Filming begins in Great Falls for featuring 1951 Shelby murder

Watching a film crew re-enact the events of April 4, 1951 in downtown Great Falls on Tuesday was an odd feeling for Clem Pellett.

“This is just so poignant,” he said. “I’ve just got this feeling inside of me. It’s happy, it’s sad, it’s reenacting the day my grandfather was murdered.”

Pellet’s grandfather, Clarence Pellett, was murdered by Frank Dryman north of Shelby.

Clem Pellett and a crew were downtown on Central Avenue in front of the Civic Center for test filming with period vehicles supplied by Fritz’s Auto Repair of Great Falls. Kam Dabrowski plays Dryman and was walking along Central Avenue in front of the Civic Center looking for a car to steal, Pellett said.


Dryman was hitchhiking in 1951 and a woman named Dorothy picked him up and gave him a ride north. Pellett said he had a conversation with Dorothy about that history and asked he if anything about Dryman had seemed off. Pellett said Dorothy didn’t notice anything particularly concerning but that Dryman had mentioned it made him angry when cars would slow down on the road to pass him but not pick him up.

“He was getting gradually more angry throughout the day,” Pellett said and when Dryman picked up his grandfather later that day, Dryman shot and killed Clarence Pellett.

Dryman was convicted and initially sentenced to hang, but through appeals and legal maneuvering, he ended up on probation, which he absconded from and disappeared in 1972. Pellett later took up the case and Dryman was found and apprehended again in 2010. Dryman died last year while serving a life sentence at the Montana State Prison.

Pellett wrote a book about the case, but the screenplay for the movie Pellett was written by Fred Fontana, who produced Soldier in 1998 with Kurt Russell and Vegas Vacation in 1997 with Chevy Chase.

“The screenplay is magnificent,” Pellett said Tuesday morning.

Pellett said that Fontana grabbed the story and understood the essence within a day.

It’s an authentic Montana story filmed in Montana with Montana resources, Pellett said.

They could have filmed in Georgia, based on that state’s well-known incentives for filmmakers, but Pellett and the team were adamant about filming in Montana and have worked with the Montana Film Office to move the project forward.

“Everywhere this story happened, we are filming,” Pellett said. “It’s authentic.”

Tuesday they filmed on Central Avenue, gathered drone footage around the Cascade County Courthouse and then moved to film around Mount Olivet Cemetery, Pellett said. The team was then moving to Deer Lodge for more test shooting.

Pellet said a release date hasn’t been set, but they have a distribution date and a full production schedule for what will be a feature film in theaters.