Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Eli in the noose.

From THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND ME In My Anecdotage
by Eli Wallach

We arrived in Almeria that evening, a tiny town with one main street and no hotels. We were to spend the next two months here in a boardinghouse where each of us had a small room. Max Sloan, an Englishman, was the proprietor. "You'll get a good breakfast," he told me, "and we'll have a drink after you return from the shoot."
After a day of shooting, that drink always felt like a fresh glass of ice water after the desert."
The second day of shooting in Almeria, we picked up the scene where Tuco was being turned over to the sheriff to be hanged. Remembering Clint's warning about not showing off or doing dangerous stunts, I asked Leone if we could discuss this hanging scene.
"It is my understanding," I said to Leone, "that the special effects man has put a small charge of dynamite in the top of the noose around my neck. Am I correct?"
"Yes. Correct," Leone said.
"And then Clint, hidden in the barn at the edge of the square where I'm to be hanged, takes aim and shoots the noose around my neck. Correct?"
"Si, si," Leone said.
"I urge you to put some cotton in the horse's ears," I said.
"Why?" Leone asked. "I've never heard of that."
"In Hollywood they always put cotton in the horse's ears - to calm them," I lied. "Otherwise, when they heard the shot, they would take off."
Leone didn't buy it. "Don't worry," he said, then added in Italian. "Non c'e pericoloso." (There's nothing dangerous.) His use of Italian at this point indicated to me that he didn't give a damn whether it was dangerous or not. "Get on the horse," he ordered. "It's getting late."
I sat on the jittery horse, my hands tied behind my back, the noose tight around my neck. The heat was intense; the horse kept twitching the mosquitoes off his flanks. Most of the extras who were standing around to watch the hanging were English. They had all migrated to sunny southern Spain, where living costs were low and they could escape from rainy, foggy England.
The scene began with the sheriff unrolling a long document and intoning in a loud voice, "Wanted in fourteen counties of this state, the condemned is found guilty of the crimes of murder, armed robbery...inciting prostitution, kidnapping, extrotion...rape."
As the sheriff got to the final crimes on the list, I looked down at this poor little old English lady and growled at her. Leone called cut, ran up to me, and said, "Do that again."
"Do what?" I asked, literally at the end of my rope. "What in hell do you want me to do again?"
"Look at the lady and growl," he said, and demonstrated, "Grrr!"
I did as he asked; I scowled and snorted as the poor lady winced, and Leone stook beside the camera and applauded.
"Therefore," the sheriff continued, "according to the powers vested in us we sentence the accused here before us, Tuco Benedicto Pacifico Juan Maria Ramirez and any other aliases he has, to hang by the neck till dead. May God have mercy on his soul. Proceed!"
The sheriff raised his whip. Just then Eastwood shouldered his rifle, aimed carefully, and fired. At that moment, to give the illusion that Clint's aim was flawless, the special effects man pressed a button, the rope exploded and snapped, and the horse took off like a bat out of hell while my hands were tied behind me. I kept yelling at the horse to stop, using my knees to try to control him, but it was no use. It took about a mile before the horse stopped.
That night I reread the rest of the film script - there were three more hanging scenes left. "Goddamn it," I thought. "Leone better order a box of cotton. Not only for the horse's ears, but mine as well."

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