My Life As An Independent Film Producer
by Sidney Pink
I was still shooting in Almeria, but I really didn't know what the devil I was doing. I improvised scenes and I improvised action with our gypsy Indians, but I desperately needed a leading man. All of Tony's efforts to get another Morris client were in vain.
I had a flash idea. My good friend Rory Calhoun was a Western star at least as well known as Victor Mature and a much superior actor. After a personal duel with Spanish operators, I finally managed to get through to a sleepy Rory Calhoun at 5 A.M. California time. After telling me what he thought of anyone who would so rudely awaken another at such an ungodly house, he listened to my tale of woe. He was full of sympathy but no hope. He was beginning a film in two weeks, and there was no way in which he could star in our film and complete his work and dubbing in the ten free days he could give me.
I knew how well I worked with Rory and what a tireless professional he was. I promised if he would take the next plane to Madrid and get to our location by Saturday, I would finish all his shooting in eight days and accomplish the dubbing in two days. I could send him back on the Wednesday before his next picture started. Sensing the extreme urgency in my voice, he agreed to come as requested. I am everlastingly grateful to Rory for pulling me out of that mess, and I know he knows it. If it hadn't been for his friendship, I don't believe this story could have been written.
Rory arrived as scheduled and he made the picture hum with cooperation and creativity. Rory and Jim Philbrook were old friends, and they worked together as a team. Rory took over the chore of directing our fight scenes, and he choreographed them with Philbrook and Todd Martin (he played the heavy) - and not only did he teach me how it was done, but his fight scenes turned out great. I didn't appreciate it then, but the luckiest thing to happen to me was the failure of Victor Mature and the help given to me by Rory Calhoun.
FINGER ON THE TRIGGER was a major milestone of my career. It became a smash hit in Europe, and did extremely well in the States and got excellent reviews. A whole new standard was set for European production, and the days of the spaghetti Western came into full bloom.
I don't know how many Westerns were made in Spain, but there were a lot and they were almost all successful. But I wasn't very smart. After the first showings of FINGER ON THE TRIGGER, I received a call from an Italian director, Sergio Leone, who asked if I would coproduce another Western with him. Since I was then the most knowledgeable Western producer-director in Europe, my services were sought after. When I asked Leone what the project was, he answered UN PUNO DE DOLARES (A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS) starring Clint Eastwood. Believe it or not, I refused immediately. I had never heard of Clint Eastwood and so my list of stupid decisions mounted. Of course that picture made motion-picture history. It is truly amazing how close you can come to fame and fortune and never even know it.
We finished FINGER ON THE TRIGGER with the help of Yakima Canutt. After Rory left, there were many sequences of Indian attacks, battle scenes, and individual stunt shots I felt I was not equipped to direct. Yakima Canutt had just finished the action shots of CIRCUS STORY. He was getting ready to return to the States when I learned of his availability. I contacted him and he agreed to shoot our action scenes for us.
I learned to love and respect this wonderfully talented Indian, who was never truly recognized by the industry he served for so many years. Yakima was the greatest stunt man in movie history, and his legacy survives in the stunt men he trained, (not to mention the entire falling-horse population of Europe). We spent a great deal of time together in too short a span, but our entire family learned to love this very decent, caring American. His recent death is a great loss to the business and the public he served so well. So long, Yak; this world of showbiz didn't deserve you.
(And so Sidney Pink joined the group of people who-could-have-worked-on-A-FISTFUL-OF-DOLLARS. And the movie that Canutt worked on was released as CIRCUS WORLD.)