenson had a small acting role in the film, alongside local residents Paul Eggebratten, Charlie Lofton, Dennis Bakke, Bruce Pritchard, Richard Pollick and Ronald Hink. A Thief River Falls Times article noted that “a waitress at the Fountain Café also has several appearances during the cafe scene.”

The film begins with shots of a snowy road trip to Thief River Falls and includes a few wintery street scenes shot in its bustling downtown. Filming also took place at Bemis Hill near Warroad, and during a snowmobile race in Michigan.

Promotional material for “It Ain’t Easy” offered a synopsis of the film: “If you’ve been on the road a while – lonely, hassled, fed up with the dropout scene and hungry for the happy days again – you can always go home. Or can you? “It Ain’t Easy” is the story of Randy Sorenson, a young man haunted by, yet drawn toward his childhood roots in a small northern Minnesota town. Against the backdrop of a grim, winter way of life, events take shape that will involve Randy in murder and vengeance. Randy’s world becomes a maelstrom of torment, and the quiet world he sought by returning home ends in terror.”

Those involved in making the film agreed that the script was overly ambitious and confusing. “When you watch it, you’ll get lost,” Beito said, noting that some scenes that were edited out may have helped tell the story more effectively.

Lee Lynch of Carmichael-Lynch said that the film’s plot was secondary to the snowmobile racing scenes. The making of the movie was covered extensively in snowmobiling magazines at the time.

Despite their disappointment in the final edit, those involved in the making of “It Ain’t Easy” have fond memories of the production process, and the Thief River Falls premiere. “I’ll never forget the faces of the people in the town. It was terrific,” Menten said. “And whoever thought about doing this incredible opening night in Thief River Falls

… brilliant.”

Pioneer 90.1 is working with Michael Hurley on a possible public screening of the film, to be announced this winter.

The 40-minute radio documentary, “Premiere ’72: When Hollywood came to Thief River Falls,” will air at 5:00 p.m. on Pioneer 90.1 FM, Friday, November 1. The station streams online at http://www.radionorthland.org. Production of the documentary was supported by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

The feature, along with additional interviews and materials from the film will be made available online after the broadcast.

For more information, or to share memories of the movie, listeners are asked to call Pioneer 90.1 at 683-8587 or email mark.johnson@northlandcollege.edu.

 

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