by Julian Granger
Thomas Hunter: DEATH RIDES IN LAREDO - or THREE GOLDEN BOYS [the shooting title – JG; released in Italy as 3 PISTOLS AGAINST CAESAR - WTC]. We shot it in Algeria. I was shooting in some of what would become probably some of the most dangerous places in the world.
JG: Do you know anything about the director of DEATH RIDES IN LAREDO - Enzo Peri? I know only of a documentary he made before that [IL PIACERE E IL MISTERO (1964)].
TH: He had never directed [actors] before in his life. He had no idea. He was just wanted to see if he could do it, I think. I helped Enzo. I re-wrote the ending for Enzo on that movie. It needed an upbeat ending. It sort of whiffled off into the ether the way it was written and I suggested something and he used it.... I liked Enzo. He was a wealthy kid, came from a very wealthy family, and he wanted to do this. That was what I heard. I think he is in finances or something. The picture made money 'cos it was the first comedy western. It took a twist toward the funny.
It was a very odd choice of places to do it. And we had Saadi. I think he was the hero of the Casbah, one of the people on the ground with a submachine gun shooting at the French. He took me to the Casbah and showed me all the French bullet holes in the big doors, the broken glass... This wasn't too long after. Nice-looking guy too. Looked like he was right for the part. Very quick on his feet and incredibly coordinated. Managed to dodge a lot of French bullets. He was the producer on the Algerian side [Yacef Saadi and his company Casbah Films had co-produced Gillo Pontecorvo's THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS the previous year - JG]. He also played a small part [as an actor]. Two things I remember about the shoot: there is a scene where they had me tied up by my feet swinging me over a fire - the bad guys caught me - and I could feel my hair starting to get pretty hot. I said "Hey, we gotta get some water and throw it at me to keep the flames from setting my hair on fire" and they got the water from a little creek nearby and it was contaminated. They were taking the water in their mouths and spitting it at me. I'm upside down so this stuff is going right up my nose and into my sinuses; right behind my eyes. I got the worst case of conjunctivitis you have ever seen. My eyes turned bright red and I looked like something from a vampire movie.
As soon as we were finished, I was standing there at the airport with my two producers, the Bologna brothers [Carmine and Domenico] - I remember them well! - and I can't wait to get out of there and the plane is waiting out on the runway and somebody comes up to them and hands them something. They're shaking their heads and getting angry with this person, who gets angry with them back, and one of them sort of slinks up to me and says "I hate to tell you this but your visa is expired".
I said "Well, that was your job" and they said "Yeah, but you can't go on the flight." I said "No, no. If I can't go on the flight, you can't go on the flight." He said "But we have to go" -- very Italian, right?
So I went crazy. "This is the best performance I ever gave." I said "Look, I'm going on that plane and I'm going with you." And they said "No, you can't because there is a guard here with a submachine gun right in front of us".
I said, 'Fuck him! If they want to shoot me, they can shoot me but I'm going on that plane". And they are looking at me with wide eyes [laughs]. And then I started having an argument with this guy with the submachine gun - which was not a real smart idea. Then somebody comes over. I don't know who the hell he was but he looked like [famed Swedish economist and 2nd Secretary General to the United Nations] Dag Hammarskjøld; he was tall, stately and spoke English with a Scandinavian accent, and he made the peace. He settled it. I was saying "If I don't get on that plane, you'll never make another production with Italy, or America, or Germany, or..." [laughs] They thought I was absolutely bonkers, which I was. I got on the plane then I almost pooped in my pants. I thought to myself "What the hell were you thinking about? This was the performance that could have cost you... you know, your life."
JG: It has a very interesting cast.
TH: We had Jimmy Shigeta, the guy who played the Frenchman [Nadir Moretti], Enrico Maria Salerno....
JG: A great Italian actor!
TH: He was as good as the script allowed him to be with his white eye and everything. I kept saying "Are you sure you want this line in about Caesar owning all the land to the West of the Mississippi? I said "That's a lot of land!". This was before I had the balls to suggest changing the script. It was the first comedy western. Built for the yucks, you know?
And there were Russians there [in Algeria] and this Russian made me drink a toast with him, this palm wine, and I had diarrhea for three days afterwards.
JG: You really suffered for your art, Tom.
TH: I did! I lost about ten pounds in three days. And in the desert, it was so hot.
The first night I went to sleep in the Transatlantique Hotel in Bou Saâda, and I woke up in the middle of the night and took a pitcher of water and poured it all over mattress and then I woke up again some time later and my mattress had dried out, and I poured another pitcher... There was no air conditioning in that hotel.
It was the hottest... You know, I'm from Savannah, Georgia so I'm used to the heat but I think it was the hottest weather I've been in.