My Life As An Independent Film Producer
by Sidney Pink
In casting we set up what was later known as the Pink Players. Every English-speaking actor in Spain as well as the foreign contingent applied for roles in VALLEY. That was how we were able to build up the casting roster that served us for the making of thirty-seven Spanish coproductions. I met most of Spain's most talented actors, and there was certainly a bevy of them. In VALLEY we used almost every one of them.
Spain had always been the home of fine actors, and its theater tradition dated back to the days of Cervantes and before. Fernando Rey, one of today's finest character actors, played the part of the vacillating king of Leon, and he gave it a polished and expert performance. He appeared in many of our pictures and ultimately received international acclaim for THE FRENCH CONNECTION in which he played the role of the dope king whose final escape and wave from the subway car left a lasting impression on all audiences.
Unlike other filmmakers, we were completely accustomed to using all Spanish or Italian nationals depending upon the coproduction's legal requirements. In the case of VALLEY, we were permitted our choice of either a director or cameraman together with a film editor or equivalent. We were permitted to choose one of the leads and up to one-third of the principal roles. Since Espartaco insisted on playing the lead, and he was not a Spanish national, he was charged to us. None of our actors was considered a lead, which permitted him to substitute another lead role in lieu of the director, and he chose a Mexican actress for whom he had the "hots", Teresa Velasquez.
Teresa, or Tere as she was called, was a gorgeous sexy Mexican version of Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot. Espartaco had apparently been after her since he first met her on a trip to Mexico some months earlier. He had made no progress in his attempts to bed her there, and he was determined that he was going to get her no matter what the cost. I had no serious objections, as Tere was a real star in her native Mexico as well as all of Latin America. She was no Bette Davis, but she was competent, and the role of the Infanta of Navarre, Fernan's ultimate queen and wife, was not too exacting. It called for someone who could look beautiful, breathe hard, act sexy, and ride a horse. Most certainly, Tere filled all of these requirements.
Another very important cameo was that of the conniving queen of Leon. This required an actress equal in caliber to Fernando, who was capable of devouring any average actress. A crux of the story was the resentment and ultimate hatred directed towards Fernan Gonzales by the queen of Leon, and her total domination of her husband. From my earliest cinema-buff days I'd been an admirer of David Selznick, and one of the Italian stars he imported to the States was Alida Valli, an actress whose ability was exceeded only by her great beauty. She had an almost cameolike quality that was impervious to any camera demands; she could be photographed in any profile and from any angle. Selznick renamed her Valli, and while she made only a few films, those she made are still considered classics. I can never forget her haunting beauty in MIRACLE OF THE BELLS, or her magnificent performance in THE PARADINE CASE. She held her own with such giants of the acting world as Frank Sinatra, Charles Laughton, and Gregory Peck.
It was always a mystery to me why this brilliant star fled the U.S. at the height of her glory, a career that surely would have rivaled that of Garbo or Bergman. I learned the simple truth later. She had fallen in love with David Selznick, and when the announcement was made of his marriage to Jennifer Jones, she was unable to face it. Despite her contractual obligations, she fled the country and became almost a recluse, working only when financial need forced her to or when there was a role she particularly liked. I had always dreamed of working with this lady, and now I had the opportunity to fulfill it. We listed her as an American actress and I sought her out for the role of the queen of Leon.
It was my first venture into the realm of buying Italian talent, and I met the first female agent of my career in Rome. Ivy Bless represented Valli and was the William Morris representative in Italy. Trying to get an answer from Valli was like trying to pluck a dandelion puff in midair. Valli would not talk to me or meet me. She read the script and found it mildly interesting, but she would neither accept nor reject our offer. But I knew there had to be some way of reaching her.
Luis Bunuel, the great Spanish director, made a magnificent film, VIRIDIANA, which won the grand prize at Cannes but was later banned in Spain. Ivy knew Valli was a great admirer of Bunuel, and she called Valli to inform her she would be playing opposite the male lead of VIRIDIANA, Fernando Rey. One day later, still refusing to see or speak to me, Valli signed her contract. Her role would be shot in seven days, and she requested an apartment away from the hotels of Madrid and insisted upon her complete privacy until shooting time. I was so glad to have her in the film I would have granted her almost anything.
Our cast of VALLEY was beginning to read like a Who's Who of the Spanish drama world, and included every star name in the Spanish acting world. Our cameraman was Mario Pacheco, a brilliant but erratic master of camera movement, which was particularly needed in a film of this magnitude. We were going to employ thousands of extras, and the climactic final battle scene called for 1,700 horses and riders, 5,000 Moors, and 800 Castilian and Spanish cavalry and infantry. Our budget was an almost incredible 100 million pesetas, the equivalent of 1.6 million American dollars.
I had never anticipated a film of this magnitude or I most certainly would not have accepted the wooden-faced, untalented Espartaco as the lead. We had a real shot at Paul Newman, who had been given the script to read and had tentatively accepted it prior to any real negotiations, but I was shot down immediately by Espartaco, who stated bluntly that the picture would be made with him as the star or it would never be made. One thing I have to say for Espartaco, he had supreme confidence in his own limited talent and backed it to the limit with Maruja's money.