Friday, July 31, 2009

The Importance of BARABBAS

From ONE MAN TANGO by Anthony Quinn with Daniel Paisner

I could be a capricious bastard on a motion picture set. If I did not get what I wanted, when I wanted it, there was no telling what I might do. For all my grousing over temperamental creatures like Yul Brynner and Anna Magnani, I was no better. In some ways I was worse, and yet I indulged myself in this because it kept life interesting.
And why not? It was not in my character to acquiensce to a producer, even in matters of little consequence. Where was the sport in merely avoiding all friction, accepting what was given? The true measure of an actor's stature lay in his ability to make trouble. If they tolerated your tantrums, it meant you were a big star.
They tolerated mine, I made sure of it. I had a winner on the BARABBAS set, and it was out of this nonsense that my future was spun. At issue was whether I was entitled to a dresser, someone to see me in and out of my costume changes and handle my wardrobe. What the hell did I need with a dresser? What did anyone need with a dresser? It had always seemed to me an unnecessary extravagance, and yet I was humiliated to learn that my costar and friend, the Italian matinee idol Vittorio Gassman, had a dresser at his disposal.
I learned this at an inopportune time, at least as far as Dino De Laurentiis and director Richard Fleischer were concerned. I was preparing to play a key confrontation with Jack Palance, in front of an arena crowded with extras. I was having some trouble with my robes, and needed an additional few minutes to meet my call. One of the production assistants suggested a dresser might be able to help. "Mr. Gassman's dresser is just finishing with him," he said innocently. "She can come in and dress you when she's through."
I fumed: "What? Mr. Gassman has a dresser and I don't? What the fuck is that?" At the time, the inequity struck me as intolerable - and just cause for a star turn.
"We weren't told you required a dresser," the boy very reasonably replied.
"What the hell. If Gassman's got a dresser, then I'll have a dresser. How the hell can I not have a dresser if he's got one?"
To this, the assistant had no reply. It was difficult to reason with a testy artist rattling off his demands. Actors are sometimes referred to on a motion picture set as "the talent" - as in, "The talent is causing some trouble" - and I always felt a certain condescension in the phrase. Here, I could tell, the poor boy was thinking of me in just these terms, and he looked at me as yet another in a string of petty annoyances sent to muddy his otherwise pleasant day.
Just then, I spotted a beautiful blond girl across the way, absentmindedly looking at the other actors' tunics. She moved with such grace and surety that I was drawn to her. (Or perhaps it was just that she pulled into my sightlines with good timing.) I pointed in her direction. "That girl," I proclaimed, "she will dress me. Go and make the arrangements."
The assistant was in over his head, unable to help the temperamental talent or himself. "Mr. Quinn," he stammered. "I'm afraid I can do no such thing. She's one of the costume designers."
"I don't give a shit what she is," I bellowed. "She's gonna dress me!"
There were five thousand people milling about the arena, waiting to be put to work. They had been waiting all morning, and each minute was costing a fortune. Word of the delay traveled up the chain of command, and soon De Laurentiis himself was knocking on my door, wanting to know what the matter was. "What's going on?" he demanded. "Tony, it's eleven o'clock and we haven't done a shot!"
"Fuck you, Dino," I shouted, from the other side of the door. (I would not let him in.) "Who the hell do you think I am, offering me Gassman's dresser? I don't want his fucking hand-me-down. I want my own dresser. I've already picked her out."
"Tony," he pleaded, "they've told me about the girl. She can't dress you, she's a costume designer."
"She'll dress me, or I'm going home," I said. "You decide." Being a star meant you could sometimes get away with an ultimatum like this; it remained to be seen if this was one of those times.
De Laurentiis went to talk to the girl. She would not dress me. She wanted to do the work she was hired to do, and she wanted credit for it. The experience was one thing, she reasoned, but the credit would help her land her next job. He offered to give her a full designer's credit on the picture, and a salary bonus, if she would help him out, just this once.
Still, she could not decide. After about an hour, she came to see me. "Why do you want me to dress you?" she asked. "I don't understand." She did not speak English, and my Italian was lousy, so we settled on French.
"Because Gassman has a dresser and I don't," I explained. "What's to understand?"
The poor girl did not know what to make of my reasoning, and went to see her boss, the production designer, for advice.
"Well, my dear, what can you expect?" her boss said. "Signor Quinn, he's a diva. He has chosen you. He is the diva so he gets what he wants. That's the way it is in pictures. Maybe it is not a bad thing, that he has chosen you. He has beautiful legs. It should not be such a chore to dress him."
The girl came back to see me. "I need a better reason to come and dress you," she said. "So Signor Gassman has a dresser and you do not? What concern is that of mine? I am a costume designer, not a dresser."
"You are absolutely right," I agreed, not wanting to put the girl through any more anguish than I already had. I figured a little civility might help my case. "I have put you in a terrible position, and for that I am sorry. I did not know what to do. But now I'm in so deep, they'll eat me alive if I give in. Please, you must help me. I'll pay you anything you want."
The girl finally agreed. She would not accept my money, but took the job, she said, for the good of the picture. Her name was Iolanda Addolori, and she was lovely. She was from Venice, and her familiarity with the region was an immediate benefit to me and my family. She introduced us to wonderful restaurants, and occupied Katherine and the children with grand adventures while I worked.
(Iolanda would become Quinn's personal assistant on LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and would later give birth to his son Francesco on March 22, 1963. On April 16, 1964, she gave birth to Daniele Antonio. Quinn and his first wife, Cecil B. DeMille's daughter Katherine, divorced in Juarez, Mexico in January 1965. Iolanda finally married Quinn on January 2, 1966 - while she was pregnant with Lorenzo Alexander, who was born on May 7, 1966. Quinn and Iolanda divorced on August 19, 1997.)


From HOLLYWOOD EXILE Or How I Learned To Love the Blacklist
by Bernard Gordon

In Madrid, Julian was working disconsolately on the HORROR EXPRESS rewrite. He had been away from home and wife in Rome too long and was impatient to finish. I worked with him as much as possible, but I was overwhelmed by the problems of getting the production organized. This was to be an entirely new experience because I had bitten the bullet, fired Sacristan, and undertaken full responsibility for the production. Even forgetting the multi-million dollar Bronston budgets, Sacristan had grown accustomed to working with us as foreigners who had money to burn. None of the previous three films at Daganzo had been brought in for less than a million dollars. I was now determined to work in the local mode and produce films for much less. With the help of a truly Spanish crew, including my new production manager, I budgeted HORROR EXPRESS at $300,000, apart from any British of American cast. My production manager, cameraman, special-effects person, art director, makeup artist, and all the crew spoke no English. For me it was another learning experience.
I was now a one-man operator, entirely in charge and entirely responsible. My only real help, aside from Eugenio, who was having the usual director's jitters at the prospect of starting a film, was my new production secretary, Lisa Doty, an American woman who spoke serviceable Spanish. She had worked extensively in Canada on documentary and television films so she was not without production experience. Lisa and I became good and lasting friends.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Eli rethinks job offer.

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

Back in my room in the Chateau Marmont hotel in Hollywood, I sat down and read Leone's screenplay for THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. At the time, I thought it was an awful title; later it would become a catchphrase in a lot of American political campaigns. I began to question myself. Why did I agree to do the movie so quickly? Was it the money? The challenge? I wondered why Leone was so keen on me playing the role of Tuco. I thought it was because he had seen me playing a Mexican bandit in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. Years later I would learn in an interview with Leone in a book about Italian Westerns by Sir Christopher Frayling the he chose me because of a small scene in HOW THE WEST WAS WON, in which I used my index fingers to pretend to shoot the children of a local sheriff, played by George Peppard. Leone once said that he had been warned to stay away from me because of my Actors Studio training, but that scene had convinced him that I had the right comic talent for the role.
When I got back to my hotel, I called director Henry Hathaway with whom I had made HOW THE WEST WAS WON. I told him that I had met with Leone and that I had made a quick and rash decision and now I felt trapped.
"They want me to play a Mexican bandit in a spaghetti Western," I said.
"Well, you made your bed; now lie in it," Hathaway said.
"What does Leone know about Westerns?" I asked. "An Italian Western sounds like Hawaiian pizza."
Still, Hathaway made a gracious gesture: He offered to take me to a Western costume shop to help me pick out an outfit for the film. He found a paid of unusual Mexican chaps (worn by horsemen to protect them from prickly bushes) that went from the knees down and a wonderful straw hat with a painted eagle above the brim.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


From ONE MAN TANGO by Anthony Quinn with Daniel Paisner

(During his self-imposed exile from the production of ATTILA, Quinn finally met Giulietta Masina's husband, Federico Fellini.)

Fellini was calling his picture LA STRADA - THE ROAD - and to him it was all about one man's bitter loneliness, and his rejection of the love and devotion of the one woman who would have him. I listened to Fellini's tale and for a moment thought he was talking about me.~I still did not know from neo-realism, but I liked the story well enough, and I was anxious to learn what all the fuss was about surrounding this looming giant of the Italian cinema. Fellini did not look like any giant, but he was an interesting fellow and he seemed to care about pictures. I told him I would gladly play the part of Zampano, the wandering strongman.
He asked me what my salary was and I told him.
"That's the budget for the whole picture!" he choked.
He was in no position to haggle, and neither was I. VIVA ZAPATA! had made me a star, and my stock was rising. Who knew how long I would be in demand? The trick, in pictures, was to get your price while you could, and take whatever you could get after that. It would be some time before I could make a picture just for the hell of it.
"Tell you what," he finally said. "I'll give you twenty-five percent of the picture."
I looked across the table at Fellini and smiled. He must have really wanted me for the role. No one had ever wanted me enough to give me a piece of the picture. Plus, I liked him, and I liked the story.
"Fine," I said, extending my hand. "Let's make a picture."
We very nearly had a deal, but for Dino De Laurentiis. I had not counted on him, but he surfaced soon enough. I was under contract to Dino at the time, and smack in the middle of the ATTILA shoot. Fellini wanted to begin production right away. The only way around the conflict, I thought, was to get De Laurentiis to bend a bit on his exclusivity clause, and to break my ass in the bargain.
I had it all figured out. In those days, Italian studios functioned under so-called French hours, which meant we worked from noon to seven o'clock in the evening, without breaking for lunch. Of course, the hours were sometimes shifted to accommodate an exterior shot requiring morning light, or a tight deadline, but the producers were usually good about sticking to the later schedule. It was quite a civil change for American actors accustomed to arriving on the set by seven or eight in the morning, but the Europeans - bless them all! - preferred to work later in the evening in exchange for a good night's rest.
What the French hours meant for me, and Fellini, was that I would be able to play the part of Zampano if he could arrange to shoot LA STRADA in the mornings. It was not an ideal situation for him - the picture was to be shot almost entirely outdoors, and he hated to give up all those daylight hours - but it was better than nothing. And it would not be ideal for me, working virtually around the clock for a stretch of several weeks, but I wanted to see if I was up to it.
It fell on me to extract De Laurentiis's approval.
"Dino," I explained, visiting him in his office the next morning. "I met a guy named Fellini, and he wants to make a picture with me."
"Fellini?" he said. "That no-talent? He's so full of shit I can't understand what he's saying. He wanted me to finance a picture of his, some nonsense about a circus, or a strongman."
"That's it," I said. "That's the picture. That's the one he wants me to make."
"Don't be an idiot, Tony. The man likes to put his wife in his pictures."
I chose not to remind Dino that his own wife, Silvana Mangano, was a fixture in several De Laurentiis productions. "What's wrong with that?" I asked instead. "I've worked with Giulietta before. She's quite good."
"She's wrong for the part. I'd rather use Gina Lollobrigida in that part."
He was talking like a producer. Gina Lollobrigida was wrong for Fellini's picture. "Look, Dino," I said, "I want to make the picture. I'll shoot the picture in the mornings and come to work for you in the afternoons."
"You can't do that!" he blustered. "We have a contract!"
"We do. That's why I'm here. I was hoping we could work something out."
What we worked out was that De Laurentiis and Ponti would finance Fellini's picture, in order to keep a tight rein on my schedule. It cost them $250,000, which was nothing next to the money they had already dropped on ATTILA. Plus, I convinced them it was a good investment. And it was. Dino and Carlo made millions on LA STRADA, and the picture established them as two of the most powerful producers on the international scene. Hell, it won them an Academy Award, as best foreign language film, when it was finally released in the United States in 1956, and as far as I know they never once thanked the director for his vision, or any of the actors for their performances - or me, for persuading them to invest in the picture in the first place.
But all of that was unimportant next to everything else. LA STRADA places Federico Fellini at the vanguard of the motion picture industry, and laid the groundwork for his extraordinary career. I squired him around Hollywood, after the American release, helping him to shop for a studio deal. The studio heads were leapfrogging each other to sign up the Italian auteur, offering him as much as a million dollars for his next picture - a phnomenal sum in those days. I translated for my friend.
"A million dollars," Fellini said, incredulous. "What for?"
"For a picture. Just to direct a picture."
"No," he finally said. "I can't. I can't direct an American picture. I would not know how to tell an American actor how to hold his cigarette."
LA STRADA vaulted me from respect as a supporting player to international recognition. It might have made me a rich man too - if I had held on to my piece of the picture. I had no idea the movie would have such an impact, even after it was in the can. I arranged a special showing for my agent and several friends, and when the lights came on in the screening room, everyone was scratching his head. No one could understand it, and I was so convinced the picture would be a flop that I let me agent sell my twenty-five percent stake for a lousy twelve thousand dollars, turning one of the best deals of my life into one of the worst.
Even when the dice rolled my way, I crapped out.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


From HOLLYWOOD EXILE Or How I Learned To Love the Blacklist
by Bernard Gordon

I borrowed Arnaud from his hated London chores of writing horror film scripts under Yordan's supervision. He was pleased to return to Spain and go to work with me writing a script he felt had more promise. The PANCHO VILLA production absorbed me and I had little time to work with Arnaud. I liked his idea of placing a troupe of circus performers on the period train and playing out a suspense story with them. He wrote a script draft, and though it had its charms, it didn't have the action, suspense, and horror elements that I was expected to deliver. After a couple of more passes, I decided Arnaud was stuck with his initial concept, and, difficult as it was for me to switch from one friend to another, I got Julian to come in and work on a quite different story. I was functioning now as a producer in a way I didn't particularly enjoy, as I had spent much of my working life assailing stupid producers who only knew how to switch writers, but I was under pressure from London to get a script and a production going pronto.
Julian and I worked out a more traditional story outline. He wrote his version of the script, a first draft. An archeologist unearths a creature from outer space that has been trapped in an icy Siberian wasteland since a prehistoric period, before even hominids existed. The creature is crated for shipment back to Europe on the Trans-Siberian Express. It revives. Having witnessed the development of the Earth and of mankind, the creature intends to survive and return to its own galaxy. You can take it from there. Eugenio, our Spanish director, consulted with us, but, like any director actively shooting a film, he scarcely had the time or energy to breathe.
By September, with VILLA in the can, we all wound up in London for consultation. Eugenio and Julian were there. Eugenio and I were not satisfied yet with the script, but he was more emphatic - he wouldn't direct the film in its present form. Julian and I met with Yordan in the new offices on Audley Street. I told Yordan we were not ready to go. "The script needs more work."
Yordan wouldn't hear of it. We had to get a picture stated right away. "You can rewrite until the cows come home," he insisted in his intimidating mode, "and it won't make a dime more at the box office."
"Eugenio won't direct it as it is," I replied.
"I'll handle Eugenio," Yordan came back.
"Dammit, Phil. I've heard this kind of talk from you too many times. Maybe you can muscle Eugenio. I've seen what happens with those films where you say that script is good enough. If you want me to do this film, Julian comes back to Madrid with me and we rewrite the script."
Shouting matches did not startle Yordan. He took this calmly, but Julian turned white (saying later that in all our years together he had never seen me so enraged).
Yordan backed off. "Okay. But remember it's now September. We'll have a thirty-day schedule, so we have to go in November and finish before the end of the year." The holidays were always expensive in lost time and money.
"I'll do my best." That's all I could promise.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Eli gets a job offer.

From: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND ME In My Anecdotage by Eli Wallach
In the mid-1960s, while I was in Los Angeles making a TV movie, my West Coast agent, Paul Kohner, called me to set up an appointment with the Italian film director Sergio Leone. "I'm sending you a script by messanger," he said. "It's called THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY."
"What kind of movie is it?" I asked.
"A spaghetti Western," Kohner said. I had never heard of a spaghetti Western, but Leone was offering good money, so I agreed to meet him.
The following morning at Paramount Studios, I met Leone. I was expecting to meet a dark-haired Italian sporting an embroidered Western shirt with a bolo tie and a Stetson hat. Instead, I met a tall, fair-haired man wearing tortoiseshell glasses. He was dressed in a silk summer suit, which almost disguised his paunch - he must have weighed three hundred pounds. His interpreter explained to me that before we discussed the movie, Leone wanted me to see the opening credit sequence for his previous Western, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. In the darkened Paramount screening room, I watched as Leone's name popped up on the screen. Suddenly, a gun appeared in the left corner and proceeded to shoot down each letter of his name to the sound of music. I was hooked.
"Where and when do you need me?" I asked.
As the interpreter explained my acceptance, Leone beamed and shook my hand. "A Roma," he said.
"Si," I said. "I'll see you in Roma."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Quinn and De Laurentiis on ATTILA

From ONE MAN TANGO by Anthony Quinn with Daniel Paisner

The ATTILA production was notable for a comic disaster that might have shut down the entire picture. If it was up to me, it would have.
We shot a great many scenes on Monte Cavo, in Rocca di Papa, just south of Rome. One afternoon, at the beginning of a rare snowstorm, the director left to shoot a few scenes that did not involve Irene or me. He took the entire crew with him, and left the two of us in a hotel up on a hill. We welcomed the short break. There was a bar and a restaurant. It would just be a few hours. We would be fine.
I had spent hours in makeup and wardrobe that morning, and it made no sense to take everything off just to put it back on again in the afternoon, so I walked around the hotel in a suit of armor. My eyes were pinched back with a powerful glue, to leave me looking properly Asian and barbaric. I was preparing to attack Rome in my next scene, and this was what you looked like when you attacked Rome. Irene was dressed in a wild outfit, and we lounged around like two beasts from another century.
Actually, for a while, it was rather fun, noodling around the old hotel with Irene in period costume, but the novelty wore off soon enough when we noticed the snowstorm getting worse. There were no wristwatches in the Dark Ages, and we lost all track of time. Irene walked over to the window and gasped. "Tony, look," she said. "The snow. It's blocking the door."
I went over to see for myself. The snow was about three feet deep. There were drifts reaching up to the windows. The wind and fog made it difficult to see for more than a few feet.
"What the hell time is it?" I wondered.
Irene had no idea. We went down to the front desk to use the hotel telephone. It was four o'clock. Four o'clock! Jesus, where the hell did everybody go? We could not get an outside line at first, but eventually we reached the studio in Rome. I got one of De Laurentiis's assistants on the other end. "Where the fuck are you people?" I railed. "Are you gonna use us today or what?"
"You're still up there?" the kid said. He explained that shooting broke several hours ago, when the snows threatened the roads. Everybody had been sent home.
"Yes, we're still up here. Where are we gonna go?"
The kid was scared for his job, but it was not his fault. "Mr. Quinn," he said, "I'm terribly sorry. Would you mind staying in the hotel tonight?"
"You're fuckin' right, I mind. I can't stay with Irene in the hotel. Jesus, all of Rome will be talking about it. You get a car up here."
"We can't get a car," the kid tried to reason. "The roads are closed. And that hill, leading up to the hotel, that hill must be treacherous."
The manager could not help but overhear my tirade, and he offered one of the hotel trucks to take us back down Monte Covo and into Rome. "It's just a bread truck, Mr. Quinn," he cautioned, "and there's no room in the cab, but you should make it down the hill. The driver needs to get back down to the bakery, so he's doing anyway."
So Irene and I piled into the back of the truck, dressed like barbarians and surrounded by sacks filled with fresh-baked bread. Jesus, we must have been a sight! We slipped down the hill like it was an amusement park ride. I was certain we would fly off the side of the road and tumble to our deaths in the valley below.
What a way to go! - crushed by a bakery truck, smelling of blood and flour, dressed as Attila the Hun. I imagined the headlines.
By this time, the snow had stopped and the skies cleared. The countryside was absolutely magnificent, like a winter wonderland, but I did not care about the scenery. I was cold, and tired, and hungry. I wanted to go home.
The driver made to let us out at the bottom of the hill, but I was not moving. "We can't get out here," I shouted. "Look how we're dressed! We're in costume, goddamn it!" Outside I could see children playing in the streets. It was like a mid-afternoon holiday. The entire town was out to romp in the snow. The last thing I needed was to step from the truck as Attila the Hun, into the middle of that scene.
I ripped the glue mask from my temples in anger - I still have the scars! - and then I gave the driver about two hundred dollars in U.S. money to take us back to Rome.
The next day, I refused to go to work. I was furious at the director. What kind of asshole maroons his two stars in the middle of one of the worst storms in memory? What was he thinking?
"Fuck you," I said, when someone at the studio called to see where I was. "I'm not coming in."
The day after that, it was the same. I stayed home for a week. Every day they called, and every day I told them to go to hell. Finally, I thought I had punished them enough. A week was enough time for a proper tantrum. Anything more would have been unprofessional. I had wanted to shut down the picture, but I thought it was enough that I crippled it.
I got into my car and drove to the studio, but they were no longer expecting me. "What the fuck are you doing here?" De Laurentiis said, when I reported for work.
"I'm here to finish the picture, " I said. "I was too mad to come back to work, but I'm not mad anymore. I've held out long enough. I know I've been costing you a lot of money."
Dino flashed a villainous smile. "Not exactly," he said. "We're collecting insurance. Your little protest is actually making us a profit."
"You bastard." I laughed. "I'm stewing at home, teaching you a lesson, and you're making money?" It was a fitting irony.
"Go back home," Dino said, conspiratorially. "Go back to bed. The insurance company is sending someone to check you out. You must tell them you've had a terrible experience. Tell them you don't know when you'll be able to come back to work." He hurried me back to my car, giggling like a boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


From HOLLYWOOD EXILE Or How I Learned To Love the Blacklist
by Bernard Gordon

In London, now that he had a source of funds, Yordan was working with Ben Fisz to promote a vertical operation with its own distribution company and a program of cheap horror films. He hired Julian and Arnaud d'Usseau at his standard $1,000 a month to come to London to write scripts. Occasionally Yordan popped over to Madrid to check on the production progress, look at some dailies, and deal with the financing.
In Madrid a great deal of the production money came from a revolving credit line at the Banco de Bilbao, one of the leading Spanish banks, where Lizarza and Sacristan had good connections. Yordan became a player. A number of times he took me to meetings with the bank's principal officers at their downtown headquarters so that they could become familiar with me, know that I was now in charge of the local operation, and deal directly with me when necessary.
On one visit to Madrid, Yordan showed up while I was deeply involved in shooting VILLA. "We're going to have to come up with another picture to keep the studio going."
I was much too busy to want to consider this, but keeping the studio going was very much a concern of mine.
"No more Westerns," Yordan went on. "You can't give them away in the States anymore. And without the American market, there's no way to recoup costs."
"So, what do we do?"
"I think we should do a horror film. You can always find a market for them - anywhere. You have any ideas?"
The weather was rainy and dark as I drove us back to town from the studio on a back road. I became so involved in thinking about what film we might do next that I took a wrong turn. Though we were close to the city, I found myself lost in a remarkably remote rural byway and had trouble finding a way to get back on track.
"How the hell did this happen?" I muttered, trying to read the road signs through the gloomy rain.
"You took a wrong turn," Yordan said helpfully. He was not a man who liked being lost. "Get us back on the right road."
I was trying to do that. "Since we've got that beautiful miniature railroad," I said, "and the track, why don't we do a horror story on a train?" I suppose I was thinking of something like MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS.
This kind of economy was right up Yordan's alley. He agreed at once. "What can we title it?"
A title already? I was scarcely back on the road to Madrid. I threw out the most obvious suggestion. "HORROR EXPRESS. What else?"
As far as he was concerned, that was it. He had already leaped ahead, seeking ways to finance and promote such a film. To my regret, the title stuck. I've always felt it sounded cheap and lessened the value of what was otherwise a good effort. The Spaniards had better taste. When it came to translating the film title for Spanish release, they called it PANICO EN EL TRANSSIBERIANO (PANIC ON THE TRANS-SIBERIAN EXPRESS).
An insignificant footnote to all this has irritated me for years. Somewhere, somehow, it was reported that our lovely miniature trains were obtained from the production of David Lean's film DR. ZHIVAGO, which was also shot, in part, in Madrid. For the record, that is not true. We had our own trains that, I believe, were as good as the one's for Lean's fifteen-million-dollar film. Aside from this, I think ZHIVAGO was a fine film and a great production.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Anthony & Irene in ATTILA

From ONE MAN TANGO by Anthony Quinn with Daniel Paisner

(Quinn moved to Italy to make ULYSSES where he lived unhappily with his wife Katherine in a house rented from Eduardo De Filippo's brother.)

Work was my release, my escape. I took a part in another Ponti-De Laurentiis production, ATTILA, FLAGELLO DI DIO - as Attila the Hun, opposite Sophia Loren and Irene Papas. It was to mark the beginning of a long association with the fiery Greek actress, who at the time preferred to be called "Ereenee". She had an intensity about her that was difficult to ignore, but her frailty was what I found most appealing. We were too much alike to ever truly get along. She seemed to be of my blood. She could have been my sister or my grandmother. My feelings for her were mixed with incestuous guilt, but I could not look away from them.
Irene was the kind of girl who walked into your room and held up her hand. She would not talk to you until she looked under your bed, through your bookcases and your collection of records and photographs. Then she would know who you were. I remarked that her cataloging wold be useless with me - I was living with rented furnishings! - but she was determined. I had no idea what the bad hotel paintings told her about me, but she did not go away.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Wrapping up PANCHO VILLA

From HOLLYWOOD EXILE Or How I Learned To Love the Blacklist
by Bernard Gordon

Since we hadn't needed the cast for (the minature) work, they had all dispersed. We found, though, that an important scene shot in Guadix of Telly riding in an open flatcar had missed the crucial close-up shots of Telly. I called him in Rome and explained that we needed him back for one day. He wanted to be paid. I told him I had no money but agreed to provide him with a week at a hotel plus a chauffeur and car during his stay.
"Okay. Send me three first-class round-trip tickets Rome-Madrid."
"Three tickets?" I howled. "We only need you. Just you here for one day."
"Three tickets," he insisted.
"Why only three? Why not four or five or six while you're at it?"
He considered this and offered to compromise. "Send me one first-class round-trip ticket for Los Angeles-Madrid."
We settled for two first-class tickets Rome-Madrid. I was beginning to feel like a producer. After he arrived and while he was playing the scene, Telly never let me forget that he was doing me a favor, but it was all good-natured.
PANCHO VILLA, the first production I might call my own, is not a film I would nominate for any kind of award, but, despite script problems, it was finished on time and on budget, was completed, for once, without the endless reshooting of every other Yordan production, and it even received some favorable notices. I was beginning to feel confident in my new role and hoped to go on to bigger and better films.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

DINO The Life and Films of Dino De Laurentiis

I've finished reading DINO The Life and Times of Dino De Laurentiis by Tullio Kezich and Alessandra Levantesi, translated from the Italian by James Marcus.
A good read, the book filled me in on much about Dino's career and personal life - but seemed a bit disingenuous at times. For example - the perception many have about De Laurentiis was that he was quick to jump on trends. This perception was probably created during the negative publicity generated around the KING KONG remake he did in 1976. The thought was that De Laurentiis was trying to top the box office performance of JAWS and had done KONG figuring that his monster movie would beat that monster movie. It was in competition with JAWS that he also made ORCA. FLASH GORDON and DUNE supposedly both came about because of STAR WARS. This perception was never dealt with in the book. There was no mention of THE GODFATHER, whose success obviously inspired the making of THE VALACHI PAPERS. And, Dino claimed to have discovered Al Pacino for SERPICO in a play in New York. Again, no mention of THE GODFATHER.
Disappointing to fans of Italian action movies was that there was no mention of the following films bearing the De Laurentiis name:

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Chuck Connors and the train crash in PANCHO VILLA

From HOLLYWOOD EXILE Or How I Learned To Love the Blacklist
by Bernard Gordon

Because of scheduling, our other star on the film, Chuck Connors, didn't have to report until we were halfway through the shoot. Connors was delighted with his role in the film. A comic role was a rare opportunity for him and he hammed it up with gusto, playing the insanely spit-and-polish general who was being driven mad by the slippery, unpredictable Mexican.
After returning from Grenada we had some heavy post-production work to do, principally the stupendous final crash of the two trains. We were all unwilling to actually permit the two beautiful and expensive locomotives to collide, blow up, and be destroyed. The Spanish special effects people came up with a splendid solution. We ran the two trains together as close as possible and stopped them just before contact. Then we substitued two imitation locomotives, hollow shells made of sheet lead that looked like the real thing. For the final few feet before contact, the two fake locomotives were pushed together with poles by men out of camera range. As the sheet lead collapsed convincingly, fireworks inside the locomotives were set off to create a tremendous explosion. The scene was rehearsed as realistically as possible after long discussions with the cameraman about how many frames per second to use, how many cameras to use, and so on. The actual shoot worked beautifully in a single take.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Anthony Quinn on the Via Veneto

by Anthony Quinn with Daniel Paisner

(In 1953, Quinn first met Federico Fellini.)

I had gone to Rome earlier that year, as the axis of the motion picture industry tilted toward Europe, Italian pictures such as OPEN CITY, SHOESHINE, PAISAN and THE BICYCLE THIEF were having a tremendous impact in Hollywood, and signaled a renaissance in movie making. In contrast, American pictures seemed locked in an industrial and creative crisis, and hopelessly stale. Now that I was enjoying some sudden success, I wanted to act on the richest possible stage, surrounded by the biggest talents. The only audience I craved was an audience of my peers. I needed to be where it mattered most, so I packed up my family and followed the wave.It was an enchanted time. I fell in love with Rome the moment I set foot in the city. Six hours later, I was in hospital with food poisoning - it might have been the fava, the pecuno, or the wine - but that was part of Rome's charm. It gave as good as it took. Right away I felt the inventive energy that Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Picasso, and Joyce had created in Montparnasse. Rome had its own Gertrude Steins, but its literary explosion was fueled by images. The artists of this renaissance were not producing paintings for chruches, or manuscripts for the ages, but pictures for movie houses. What the hell did I care? To me, one artist is much like another. All expression is the same. What difference did it make if we worked in a modern medium, as long as we worked well and remained true to our calling?
The city was seething with moviemakers from all over the world. It was like Hollywood, New York, and Cannes all rolled into one. Most deals were made on Via Veneto, over Campari or espresso. Every player had to make an appearance. On Sunday mornings, sidewalk cafes on both sides of the street were filled to overflowing. An actor's popularity was measured by how many scripts he was offered as he traversed the street. Kirk Douglas, with whom I worked in ULYSSES, my first Italian picture (produced by Dino De Laurentiis and Carlo Ponti), used to engage me in a singular game of one-upmanship. One Sunday, he ran the gauntlet from the Excelsior Hotel to the Porta Pinciana and back again, returning with nineteen legitimate offers.
He topped my best by two.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Savalas Vs. Walker

From HOLLYWOOD EXILE Or How I Learned To Love the Blacklist
by Bernard Gordon

Telly was bored riding back and forth all day on the rattle-trap period train. He liked to climb up and ride on top. Eugenio Martin was terrified that a sudden stop would topple him off the train, and he was right, but he couldn't cope with the American star. I was called to climb up on top and insist that Telly desist. Telly also made problems with his co-star, Clint Walker. Walker had recently survived a horrifying ski accident, when a ski pole virtually penetrated his heart. As a result of this intimation of mortality, Walker informed me on arrival that he was through with any ego trips; he only wanted a peaceful existence and friendly relations with everyone. He had gotten religion. Only too happy to take advantage of this, Telly upstaged Walker whenever he could. Walker kept to his word and swallowed Telly's tricks until the last day of shooting.
In the final scene, the two of them are riding the tail end of a railroad car they have detached from General Pershing's train. The picture comes to an end as they disappear into the distance. Telly wasn't happy with this setup. He talked the director into a change that would result in his being featured solo instead of in a two-shot. This time Walker abandoned religion. He exploded and refused to do the scene. The director sent for me.
"Look, Bernie," Telly said, reasonably, "the picture is about Pancho Villa, not some fake invented American friend [Walker's role]. Villa just had a great scene with General Pershing. Now we're ready for the fade out. Should it be on Villa, who everyone knows got away from Pershing? Of should it be played with the fake American friend you invented for the film?"
"You're absolutely right, Telly," I agreed. "But you've been getting your way every time. Clint knows it. Everyone knows it. And Clint's been very nice about it. Right?"
Telly had the grace to grin and shrug.
"This time he'd had a bellyful, and he won't do the scene any other way but how it's written." I pointed at the afternoon light. "It's getting late. We're losing the light. We're returning to Madrid tomorrow. If we don't get the shot right now, we're dead. So do the damned scene."
Telly shrugged. "Sure, Bernie. Whatever you say."
He acted like a good gambler (which he was), who makes a bad bet, loses, takes his lumps, and goes on.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The U.S. release of VALACHI

From DINO The Life and Films of Dino De Laurentiis
by Tullio Kezich and Alessandra Levantesi, translated from the Italian by James Marcus

When I made the film about Valachi with Paramount, I hadn't yet moved to America, although I had begun to think about it. But I decided to shoot the exteriors for the film in America and the interiors in Italy. I struck a deal with Paramount for $2 million and made the film, which came out very well. The studio was delighted, as was my friend Charles Bludhorn.
One morning, however, Charlie left me an urgent message to call him. When I got him on the phone, he said, "Dino, I can no longer distribute VALACHI. We got a telephone call from the Mafia, and they told us in no uncertain terms that if we release this film, they'll put a bomb underneath Paramount headquarters."
We were talking about the Gulf + Western Building on Central Park South, so that was one hell of a prospect. Although I was still in shock over the news, I absorbed the blow like an old pro and replied, "Charlie, I see your point. You're the head of an enormous company, and you can't run the risk of tangling with the Mafia. But I don't think the solution is to sweep the film under the rug and write off $2 million. Here's my proposal: I'll pay back the money you advanced me. Then you relinquish the film to me and I do with it as I please." Bludhorn couldn't have asked for a better deal. At once we signed a letter canceling our prior contract.
Then I showed the film to Steven Ross, who was then chairman of Warner Bros., and he was very enthusiastic. We shook hands and signed a contract guaranteeing me $3 million - which is to say, a million dollars more than Paramount had been paying. It happens every time: if you ask for a certain sum before you shoot a film, you can ask for more once it's done, assuming it's done well. They told me that it would take a week, maybe ten days, to draw up the contract, and I said that was fine. "I'm going back to Italy. Give me a call when you're ready."
A week later, in Rome, I got a telex inviting me to come to New York. When I got there, I immediately became suspicious, because instead of setting up an appointment at his office, Ross said, "I'll come see you at your hotel." He showed up, and in so many words he told me, "We like the film very much. But we heard about the Mafia threat over at Paramount, and that's not something we can handle." A second washout! How were we going to solve this problem?
One of my assistants in New York was Ralph Serpe, an Italian-American who had some familiarity with the Mafia. He wasn't personally involved, I should say, but he knew people who were in the thick of it. I asked him which boss I should approach. He told me that the guy lived in Miami, that he was of Calabrese descent, and that they called him Jimmy Blue Eyes. I'll omit his actual last name.
Serpe wangled me a phone number and I made the call. "I'd like to speak with Jimmy Blue Eyes," I said. "He doesn't know me, but I'm Dino De Laurentiis, and at the moment I'm in New York."They very courteously took down my number, and an hour later, the boss called: "What can I do for you?"
"There's something I need to discuss with you, preferably in person. We're both of Italian descent, you and me. You don't know who I am, but - "
"No, no. I know exactly who you are. Come see me in Miami. Meet me at Joe's Stone Crabs."
I took off with Serpe, who was acting as my interpreter, and headed for the restaurant. I got a warm welcome and quickly laid my cards on the table. I told my host that somebody in his circle (I never pronounced the word Mafia) had called Paramount and threatened them. Paramount withdrew, and now Warner had passed too, after hearing about the earlier threat."This film is important to me," I told him. "It's the first one I've produced in America. You have to help me out."
"What can I do?"
"Just leave me in peace. Let me strike a deal with another company and release the film."
"Don't worry about it," Blue Eyes told me. And with this reassurance we became friends. He was extremely pleasant, small in stature, and he reminded me of my old cameraman Aldo Tonti, although he was much more handsome, with those famous, eerily ice-blue eyes.

Once I got the word from him, I went to Columbia, showed them the footage, and asked for an advance of $4 million. They accepted, since the film was worth the price, and THE VALACHI PAPERS was ultimately an enormous success in the United States.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The cacique of PANCHO VILLA

From HOLLYWOOD EXILE Or How I Learned To Love the Blacklist
by Bernard Gordon

Further along in the production, we had to make a major move to a location near Granada, where a small town, Guadix, had a railroad spur line from a mine.I was beginning to have problems with Sacristan. He had loaded the crew with relatives and friends who weren't needed on the production. Sacristan was what might have been called in Spanish, a cacique, a kind of chieftain who doled out jobs and favors and expected loyalty in return. This was fine with me except that the salaries were coming out of the budget and I was fighting to complete the picture on budget. I could not afford to confront Sacristan, but I raised a question about some of these hirelings to let him know someone was looking into costs. He had also insisted on bringing along the sound crew, a tremendous waste of money because I knew the awful rattling of the period train we had shipped down would never permit recording sync sound. He strongly disagreed, but I was right. We weren't able to record a single line of dialogue and sent the crew back.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Death of Dinocitta

From DINO The Life and Films of Dino De Laurentiis
by Tullio Kezich and Alessandra Levantesi, translated from the Italian by James Marcus

What happened? What shattered Dino's dream of creating the biggest and most modern studio complex in the world? As it turns out, Italy's political situation was the biggest factor undermining Dinocitta.
When the country's first center-left government came into power on December 5, 1963, its ranks included Achille Corona, one of the founders of the clandestine Socialist Party during the Fascist era. Corona headed the newly created Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment, which he would continue to run during two subsequent administrations. Of all the ministers appointed to oversee the entertainment industry, he served the longest and made the biggest impact - mostly thanks to a new, cinema-related law, Number 1213. Enacted on Novermber 4, 1965, this novel regulation might as well have been conceived and drafted in direct opposition to a producer like De Laurentiis.
Dino, of course, steered clear of any political affiliation. Yet his ascent took place during the heyday of the Christian Democrats, with whom he generally maintained good relations. It's no wonder, then, that the Socialists - who now exercised some real muscle in the coalition government - viewed him with little sympathy. They considered him the beneficiary of a defunct political structure and saw his empire as a stronghold to be dismantled.
And dismantle it they did. The new law was aimed at international productions, which were denounced as alien to the traditions of the Italian cinema. The state now intended to protect the national character of the film industry, on both the cultural and occupational fronts. Until that moment, if a filmmaker wanted to obtain "national" status for his creation - which would make the film eligible for subsides, loan guarantees, and so forth - he had only to respect the provisions of the so-called Andreotti law, enacted in 1949. The law specified that a feature film must be "in Italian, or include an Italian-language version," and that it must be made from a story written by or adapted by an Italian author. In addition, the majority of the crew and cast had to be Italian. That meant that a film shot in English (or in any other foreign language) could quality for "national" status, as long as slightly more than half of the crew and cast were Italians. What's more, according to the Andreotti formula, the director counted as just one more member of the crew and cast. The question of his nationality carried no extra weight, which gave the producer a great deal of room to adjust the proportions.
The Corona law, however, specified that the film must be made in Italian. The director too had to be Italian, along with a majority of the screenwriters, 66 percent of the principal actors, 75 percent of the secondary actors, and 75 percent of the crew and technical personnel. It was a law designed to safeguard nationalist values in a way that Dino considered shortsighted and controlling. According to this standard, many De Laurentiis films - including WAR AND PEACE (King Vidor), THE SEA WALL (Rene Clement), FIVE BRANDED WOMEN (Martin Ritt), BARABBAS (Richard Fleischer), and THE BEST OF ENEMIES (Guy Hamilton) - because they were directed by foreigners, could never be considered Italian. John Huston's THE BIBLE won "national" status by a hair, having been completed right before the new law went into effect. But Sergei Bondarchuk's WATERLOO, a spectacular conceived and created by Italians, would not be eligible.
When the Corona law was passed, the export of Italian films to foreign markets collapsed overnight: go ahead, check the statistics. This was a serious blow to the image of our nation, whose best ambassador had been the postwar cinema. Film production was relagated to a provincial level, and with a few exceptions, it's never recovered. Our filmmakers are paying the price for this misquided law to this very day.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Telly's friends.

From HOLLYWOOD EXILE Or How I Learned To Love the Blacklist
by Bernard Gordon

Shooting on VILLA progressed. Telly was fun to work with and gave me a taste of the kind of Hollywood I hadn't known. He had a gofer, a man who hopped around on a peg leg and performed whatever task Telly wanted him to handle. Mostly he would go into a bar, look for some attractive women, and invite them over to Telly's place for drinks and the evening. Surprisingly, often they agreed, and one thing usually led to another. Telly eventually settled down with a couple of attractive English girls he brought out to the set while he was shooting. At lunchtime we all ate the hearty food prepared for the entire cast and crew by some miracle-workers who operated from a trailer equipped with butane stoves. The studio paid for all this, being charged each day for the number of meals served. Because Telly's two lady friends ate in his trailer with him, one of the production assistants finally came to me and complained that we were paying for people who weren't on the payroll. What to do? I told him to get lost. I didn't need trouble with the star over the cost of a couple of lunches, and though I was curious what this threesome did during the lunch break, I didn't think it was the right time to inquire.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


From DINO The Life and Films of Dino De Laurentiis
by Tullio Kezich and Alessandra Levantesi (Translated from the Italian by James Marcus)

By the beginning of 1962 De Laurentiis was ready to start constructing an immense studio complex on the land he had purchased in Rome. With disarming pride, he planned to name the place after himself: it would be called Dinocitta, or Dino City.
With his typical impulse to push ahead, Dino began shooting on the property before he had actually built the studio. In the summer of 1961, the sets for BARABBAS - distillations of Jerusalem and ancient Rome, designed by the architect Mario Chiari - began to rise on Via Pontina. With a budget of ten million dollars, BARABBAS - depicting the inner torments and misadventures of the thief pardoned in Christ's place - was definitely a big-budget spectacular. To direct the film, the producer enlisted a highly skilled American, Richard Fleischer, who was best known for THE VIKINGS.
The BARABBAS shoot left its mark in the anecdotal history of the cinema. For starters, there was its grandiose reputation as "the film that stopped the sun", due to an inspiration of Dino's: on February 15, 1961, he had the acrobatic Aldo Tonti haul his cameras up a steep hill to shoot the crucifixion scene during a solar eclipse. A crowd of thousands of extras was assembled for the scenes in Verona's ancient amphitheater. Last but not least, there was the romantic passion between Anthony Quinn and Iolanda Addolori, who would become the actor's second wife and bear him two children. At first Dino balked at Quinn's whimsical demand that the beautiful Venetian, an assistant fashion designer, be reassigned as his personal tailor. But following his custom of keeping his stars happy - within the limits of possibility, or slightly beyond them - the producer convinced Iolanda to go along with the plan, promising her a handsome bonus. (She was, in any case, hardly repelled by Quinn.) This was neither the first nor the last time that De Laurentiis exercised his skills as a cinematic matchmaker.
In a certain sense, BARABBAS was the first film shot at Dinocitta, when the studio didn't yet exist. Fellini had discussed the novel with me while he was making LA STRADA, pointing out that it offered a character especially suited to Anthony Quinn, who was then playing Zampano. At the time, in fact, Federico promised to direct the movie - just imagine that! But he really liked the book, and he was right.And in any case, BARABBAS proves my point that when you have a great story, you can produce an excellent piece of work even with a skilled professional like Richard Fleischer. Of course, if I had chosen a more heavyweight director, perhaps the film would have snagged another nine Oscar nominations. Instead, it was merely an enormous commercial success throughout the world.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Trains and Telly

From: HOLLYWOOD EXILE Or How I Learned To Love the Blacklist
by Bernard Gordon

We prepared the production and ordered a beautiful set of miniature trains from a speciality firm in London. The miniatures were quite large, each rail car and locomotive about six feet long, motorized, controlled by radio. The locomotives were equipped with a device that emitted smoke from the stack. Any child's dream. In fact, each car was big enough for a child to lie down in. We built a railroad track at the studio that was long enough for two trains to be photographed racing toward each other in a single shot that, also, would not include any background of modern buildings or incompatible power lines. The ground was carefully leveled so that the speeding trains would not jump the track. None of this was routine. The Spanish set constructors had to overcome real problems, but they worked everything out quite well in spite of my worried interference.
When Telly Savalas showed up to begin shooting, he was already an old hand in Madrid. Because I hadn't been around during the shooting of A TOWN CALLED BASTARD, I had never met Telly. I found him easy, friendly, cooperative. He was having a tough time making ends meet and was working in bottom-of-the-barrel Italian features - before Kojak. Had he read the script? I didn't know. His attitude was that the film and its fate were my problem. Just so long as he got paid.
"You know," I said, "we have a problem because a lot of people know Villa had thick black hair."
Telly shrugged, "I'll wear a hairpiece."
I was surprised at this since I assumed he prized his trademark bald-as-an-egg hairstyle. Believing he would have a problem about this, I had worked out a solution in advance. "I had an idea, Telly. What do you think of this? We'll start the film with you as a captive of the Mexican general who's your nemesis. He's got you in a railroad car heading for Mexico City, where he plans to have you hanged. Meantime, to humiliate you, he has you strapped in a chair and is having your head shaved. Then, you're rescued and play the rest of the film without any hair."
"Fine." He smiled. "Good idea."
I was pleased because I felt that Telly was an asset playing his recognizable self. "I'll send a car for you in the morning, get you to the studio, work on your wardrobe, and we'll be ready to shoot."
"No problem." Telly was ready to go. I found Telly to be smart, educated, and tough without being mean. He gambled compulsively, drank, and was usually deep in debt.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


by Kirk Douglas

The work in Rome was bedlam. During the filming, everybody spoke his own language - English, French, Italian, Russian, Spanish. No need to be quiet when you did a scene - it was all going to be dubbed later. I got used to playing intimate scenes with noise all around. And they were tough about paying people. The less you made, the tougher they were. They always held back. Every week, the set was clogged with extras clamoring for their money.
Two of the biggest female stars in Italy were in the movie. Rosanna Podesta played the Princess Nausicaa, who finds Ulysses washed up on the beach and decides to marry him after she sees him cleaned up. Silvana Mangano, Dino De Laurentiis's wife, who just had a huge hit with BITTER RICE, played the dual role of Circe, the witch who turns Ulysses' men into swine, and Penelope, the good wife who fends off ardent suitors, most notably Tony Quinn, while waiting ten years for Ulysses to return home...
In ULYSSES, we had monsters, ships, pigs, grapes, goats, and handled them all, but the most difficult scene was with a little dog. Ulysses comes home in disguise after years of war and wandering, and goes unrecognized by everyone except his faithful dog, now old. I tried to make friends with this dog weeks in advance. I gave him food, petted him, had him live with me at the villa. I like dogs. I've always had dogs. But this was an Italian dog, un cane Italiano, totally indifferent. We shot the scene where the long-lost Ulysses enters the courtyard and the dog runs up to him. I entered, the dog exited. Fifteen times we shot the scene. Fifteen times the dog walked away from me. I have never been so snubbed by a four-footed creature. Finally, we had to go on to something else. The next time we shot the scene, they drugged the dog, so at least it wouldn't run off. Now, it merely turned its head aside whenever the camera was on. We did get enough footage so the editors could cut something together...
I threw a big party at the end of the picture, when Sam Norton and his wife were visiting. It was a theme party at the restaurant Apuleius on the Ostia Antica: waiters in pre-Christian costumes; place-card replicas of Ulysses' ship, each an original work of art; a special feast with the menu in ancient Greek. I made a short speech in Italian; there was much singing and dancing. The director and I had been on the outs. He refused to come to the party, but the producers persuaded him to show up. I wanted to make up with him. I liked him. After the spectacular dessert - a huge ice cream sculpture of Ulysses' ship, complete with Ulysses and his men - I sang the old Italian favorite, "Mama." But I called it "Papa" and sang it to him on my knees, my hand over my heart. But when it came to the line Quanto ti voglio bene (How much I love you) I looked at Anne. The song did the trick all around. Everybody left happy - and tired. I needed a vacation.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


From HOLLYWOOD EXILE Or How I Learned To Love the Blacklist
by Bernard Gordon

As in that apocryphal Hemingway remark, neither BAD MAN'S RIVER nor CAPTAIN APACHE were ever finished. They were terminated (surrendered) and flung into the cold world to sink or swim. For those, and for A TOWN CALLED BASTARD, I found the British trade press very kind. I suspected that they were inclined to favor any film with a British label. BASTARD was reviewed in the Kinematograph Weekly as "A brooding violent story, this has considerable force of the kind that is popular just now. Very strong X attraction." CAPTAIN APACHE was hailed in Today's Cinema as "A smashing Western just sufficiently tongue-in-cheek to delight the more sophisticated but not enough of a send-up to spoil the enjoyment of those addicts who prefer their Westerns to be deadly serious."
BAD MAN'S RIVER is, perhaps, best characterized by a quote from James Mason, who allegedly said, "When shooting a Western in Spain, one should not say to oneself, 'Never mind, no one is going to see it,' because that will be just the film the Rank Organization will choose to release in England." After BAD MAN'S RIVER and CAPTAIN APACHE, we had to get another script rady for the next film. My old friend Bob Williams, who had helped me on THE LAW VS. BILLY THE KID sent me a few pages, an idea of a story about Pancho Villa, who had actually invaded the United States at a border town in New Mexico, the one and only foreign invasion of the United States. This historical curiosity had been ignored, at least by Americans, but it seemed a promising idea. Williams was starving in Hollywood, never having recovered from the blacklist days. I persuaded Yordan to send him $1,000 for the idea. There was no story.
Van Cleef finished his work on BAD MAN'S RIVER in the middle of March, but we had to go back and clean up CAPTAIN APACHE. Yordan kept writing new scenes to be shot, first a prologue, then a prologue to the prologue, then a third prologue. At the beginning of April, I lugged cans of film to Rome so I could direct Van Cleef and Carroll Baker in dialogue looping at a sound studio. That was a learning experience and I enjoyed it.
I stayed with Julian and tried to talk him into coming back to Madrid to work on PANCHO VILLA. Money was tight; Yordan would only come up with $1,000 per month and his usual promises of future rewards. But Julian, unemployed, with few prospects, accepted; he followed me back to Madrid and moved into our spare bedroom. Julian worked full-time on the script, meeting frequently with Yordan and me. In a few weeks we were casting: Telly Savalas as Villa; Clint Walker as his American buddy; Chuck Connors as Villa's nemesis, General Pershing; and Anne Francis as Walker's ex-wife, with whom he has a fighting romance.
All this was done, as usual, before we had a finished script. We were having difficulty figuring out a solid action climax. We decided on Villa and Pershing pursuing one another by train, but how to wind up with a wallop? While we were all kicking around ideas, I came up with something. "Maybe we could have the two of them, Villa and Pershing, in two trains roaring towards each other. Neither of the idiots will give in, stop his train, and reverse to avoid a fatal collision. It's a double game of chicken."
"Then what?" asked Yordan.
I couldn't come up with an answer. I shook my head. "Nah, it's crazy. I can't see any way out."
Yordan didn't want to drop it. As always, he had a good sense of theater, or cinema. "It's exciting. Let's try to make it work."
"It's like having your hero jump off the Empire State Building, then telling me to figure out a way to save him while he's on the way down." Eventually we came up with an answer that worked very well. We shot the horrendous collision, then cut immediately to a hospital room where Pershing is in bed, covered head-to-toe in a plaster cast and able to communicate only by whistling through a hole cut open for his mouth. We inserted some gag with the pretty nurse. There was nothing gruesome or gory. Pershing recovers, of course. We saw no injured, maimed, or dead at the crash scene. The audience buys it as a joke, but buys it because there is at least one symbolic victim.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Anthony Quinn on ULYSSES

by Anthony Quinn with Daniel Paisner

(Chapter Four of Quinn's autobiography starts with his remembering his friendship with Italian actor Eduardo De Filippo and their efforts to find him a perfect villa inwhich to live.)

What rich history there is here! It is in the air and under foot and all around. It is in Eduardo's big trees. His house overlooks the Pontine Valley - made lush, by design, by Mussolini. On the horizon looms the ancient fortress of Circeo, and, as I consider Homer's account of the Trojan War, I consider also my lousy attempt to re-create the bard's epic for Dino De Laurentiis and Carlo Ponti. It was 1953, and I was cast in ULYSSES, my first Italian film, opposite Kirk Douglas in the title role, and Silvana Mangano as Penelope. It was a mess of a picture, but it signaled a marvelous transformation for me - my Italian sojourn! - and for this it holds a permanent place in my fading memory.
I played an unscrupulous palace nobleman, attempting to deceive Penelope into choosing a new husband, but I could only wear the role like a costume. I had no appreciation for Italy or its heritage. Circeo was a place in my tourist guides, and not a grand old rock inching up from the sea and casting shadows in my path. It was nothing to me. I had no idea of its history, and no grasp of its place in the hearts of most Italians. I walked through the script as it was written, but it called for far more. I was ignorant, and naive, and as I now fix on that great rock, I find myself wishing the part was mine to play all over again.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Lee Van Cleef during BAD MAN'S RIVER

From HOLLYWOOD EXILE Or How I Learned To Love the Blacklist
by Bernard Gordon

There were other star problems. Lee van Cleef was furious with me for failing to use Alex Singer again on this second film. He liked Alex. Alex had a great gift as a director: he knew how to kiss the right end of his stars, a talent I might well have studied. I tried to explain to Van Cleef."It has nothing to do with Alex," I said. "He's a great friend of mine, but this is a Spanish production, so we have to use a Spanish director."
Van Cleef was not appeased. He didn't like me and was only too glad to manufacture an excuse to attack me. "I'm not interested in your problems. And I'm not interested in working with someone who is learning hot to be a producer. You can practice on someone else. Not me."
Van Cleef made other problems that challenged my inexperience. He didn't want to ride a horse. He hated horses. As a stuntman, he'd had too many bones broken while riding or falling off the damned animals. On occasion, the director had to call on me to persuade the actor to do a scene. Van Cleef balked again when we were shooting night scenes in the bitter cold of the Madrid winter. It was too cold, he said. He wanted to go back to his comfortable hotel room, but it was expensive shooting at night, and the actor was holding up the works. I compromised with Van Cleef, promising him that we would make the scene in one take so he could then leave.
The real problems, though, were script problems. Yordan had a talent for writing amusing and original personal scenes that pleased the actors and dressed up the dreary story. But he had no sense at all for story structure. When the continuity made no sense, he would rip off another cute scene and tell the director to shoot it. Most of my Sundays were spent either with Yordan and Sperling thrashing out script problems, or with Yordan and Martin. Little as I liked Sperling, he was more serious and critical of the script; the two would get into loud and nasty exchanges, Sperling insisting on significant rewrites, Yordan snarling that Sperling was no writer and couldn't tell him, Yordan, what to do. Once I thought the battle would become physical. I stood up and announced that my presence wasn't needed and walked out.
On another Sunday, Martin, the director, begged for help with a transition that made no sense. Yordan made a typical and tiresome suggestion.
"Every time we get into trouble on this script," I said impatiently, "you come up with another cute scene. One more comic scene, and the picture is out the window. No audience will take any of the action or suspense seriously."
Instead of addressing the problem, Yordan looked pained. "Look, Bernie, let me handle this. I know where I'm going."
Furious at this put-down, I got up to go. "Since I can't be any help here, there's no point in my staying."
Yordan was as irritated as I. "Since this is your first job as a producer, why don't you just stay around and learn?"
Cravenly, I subsided. Could he be right? I still wasn't certain how much he really did know.
Eugenio Martin was altogether under his spell, and, despite all the trouble he was having with the script, he believed.
On our next film, Yordan was far away in London. Martin depended entirely on me as producer and, when required, as writer. It was a real satisfaction when he said to me with heartfelt sincerity, "I thought Yordan had the answers, but you're the one who's serious about helping. When I have a problem and come to you, you work it out for me. You're the best producer I've ever worked with." As you can imagine, Eugenio and I have remained friends ever since.
Even as we struggled with BAD MAN'S RIVER, we re-opened production on CAPTAIN APACHE, with demands on me for rewrites and demands on poor Alex Singer, long since off the payroll, to reshoot.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


While browsing the racks at Amoeba Music Hollywood, I came across a set of new DVDs called "Johhny Legend presents The Vampire Chronicles". Most of the discs are new editions of public domain titles that just about every PD company has already issued. However, one disc promised something different: ATOM AGE VAMPIRE - "'Our version restores the film to it's original 86 minute running time.' 87mins/B&W/1960/1.85:1" Well, I have a copy of the original Italian version of this movie, but it's only in Italian. This sounded like someone took the U.S. and the Italian versions and edited them together. For a discounted price of $7.99, I thought this would be worth a look. Playing the disc, I was dismayed to find COUNT DRACULA AND HIS VAMPIRE BRIDE. Going back to the disc menu, I found it said "Volume 3 COUNT DRACULA AND HIS VAMPIRE BRIDE." Looking at the DVD cover, I found it said "Volume 3 THE LAST MAN ON EARTH & ATOM AGE VAMPIRE". Huh?
Well, it's back to Amoeba for me to see if I can get satisfaction.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


From DINO The Life and Films of Dino De Laurentiis
by Tullio Kezich and Alessandra Levantesi (Translated from the Italian by James Marcus)

To judge from the account in Kirk Douglas's autobiography, THE RAGMAN'S SON, the work on ULYSSES suggest nothing so much as one of Hemingway's "movable feasts". The first encounter between Silvana and Kirk, who was then growing a beard for his role, took place at Cannes in April. Upon her arrival, she found a bunch of yellow roses in her hotel room, along with a note that said, "Welcome. Kirk." Immediately after, the star and his companion Anne were Ponti's guests at Amalfi, making side trips to Positano and Capri. The shoot finally got under way at Porto Ercole on May 18, but the vacationlike atmosphere continued: the star was able to alternate maritime scenes and spectacular dives with plenty of off-camera swimming. When the production moved to Rome, Kirk happily settled in at Villa Gioia, a stupendous residence that had been rented for him on Via Appia.
This gesture was typical of Dino, who had earned a reputation for giving his top actors and screenwriters a princely welcome. During breaks in the shoot, the producer often invited Kirk and Anthony Quinn (who played Antinoo) to take a dip in the pool with him. One occasion was Raffaella's first birthday; another, the producer's fourth wedding anniversary. Douglas was gratified to be treated as one of the family. He also enjoyed working on an Italian film set - a kind of bedlam, with people yammering in every conceivable language.
Of course there were moments of friction throughout the project, but almost all of them ended in laughter. During an August break, the De Laurentiis clan took refuge in the cool air at Arcinazzo, and there was another break in September, to allow Silvana and Kirk to make a promotional appearance together at the Venice Film Festival: they arrived in a gondola for the sumptuous ball at Palazzo Volpi, and the resulting photos appeared in every newspaper.
There was only one exception to this atmosphere of affection; relations between the star and the director remained tense. When De Laurnetiis threw a wrap party at the Apuleius de Ostia Antica restaurant, with all the waiters in ancient Roman garb, Camerini barricaded himself in his house and swore that he wouldn't attend. Dino himself went to lure him out. When the director finally entered the restaurant, Kirk, more antic than ever, welcomed his adversary by falling to his knees and serenading him with an extemporaneous Italian number called "Papa". Embraces, toasts, and high spirits soon ensued: this was the atmosphere of the cinema during Rome's tenure as Hollywood on the Tiber.

Kirk Douglas was the driving force behind the success of ULYSSES. I recall that in Italy, the film broke box-office records in every single city and region. They had never seen receipts like that! And there was no technology like we have today. We shot the film in a small studio at Vasca Navale, slapping together a contraption, which would now seem prehistoric, to rock the ships back and forth as though they were on the waves. For its time, ULYSSES was an excellent film: I saw it again a few years ago, on American television, and I must say that it holds up pretty well. Of course we'd do it completely differently now, starting with the script! In any case, it's a film that triumphed all over the world.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Working with James Mason

From HOLLYWOOD EXILE: Or How I Learned To Love the Blacklist
by Bernard Gordon

My initial contact with James Mason was even more trying. I admired him greatly as an actor and considered it a coup to get him to work for us. I wondered how he had fallen on such hard times as to agree to work on BAD MAN'S RIVER, but I was looking forward to meeting him. Two days before he was due to start working, I still hadn't heard from him. Frantically, I began trying to find him. At last, I got the right number in Switzerland. "Where are you?" I demanded testily.
"Who wants to know?"
"I'm Bernie Gordon, producer of the film."
"I never heard of you," he dismissed me.
"That's neither here nor there. It's just two days before you're due to start work here, and I've never heard from you."
"I don't like your tone, Mr. Gordon."
"Well, now that I've tracked you down, I have to know whether or not you intend to be in Madrid no later than tomorrow." I knew he had been provided with a couple of first-class tickets. "If you will get to Barajas (the Madrid airport) on a flight from Geneva, I will have time to get you to wardrobe so that you can start work the following day."
He barely managed to say all right and hung up. I wasn't certain whether he would appear. At the airport the next day, I was nervously trying to spot the actor in the crowds getting off a plane. I knew James Mason's looks well from dozens of films. I searched the line of arrivals but no one even remotely resembled Mason. At last a man approached me. He had long, unkempt hair, wore a casual shirt and trousers that looked as if he had slept in them not once but for a month. "You look like a CIA man. If you're looking for me, I'm James Mason."
I never asked him but had to assume he was in his hippie mode. This was, after all, 1971. He was not the clean-shaven, bowler-hatted English gentleman in impeccable Bond Street attire I had expected. He was accompanied by a handsome woman, Clarissa, who was also casually dressed but was more presentable than he. Clarissa, I later learned, was a bright and attractive Australian circus performer. I believe they were married.
I succeeded in getting them settled at the Commodore hotel, then hurried him downtown to Cornejo, the one and only wardrobe company in Madrid. I sat with him as he tried on various costumes appropriate to the time and place of the script and also to his character as a con man. We agreed about everything and by the time we rode out to the studio in the car, we were getting along famously. Mason turned out to be one of my happier encounters with film stars.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Setting up ULYSSES

From DINO The Life and Films of Dino De Laurentiis
by Tullio Kezich and Alessandra Levantesi (Translated from the Italian by James Marcus)

Was the author of CONTEMPT around while ULYSSES was being filmed? Did he even make an uncredited contribution to the screenplay?

No. Moravia worked with me on several occasions. I made LA ROMANA, IO E LUI, and perhaps a few other films based on his books. I knew him well, and we had an excellent relationship, but he had nothing to do with ULYSSES. As I recall, Gatti and I were discussing some possible projects for Silvana, who was still under an exclusive contract with Lux, and I said, "We could have her play Penelope." That's how the idea for the film came about. In the end Silvana played two roles, Penelope and Circe. At first there were going to be three, but to make the film shorter, we cut the character of Calypso out of the script.
Once our decision to adapt THE ODYSSEY became final, the first problem was to find somebody to play Ulysses. I immediately thought of Kirk Douglas. To my mind, there were no other choices. Douglas was already a star, and this would allow us to sell the film all over the world - which was essential, because the production was going to cost plenty.

In the Hollywood of 1953 - where you were only as good as your last film - Douglas's ascent to star status had been hoddled by the failure of THE JUGGLER. Still, the negotiations with his agent proved to be sufficiently complex.I showed up in Los Angeles with my rotten English and contacted Kirk's agent, Ray Stark. He would later become co-owner of Columbia, an important producer, and somebody I constantly dealt with for twenty years. Back then, though, he was merely Kirk Douglas's agent.

When I proposed ULYSSES to him, he said, "What is this crap?" He didn't even know who Homer was, he knew nothing about him. I had a first draft screenplay with me, already translated into English. And after he read the script it was even worse: "All these gods, these divinites - how are you going to film them?"
But since what counts in America is the Almighty Dollar, I cut right to the chase and said, "Ray, how much are you asking for Douglas these days?"He said, "For a film like this, two hundred fifty thousand." Today that sum would be equivalent to tens of millions of dollars, I think. Plus we'd have to transport him, put him up in a villa, and so forth.
I suggested that I have a chat with the actor and see if the film would interest him. Kirk read the script and found it fascinating, because he's an intelligent man and maybe he knew something about Homer. He told me that he was willing to do it, as long as I would have Irwin Shaw rewriter the screenplay. I said that was no problem. Later, of course, we had to keep Shaw on a short leash, because he was trying to Americanize Homer a little too much. I brought him to Italy to work with Camerini, and it took a long time: it was lengthy and exhausting gestation. The fact is that in Italy, in Europe, we always have a certain respect for authors like Holmer and Tolstoy.
At first it wasn't easy working with Kirk Douglas. He's a perfectionist, and if he happened to stumble over a line - well you know how actors are. Later on everything went fine, thanks in part to his Belgian friend Anne Buydens, whom I had appointed head of our publicity office. In fact, Anne eventually became Kirk's wife: perhaps I was something of a matchmaker too. In the cinema you have to do it all!
I chose Camerini to direct because I had known him since BATTICUORE and had tried him out on LA FIGLIA CEL CAPITANO and a few other things. He was a real professional. The only problem was that Mario didn't speak any English, and we had to keep a translator on call. He was such an expert director, and such a gentleman, that you couldn't help but like him. When it was necessary, though, he could be very stubborn about getting what he wanted.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Working with Lollobrigida

From HOLLYWOOD EXILE Or How I Learned To Love the Blacklist
by Bernard Gordon

(Bernard Gordon was hired by Philip Yordan to produce BAD MAN'S RIVER.)

My problems with Lollobrigida were just beginning. Absolutely nothing pleased her. She even refused to submit to the routine doctor's examination required for our insurance. "I know these doctors," she snapped. "They're all the same. They just want to look up under my skirt!"
"You know, Gina, it's the same on every film. We have no choice. We have to have the insurance for the Errors and Omissions policy."
She ungraciously agreed to see the doctor at his office, but, having conceded this, she figured she had me at a disadvantage and used the moment to ask me for a favor. "My good friend is here. He's a marvelous photographer, and he's going to stay here with me. I'd like you to give him a job as still cameraman on the film." Working on that kind of stringent budget limits we had, I regretfully turned her down and found her even more resentful and uncooperative after that. I was learning that no matter how much they earned, some stars never stop trying to milk more money out of a production.
Her complaints continued until the very last day of her schedule. On an evening when our friends David and Betty Lewin had arrived in Madrid and were having dinner with us, Lollobrigida called me. David was a very successful journalist who specialized in writing about film personalities for the London press. He personally knew almost every screen star on either side of the Atlantic.
"I've never been paid!" Lollobrigida was screaming into the phone. "It's the last day of filming and the money was never deposited in Rome!"
I knew nothing about this. "I'll look into it right away," I promised.
"Right away! Right away! That's not soon enough. I'm supposed to finish work here tomorrow!"
"I'll call Rome now. I'm sure I can straighten it out."
She didn't believe me. "If the money isn't paid tonight, I don't come to work tomorrow. I leave."
If she really did leave, we would miss her important final scene. "That won't be necessary, Gina. I'll get it worked out tonight." But I had no idea how I would do that. She hung up.
I found Yordan and Fisz at a hotel in Rome, explained the matter to Yordan, who turned me over to Fisz, who started to give me a lot of double-talk. "Don't worry. She'll be paid. It's complicated because they want a tax deal. Tell her to relax."
It was my turn to scream. "Never mind all that crap, Benny. You get in touch with her or her agent and get this settled. Tonight. I need her on the set tomorrow."
"Tonight? You want me to open the banks tonight? There's nothing I can do tonight. You shouldn't be so excitable. And you shouldn't talk to me that way. You just go ahead and talk to her." The ball was in my court. I was left on my own.
My loud shouting on the telephone, even from my office in the apartment, had easily been heard in the living room. I explained the impasse to David Lewin. He was amused. "I know her very well," he said. "Let me talk to her." I didn't think that was a good idea, not at the moment.
I called her back. "I just talked to Mr. Fisz in Rome. He's the executive producer who made the deal with your agent. He said he'll get it all settled tomorrow. There's nothing he can do tonight."
She wasn't satisfied. "You can forget about me for tomorrow."
"In that case, Gina, what can I do? I'll have to rewrite the scene, write you out of it. That's a pity. It's one of my favorite scenes in the film and one of your best. You know it's the pay-off for your funny double-crossing character." This hit the actress where she lived, but she still wouldn't budge.
As a last desperate ploy, I said, "Listen, Gina, I have a friend of yours here. David Lewin. He knows we're working together and wants to say hello."
"David Lewin?" Her voice rose in pitch. "Don't tell me he knows what's going on?"
"He doesn't know anything. I'm back in my office. He just wants to say hello."I hurriedly briefed David. He was to know nothing about our problem. He understood and got on the phone. They talked about nothing consequential, just that he was a good friend of mine and had heard good things about the film and was looking forward to seeing it.
When he was through, she asked to talk to me again. "I'm glad you were able to work things out in Rome," she now told me. "I'll see you on the set tomorrow."
I believed that Lollobrigida was right to worry that the deferred salary would be slow in coming - if it ever came. There are many escape routes for contracts made across national borders and Fisz knew them all. But that was not my department.