One of the first Las Cruces-made movies lives on in the digital realm

Las Cruces News

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Orville Wanzer’s 1965 movie “The Devil’s Mistress” gets to relive its old glory, now in digital version as part of Dr. Julia Smith’s project to preserve Las Cruces and New Mexico State University’s film history.

Smith, an NMSU English professor, discovered Wanzer’s film reels at the NMSU Archives. Wanzer was a professor at NMSU in the 1960s. After he retired in the 1980s, he left many of his works in his office, which later ended up in the archives.

One of those works was bits and pieces of “The Devil’s Mistress,” a Western filmed in Las Cruces that had premiered in Hollywood in 1965.

Snapshot from Wanzer’s movie “The Devil’s Mistress.”

Smith gathered his works with the help of the Archives and the Institute of Historical Survey in Mesilla Park, where his reels were digitized.

A full 35mm film reel version of “The Devil’s Mistress” was found with one of the last living cast members, Teddy Gregory.

“It was already deteriorating, you know, when you open it it has this strong vinegar smell and you know that it’s deteriorating and the can was rusting. It was really great that we found that and could put it in the archives as well,” explained Smith.

The numerous cans of reels are now being cleaned and restored at the NMSU Archives.

Cleaning of Wanzer’s reels at the New Mexico State University Archives

Smith believes this part of Las Cruces history should be preserved and shown as an example of the long film history in the Southwest region.

“It brought up a lot of interesting things for me that I could explore in a documentary, that highlighted the film culture in Southern New Mexico and New Mexico as a whole,” said Smith.

She is working on a documentary that shows Wanzer’s work, but also his love for Las Cruces nature and his effect on film studies at NMSU.

As an English professor, Wanzer expanded his studies to the journalism department to teach students about filmmaking

Smith said he even brought movies from the Museum of Modern Art to show at the university.

“Films from France, Italy and Germany or independent films from the United States would be shown here,” she said.

Some of his students’ movies are also being kept at the archives.

Preserved tickets for “The Devil’s Mistress” premiere at Rio Grande Theatre in Las Cruces

Smith was awarded the New Mexico Historical Records grant to continue her work of preserving the film history of New Mexico and Las Cruces.

She was able to interview Wanzer for her documentary before he passed away in 2019.

“New Mexico creates a certain atmosphere in a film that contributes to the Western genre, even if it’s not directly intending to, which is what I think Orville Wanzer’s movie is doing,” said Smith.

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