A look inside Hollywood and the movies. : LEGAL DEPT. : Lawsuit, Lawsuit on the Range

Ron Howard may be the rare nice guy in Hollywood, but from cattle driver Dick Cox's perspective, the director is a "rude, obnoxious" person who misled him into thinking he and his wagon train would be safe during the filming of the climactic Oklahoma land rush scene of Howard's "Far and Away."

According to Cox, who with 20 others from a dude ranch in Lewistown, Mont., rode 160 miles for three days work as extras in the Universal film, the experience "left a bad taste in my mouth"--not to mention reasons for filing a lawsuit.

Cox claims Howard & Co. never explained that the morning he and his men lined up in anticipation of participating in a big-name, big-talent Hollywood production that the animals might get spooked by the cannon fire that was shot off to begin the land rush--or by the helicopter flying overhead to capture the wide plains view on 70-millimeter Panavision.

Nine cameras were used the day of filming and from watching the movie, it appears as if every perspective of the chaotic scramble for virgin territory ended up in the final cut. Horses fell, wagons were toppled and people were crushed as Joseph (Tom Cruise) rides through it all to stake out a claim for himself and his love, Shannon (Nicole Kidman). That's the fictional part.

Cox claims Howard "got his realism, all right." He alleges that his team of horses was frightened, causing him to be thrown forward over the wagon and injured, and claimed there were incidents involving others as well during the stampede involving 750 horses, numerous stunt riders and other extras.

In his personal injury suit filed in federal district court in Great Falls, Mon., Cox alleges the film's production company "intentionally and maliciously caused the stampede to occur in order to make the scene appear more realistic, all without advising any of the extras that the scene would be uncontrolled and violent in its portrayal." He's suing for general and special damages of an unspecified amount.

That's mostly bunk, according to someone who was on the set of "Far and Away" every day. "Hollywood comes to town and there's always someone who's got to file a lawsuit," he said. "If anything, Ron was overly concerned that anybody get hurt."

But he conceded that four people broke bones and one horse died, despite filmmakers' efforts to use breakaway wooden wagons and trained riders and horses for the shots of eager land grabbers who crashed before getting very far.

Howard was out of the country and unavailable to comment. Attorneys for Imagine Entertainment, the film company that made "Far and Away" (originally titled "An Irish Story") with Universal Pictures, also had no comment.

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