My Life As An Independent Film Producer
by Sidney Pink
We were almost out of money when we finished principal photography. The picture was completed, but lacked the battle scenes to flesh out the concept of the fierce hatred between the two nations. EL CID was playing to packed houses and its battle sequences were outstanding. To be successful, we would have to exceed the spectacle and gore of those battle scenes. Al Wyatt, who had just completed the action scenes of ROMAN EMPIRE, was available and willing to devote his expertise to making our action even more exciting and sweeping in its flow. He needed $50,000 for a budget that would include his own fee, and he guaranteed a huge production, equal to anything that he yet been made.
All I needed was the $50,000. I had exhausted almost every resource when a thought struck me. Warner Bros. had indicated they were pleased with the footage I sent them to keep them up to date on our progress. I called Ben Kalmenson again and told him of the problem. I guaranteed that every cent of the money would go into the production and nowhere else. He responded by sending Dick Lederer to Madrid to look at our work print.
Dick looked at the rough cut, talked with Rich Meyers and Al Wyatt, and made some very constructive criticisms that helped us greatly. I know that some credit for the ultimate success of the picture belongs to Dick. He returned to California, and shortly thereafter we received our check and completed the picture. Now VALLEY OF THE SWORDS was in the can. The only thing remaining was to convert that into money.
The trials and tribulations of that production were so numerous and painful that I really hate to look back at those days. If there had been no Espartaco Santoni, it might have been different, but I don't think so. To any would-be producers who look to Europe as a haven, I say forget it. I made fifty-one films there, and I never found an easy way to do it. ANGRY RED PLANET, TWONKY, and even BWANA DEVIL never presented the production headaches we faced in even our smallest European production. I survived because I needed to survive, but there was no fun in it.
And so it was finished. VALLEY OF THE SWORDS was negative cut, and sound effects were put in. This also proved a gigantic task, and we could find no Spanish editor who was capable of accomplishing it. We hired Kurt Herrnfield (also from the Bronston company) who did the job quickly and thoroughly. The difference that proper sound effects make to a picture are incredible. The whole film came to life after Kurt was finished, and only then did I feel we had made a good picture.
We also hired a yound Spanish composer (a friend of Luis de los Arcos) who wrote a fine musical score that won several awards in Spain and Latin America. As promised, we gave the title song to Bob Marcucci and we recorded it with Frankie Avalon. Bob also wrote a beautiful love song that I had high hopes for, but for which no market appeared. I still think it's a beautiful melody.
We had been unable to get any lab financing in the States due to the Spanish law dictating that all production lab work had to be done in Spain. But we finally found a new lab in Los Angeles, called Panacolor, that was developing a process that made possible the printing of color images on black and white stock. This lab desperately needed a film to demonstrate the quality of the Panacolor process. The president of Panacolor was Harry Eller, and he wooed and pursued us after we announced our Warner release.
Harry and I worked out a deal giving us up to $100,000 in lab credits as well as $25,000 in cash to be used in technical work such as titles and other effects that his lab was unable to do. In exchange, we gave them exclusive printing in the U.S. and Canada for all our future productions. It was a good deal for both parties. Panacolor had an important major release to launch its new process, and I had the comfort of knowing that once we delivered our negative, we had no further lab problems. Harry and I got along so well together that he subsequently resigned from Panacolor and joined me as president of our new company, SWP Productions.
The Panacolor lab began to make the prints of our film. The system was not functioning too well - they had to run about ten prints for every acceptable one, and Warner's opening order was for 150 prints. About sixty prints were finished when Panacolor gave up and turned the job over to Technicolor. The Panacolor prints we accepted were of magnificent quality, particularly the blues, but if forced to make the 350 prints that were ultimately made by Warner, Panacolor would have gone bankrupt. Panacolor never did get rid of the production bugs in the system and ultimately went out of business.
Dick Lederer did not like the title VALLEY OF SWORDS, and with our permission it was changed to THE CASTILIAN, which I accepted although I didn't like it. I bowed to Dick's superior experience, but now as a Monday morning quarterback, I can see that I was right. The picture never did as well in the U.S. as it did where it played under another title. Despite lackluster business, THE CASTILIAN opened to great reviews in New York and L.A. The dean of all movie critics, Bosley Crowther, spoke highly of its realism and magnificent costumes and sets. He also praised the action scenes and commented that THE CASTILIAN was the picture EL CID should have been.
Despite the fact that we won some of the major awards in South America, including the prestigious Golden Condor (accepted for us by Cesar Romero at a banquet in Los Angeles), we found Warner Bros. to be no different that AIP or Columbia. Again we were subjected to "creative bookkeeping". THE CASTILIAN became Warner's second-largest grossing film in Latin America at that time (only GIANT did better). Yet according to Warner's records, our profits were only some $4,000. Warner's accounting in the U.S. and elsewhere was even more creative. Again I had problems with my associates, and Joe Leonard raised holy hell with me. We were forced to sue and ultimately settled for an acceptable profit, but I never did learn how much the picture really earned. It was a huge success under British Lion in the Commonwealth, and of course in Spain it became the number one box-office attraction.
Despite the immediate success of the picture, there was no market for Espartaco. It became the only film he ever acted in, and he returned to the anonymity he so richly deserved. I was now back in Spain with one notch on my gun and looking for new fields. I found them.
(Of course the Bronston movie was THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE and Espartaco Santoni continued to be a celebrity in Spain, though his movie career wasn't spectacular. Pink obviously never saw director Mario Bava's LISA AND THE DEVIL or he would have known that Santoni did indeed go on to act in other movies.)