Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Dustin Who? for MADIGAN'S MILLIONS

From: SO YOU WANT TO MAKE MOVIES
My Life As An Independent Film Producer
by Sidney Pink

...Paul Rosen, who worked tirelessly trying to find someone new for the MADIGAN role, called to tell me he had arranged for me to go to the Village to see a theater-in-the-round play titled EH! He said the play wasn't very good, but there was a young actor in it who was getting raves from the local critics who frequented these offbeat theaters. He was a 28-year-old actor playing a lead role that ran the gamut from youngster to octogenarian through the course of the play. Paul warned me particularly not to walk out after the first act, that I must stay to see this actor's performance as the 80-year-old...
The play was awful, but the leading man who was dominating that stage was an incredible performer. He was not handsome, though I hesitate to use the word ugly because he had a magnetism that precluded a description that would connote anything repulsive. He superseded his material, and he exerted a personal radiance that was impossible not to feel...
The actor's name was Dustin Hoffman...
I told Paul any deal made would have to included options for three additional films. I felt that if I were going to take the risk of introducing such an unorthodox actor, I should share in the rewards if any were forthcoming. Paul agreed and said he would be back to me as soon as possible...
It took several days before Paul got back to me. He said that while Dustin was not wild about either the script of the part, he was willing to go ahead with it in order to make his first trip to Europe and to get his feet wet in the world of motion pictures. His only previous film experience had been a walk-on role and a few TV appearances. I was delighted with the news, and I had Paul Rosen draw up a contract while Prager and Dustin got together on the script. Now it was time to discuss my new find with Dick Pack and get his approval of Dustin Hoffman as the lead.
I met with Dick and relayed my total certainty his immense talent would take him straight to the top. Stoically, Dick sat listening and then told me he didn't give a damn about how I felt about this unknown. The WBC contract required two "name" per picture, and to him Dustin was a nobody. He would accept George Raft as one of those names, but in order to get approval for Dustin, I would have to provide a name female co-star. Dick Pack finally had me in a corner; he knew that this would be almost impossible because of the rigid requirements of the Italian and Spanish coproduction laws. I had to get an Italian or Spanish leading lady acceptable to Westinghouse who would be available for the starting date we had already set for MADIGAN.
This time Pack went too far; I was mad as hell and I realized I could never have a peaceful, happy future with Westinghouse as long as Dick Pack was there. I had naively expected he would at least agree to take one flyer with me, given the strength of the pictures we had delivered and McGannon's expressed faith in us. Actually Dick faced no great risk, since Westinghouse had already demonstrated lack of interest in selling to anyone but its own stations.
I was hurt by Dick's unwillingness to accept my judgment, but even more by his new demonstration of the desire to play despot. He was hurting his own company. If I was right about Dustin, we would have three more pictures with a future superstar, and Westinghouse would enjoy the same fruits as we. Dick really had no right to take the position he did, and it was then and there I made my final decision to terminate the contract at the finish of RAGAN.
I wanted Dustin in the picture, so I was determined to find an actress acceptable to Westinghouse. I submitted a list of possible Italian leading ladies in our price range, but the only name Pack found acceptable was Elsa Martinelli. She had just finished THE INDIAN FIGHTER, a film with Kirk Douglas, and in the Pack book, that made her a name. Paul Rosen took it from there, but Elsa Martinelli was nowhere to be found.
Paul was ready to give up when I found the answer. My Italian agent friend, Ivy Bless, knew the whereabouts of every actor in Rome, so I took a chance and flew to Rome. Because of our personal friendship, Ivy disclosed that Elsa was in hiding somewhere in Paris. She was trying to escape the Italian paparazzi who were hounding her for the story of her latest flaming affair. It took three weeks to find her in Paris, but with Elsa, a deal was only a matter of money; she had no interest in scripts. So I paid her pound of flesh and returned to New York to sign the Hoffman contract.
While I was gone, Dustin was tested for a Warner Bros. movie and now refused to sign the three-picture option. His Warner deal never came through, but I had to give up those options in order to get him to do MADIGAN. I was furious, but he remained adamant. He would do the one picture, but with no commitment to anything beyond that. I wanted to drop him, but my instincts demanded I make a picture with the one actor I had ever seen with so much potential, so we signed.
The stupid ego of Dick Pack and his inability to see beyond his nose cost all of us a real fortune. The three options on Dustin that would have cost us $5,000 per week for the last option were almost like owning a platinum mine. After THE GRADUATE, Dustin received a staggering sum for his next picture. By the time our third option came around, his price was over one million dollars. I wonder how Dick Pack felt after the huge success of THE GRADUATE about his response of "Dustin who?" to my first recommendation of this actor.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sergio Leone on ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST

Sergio Leone: In the reconstruction of the locations, back here at Cinecitta, I was more meticulous than a Visconti. I even brought back just the right dust from Monument Valley of just the right color. I believe that the selection of the right details is a big help for an actor. When Fonda and Bronson arrived on the set, they were bowled over! They weren't even used to working with music, which for me is crucially important for the actors. It helps them enter into the type of tension I request. I wanted Bronson because he had the right face: he is the perfect avenger, obsessive - never stopping until he's achieved his purpose; Fonda because I wanted to reverse his usual persona.
I needed the archetypes, but I wanted to play around with them, too.
The most wonderful actor, however, was Jason Robards, an actor of European cut, so gentle and responsible. Truly superb.
Fonda, of course, was a myth for me. The first few days on the set, he asked me disconcerting questions about details: "Which hand do you prefer that he drinks with? How does he tap the ash from his cigarette?"
I sensed that there was something on his mind that he wasn't expressing, so I took him aside and I told him that I wanted him for the role because he was an extraordinary actor; a legendary character who I'd admired forever. And how could I allow myself to suggest little bits of behavioral business to an actor of his stature?
Fonda responded, and this is verbatim: "Dear Sergio, I belong to that old generation of actors who never allowed themselves any initiative; who only left that for the director alone, and the only initiative taken was at the level of deciding - from the (Olympian) heights of one's superstardom - whether this or that movie was worth doing. Once committed to a project, however, one put oneself entirely in the hands of the director. In my long career, the only person I've ever shot (and then just once - in the knee) was my old friend Jimmy Stewart. Now yhou want me to exterminate an entire family. Since I like your films, you must know what you're doing. I accepted this part enthusiastically, but I want to leave all responsibility of my role up to you, so that if it's a success, all credit goes to you, and if it fails, you'll be the only one to blame."
Fonda was humble; professional as they come. He knew instinctively how to play for the lights, the camera... Just where to stand...

Monday, December 28, 2009

More casting decisions for Sidney

From: SO YOU WANT TO MAKE MOVIES
My Life As An Independent Producer
by Sidney Pink

The character of Madigan required an older actor, someone associated with gangster roles and preferably to fill the desires of WBC, a name actor. Paul Rosen suggested George Raft for the part, and there was unanimous agreement. He was perfect casting and fit every possible need for all of us. At eighty, George was still one of the most recognized names in Hollywood and certainly there was no one more associated with gangster roles than he. Not even the immortal Edward G. Robinson was more famous.
Predictably, Pack was on cloud ninety-nine when this casting possibility arose. Paul tracked down George, who was then connected with one of the famous London gambling clubs, and he agreed to accept the part. With George Raft signed, we were off to an auspicious start for the new Westinghouse contract.
It was Dick Pack who cast RAGAN for us. He wanted to find a vehicle for Ty Hardin, who was in Spain doing BATTLE OF THE BULGE. Ty made a name for himself in television with a western series and of course this sat well with Dick. Ty was a real ladies' man - blond, tall, very virile-looking with a grin like young Gary Cooper's. He fell in love with Europe, especially Rome and Madrid, along with the apparently inexhaustible supply of young lovelies who shared his innumerable one-night stands.
Ty was a great personality and a charmer but no actor. I was almost reluctant to go with him as the leading man in a picture with only one lead, but Dick Pack was so insistent that I finally agreed. Since I was able to create a very unusual villain role that would co-star the always trustworthy Gustavo Rojo, that satisfied me. Paul couldn't find an American director who would accept the script, so I was forced to find one in Europe.
The problem of a suitable leading man for MADIGAN was haunting all of us, and I knew I couldn't leave New York without completing the cast. In desperation I called Jack Gilardi and Mark Newman, hoping they could help find someone who fit our vision of the part. Stanley Prager tried to get Alan Arkin to do it, but he passed after reading the script. He rightfully felt it was improper casting for him. He had not yet made a real name for himself, but he had a good mind for scripts then, and I cannot understand what has prompted him to do some of the losers he has appeared in recently.
While we were awaiting some news from the West Coast, Paul Rosen snared another good name for us to play the lead with Bosley in THE BANG-BANG KID. Guy Madison became a star under the aegis of Warner Bros., appearing in such box-office hits as THE CHARGE AT FEATHER RIVER, and was now a familiar name in the Hollywood star list. But in the midst of that soaring career, he abruptly left for Europe and took starring roles in the spaghetti westerns and potboilers being shot in Rome. He was in great demand there because his name was virtually assured a worldwide release. Paul felt he would be perfect in the role of Bear Bullock, and who could argue that point? We signed him, and now we had our final casting for THE BANG-BANG KID except for the female lead, who had to be European.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Tonino Delli Colli on Steve Reeves

Tonino Delli Colli: Steve Reeves didn't have much strength. Before we filmed, he would blow up his muscles one by one, with a series of small exercises. He did the job to make money, not because he cared about the work. He just took care of business and put some savings aside, and in fact after the films he became a businessman. He had a secretary who became his wife, and who was a relative of Jacqueline Kennedy. I don't know where she was from, but that's how the story was spread around. However, Steve Reeves was not an actor. Rather he was a muscleman who took his muscles seriously because they were his bread and butter, and he knew very well that if he wore a shirt and tie, he wouldn't be worth a cigarette butt.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A new executive for Sidney

From: SO YOU WANT TO MAKE MOVIES
My Life As An Independent Film Producer
by Sidney Pink

The Westinghouse people gave in first. After reading the upgraded scripts tendered to them for approval, they realized we really intended to deliver higher quality, and they were impressed by our choice of director and the casting of Tom Bosley. It was quite apparent even to them that additional money given to us would show up on the screen, and they would benefit as much as we did. We had very little trouble in getting an additional $30,000 per film, but Westinghouse did throw in a couple of conditions.
Pack felt that I was carrying too much on my own shoulders, and if anything should happen to me, the entire program would collapse. He felt we needed to protect the program as well as Westinghouse by adding an executive producer who would take over the reins of the production if I should falter. He also felt the onus of complete personal supervision was a burden that should be shared with someone capable of handling that much responsibility. He demanded an equal voice in the choice of that person, although it was agreed he would be our employee on our payroll and directly responsible only to us.
Then Dick unloosed his curve. Strangely and almost miraculously, he had just the perfect man for me. Mitchell Grayson. Mitch was an old friend and compatriot of Dick's earlier days spent in little theater and writing classes who had continued his career into motion-picture production. He was available, having just completed a production job with my old friend Eli Landau. I checked with Eli, who was lavish in his praise of Mitchell Grayson...
I am certain Dick Pack felt he had planted a mole in my organization and accomplished what he had failed to achieve with Howard Barnes. He felt he would be privy to everything going on in Our organization, including my personal thoughts. He was dead wrong. Mitch and I became fast friends, and although I had occasion to question his judgment, I never doubted his loyalty or integrity. On the contrary, as he perceived the nefariousness of Dick's dealings with us, he began to confide to me the confidential reports and requests he received from Pack. Dick helped me more than he knew or intended...
With Westinghouse relatively peaceful for the moment, we resumed the task of our final casting, the completion of which would allow us to return to Madrid and get back to work. Our relations with the Trade Bank (Larry Meyers) were at their best, and I became a stockholder. My line of credit with the bank was in excess of one million dollars, and in the sixies that was a lot of money. From the menu of hot dogs and Nedick orange drinks to a million-dollar credit line in less than two years! Where else but in showbiz could such miracles be achieved? I was the talk of the industry, a great deal of it bad because of my alliance with the great enemy, television. The praise from Paul Rosen, however, was making it easier for us. Such was the esteem in which he and Famous were held that he was slowing turning the tide of resentment to one of respect for our accomplishments.
Paul finally managed to pin down Cameron Mitchell for TREASURE OF MAKUBA, who accepted the $25,000 offer for our standard six-week contract, and of course we received immediate approval from Pack. I also called Rory, who accepted the offer to return to Madrid and work with Jim Philbrook again. We had a little trouble with Pack on this one because he didn't want two Rory Calhoun vehicles on the program. An appeal to McGannon resolved that disagreement because, as I knew, the McGannons liked Rory. EMERALD OF ARTATAMA was now cast as well. That left RAGAN, additional names for THE BANG-BANG KID, and MADIGAN'S MILLIONS as the final casting problems.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A star for THE BANG-BANG KID

From: SO YOU WANT TO MAKE MOVIES
My Life As An Independent Film Producer
by Sidney Pink

Now that I had my director, casting became much easier. MADIGAN proved to be the most difficult, so we concentrated on THE BANG-BANG KID. The script called for two leading men, both of whom were vital to the plot line. The story took a new and fresh approach to the traditional Western. Howard Berk had written a love story based loosely on THE TAMING OF THE SHREW. The action takes place during the late 1800s in Limerick, a small Montana town where a silver mine offers the only employment available in that part of the state. The owner of the mine and everything else in the town is a young cowboy-turned-entrepreneur by the name of Bear Bullock, who is desperately in love with Gwenda, the blond daughter of the mayor of Limerick. Like the shrew, Gwenda perversely repulses his advances, and the more he offers, the more shrewish she becomes.
Desperate to impress her, he buys a castle in Austria and has it transported block by block to be reconstructed in Limerick. His hopes are dashed by her complete and utter disdain for this magnificent flourish, and Bear Bullock becomes mean. He decides to repay her by enslaving the townsfolk, so he hires the fastest gunman in the West, Killer Kissick, to accomplish his purpose. The town exists in a veritable state of siege, with Kissick threatening the inhabitants on a daily basis. Mineworkers' wages are cut to bare subsistence level, and Bullock lets it be known he will change it all if Gwenda accepts his marriage proposal. She adamantly refuses despite the pleas of the townspeople (including her father), so things keep getting worse in the town of Limerick.
In total frustration, the mayor and the town merchants advertise far and wide for a gunfighter to come to Limerick and rid them of the scourge of Killer Kissick. The reward of $2,500, an almost staggering sum for that era, attracts many candidates, but all fall to the fast guns of Kissick. Just when everything looks darkest, a mild-mannered roly-poly man arrives in Limerick to accept the job. He is laughed at until he opens his steamer trunk, and out comes a robot that is the absolute mirror image of his creator. The robot, named The Bang-Bang Kid, is indeed the fastest gun in the West, but it has one flaw - it doesn't work all the time. This was the basic plot of a very well-written script that should have been a one-of-a-kind movie.
Stanley and Paul agreed on the one actor they were certain would be perfect for the part of the bumbling inventor of the robot, Tom Bosley. This fine actor and musical comedy star won Broadway's highest honors for his magnificent portrayal of Fiorello La Guardia in the musical play FIORELLO. It was not a good time for Tom, and he was not working as much as he should have been. If I were back in the business today, class people like Tom would be in every damned thing I would produce. He was professionalism at its best, and what a joy to work with!
When I saw Tom for the first time, I knew he was the personification of Howard Berk's vision of that role. We signed him fast and at a fee I was surprised he would accept. THE BANG-BANG KID was to be shot in August. We still had the troublesome MADIGAN to cast, and it was slated to begin in April.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bertolucci on ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST

Bernardo Bertolucci: My contribution to ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST consisted of proposing some moments from the history of the Western, which were the ones, I liked the best - in short, and a tissue of film quotes, even if Leone didn't always recognize that they were citations. And then, there are some scenes that were filmed exactly as I wrote them, for example Cardinale's arrival. Leone is a very intelligent director, to be sure, and I believe his films are a little like those of Visconti, much influenced by Visconti, and with that same mixture of genius/ingenuity, and, shall we say, a certain cultural roughness/crudity/lack of panache. I enjoyed working with Leone, and also watching him work: it was like playing Cowboys as children.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sidney wants a new American director

From: SO YOU WANT TO MAKE MOVIES
My Life As An Independent Film Producer
by Sidney Pink

I was not anxious to begin talks with Westinghouse. Our strategy was to continue production plans and wait the next move. I had plenty to keep me busy casting THE BANG-BANG KID, A THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS, RAGAN, TREASURE OF MAKUBA, and EMERALD OF ARTATAMA. Also, I wanted to find some really good American directors in an effort to achieve that most elusive goal, a truly great movie. I knew my own limitations made that feat impossible for me to achieve as producer-director, but my ambition was to have my name on at least one truly memorable film. I believe that McGannon and Pack were totally aware of our waiting strategy and adopted the same tactic; thus we were at a standstill for several weeks. Paul Rosen was reading our properties and was most interested in THE BANG-BANG KID and MADIGAN'S MILLIONS. He set about trying to cast these two first.
For the MADIGAN lead he presented a variety of choices. I interviewed Dick Shawn, Robert Redford (then an unknown), and Jackie Mason, whom I found thoroughly repulsive in my visit with him at his room in the old Astor Hotel. Dick Shawn would have been great, but his ambitions were not for movie stardom, and he evinced very little interest in a European trip. I understood his needs were not the same as most actors, and I respected him for his candor; I still believe the great talent of this fine comedian was never really tapped. I never got to speak to Redford who, in my poor judgement and lack of good sense, I found to be too handsome for the role.
Unable to agree on anyone for the lead, we began looking for a director. Paul recommended two fine young Broadway directors who had never made films. He was particularly high on a young comedian-straight-man-actor, Mike Nichols, who was a huge success on Broadway. Mike was eager to make a movie and he was very impressive. He knew actors and he knew scripts, but what I failed to discern was his amazing capacity for learning quickly and his innate ability to visualize the potential of any medium he was working with. I was impressed but afraid to take a chance on him.
The other director, Stanley Prager, was a graduate of the Yiddish theater, a member of that great talent pool that included Neil Simon, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner and others. Stanley's latest Broadway effort, Woody Allen's very funny PLEASE DON'T DRINK THE WATER, was breaking all records. Stanley gave us passes to see the show, and his comedic direction was sure-fire.
MADIGAN was essentially a comedy drama and could only be helped by a comedy director, so I was in a real dilemma. I liked and respected both Nichols and Prager, yet I could use only one direction. Paul resolved my indecision when he showed me an award-winning television play starring Alan Arkin that Stanley had directed on film. It was titled THE PRIVATE LIFE OF BARNEY RUDITZKY and was a damned good show. I was so impressed I signed Stanley Prager to a two-picture contract at the highest figure I had ever paid a director: $20,000 per film. It was a grave error, but I didn't learn that until much later when we began production of MADIGAN'S MILLIONS. It seems I do have a claim to fame. How many other people can claim the stupidity of turning down both Mike Nichols and Robert Redford for the same movie? My name should be reserved in the Motion Picture Idiot Hall of Fame.

Monday, December 21, 2009

In praise of Brittany Murphy

I had seen Brittany Murphy in CLUELESS, but didn't really notice her until the bus stop posters for JUST MARRIED appeared. When I realized that I had seen her a few years before looking very different, I wondered "what happened?" Then I saw her in CHERRY FALLS and was mightily impressed by her unique persona and how moving I found her performance. Like Mia Kirshner, she can be greatly affecting as she seems to be just on the verge of crying. I started to look for other shows featuring her, and found myself impressed by her again and again - in BONGWATER, FALLING SKY, THE DEVIL'S ARITHMETIC, DROP DEAD GORGEOUS, FREEWAY, an episode of Unscripted on HBO and especially opposite Dakota Fanning in the charming UPTOWN GIRLS. After being less impressed by her in SIN CITY, NEVERWAS and especially in the SyFy Channel MEGA FAULT - in which she again looked very different from how she looked before, I was hoping that she would overcome whatever was going on in her life and once again do something impressive. Unfortunately, her life came to an abrupt end Sunday, December 20, 2009.
I, however, haven't caught up with everything she has already made, so I have much more to see of her and I am certain to find more of that impressive stuff for which I became a fan.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Duccio Tessari on Steve Reeves

Duccio Tessari: Reeves was a body-builder. He owed everything to a gentleman called Giovanni Cianfriglia, a stuntman, who seen from nearby resembled him well enough and from far away was his double. It was Cianfriglia who did everything in his films that needed strength or that might be fatiguing. Reeves, before starting a scene, would confine himself to blowing up his muscles one by one with gymnastic movements. They were, however, turgid muscles of protein, butter and honey, that had no strength. In fact, he couldn't even lift an actress between his arms. It was always Cianfriglia on whose shoulders those things were thrown. Then in a closer shot, Reeves would replace him, whilst out of shot the girl was supported by an engineer huddled like a kneeling statue (a Caryatid). Also, he didn't have much of a sense of equilibrium and at the slightest request to run, would trip up with a terrible crash to the earth. On set he was followed around like a shadow by a Polish girl who then became his wife, and who took care of him with the greatest attention. I think she even limited his sexual exertions so that he didn't tire himself too much. She was, however, completely aware of living with a momentary phenomenon from whom she felt the need to profit by taking the maximum care in order to save up for the future. In fact she was a mean and miserly bitch.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

THE CHRISTMAS KID clinched the demise of Howard Barnes

From: SO YOU WANT TO MAKE MOVIES
My Life As An Independent Film Producer
by Sidney Pink

Throughout my youth I never possessed much material wealth to lose; consequently, drastic moves and big decisions were easy to make. Without a big ante in the game, it is easy to play, so I did things instinctively and quickly, even foolishly and impetuously. The Westinghouse contract gave me a prestige I had never known before, and I liked the feeling of importance. Things I previously scoffed at were now important considerations to be studied and restudied before making a decision.
Something else was on my mind, too. I didn't know whether the Westinghouse alliance gave me the respect I now received in the showbiz world, or if it was earned by my own efforts and abilities. In spite of the cocky attitude I have always worn on the outside, I have never been fully convinced I possess any real talent. I also know these same self-doubts have plagued many of my friends and colleagues who, with so much more talent than I, should have realized the depth of their own abilities...
Arnold reported that preliminary discussions with Don McGannon indicated that Don did not share the views of Dick Pack. Pack expressed the opinion I was trying to cheat Westinghouse by creating falsely inflated budgets to back up claims of excessive costs created by WBC's demands for unneeded script revisions and cast changes. In Arnold's opinion, McGannon was so pleased with the pictures he had seen that a new deal could be structured. Peter agreed with Arnold; he was certain Pack would have to back our position when he realized the total satisfaction of his boss McGannon.
This was great to hear, but it was based purely on Arnold and Peter's own opinion and analysis. Much as I respected their abilities, I had to make my own evaluation before moving ahead. I was cautioned by Arnold to be very careful about anything I said to either Pack or Barnes that might in any way impugn future dealings with McGannon. I made an appointment with Dick and Howard to deliver the new scripts and to avoid breaching our present contract, as well as to demonstrate I did not intend to quit.
After a lengthy discussion of future scripts, I left with the feeling my advisors were right. Pack was friendlier than at any time since we first met, but I knew he had not changed his inherent dislike of my creative independence. I suggested, in Barnes' presence, that I felt it would be better for all if Howard could be assigned to the other WBC films, and Dick promised to consider it.
I was not certain I had won anything until after the screening of THE CHRISTMAS KID. The WBC syndication department attended, as did Paul Rosen, the Gettinger office, and assorted agents from Ashley Famous. From Howard's preliminary reports, Don and Dick were expecting to see a real bomb, and I think perhaps that colored their final reaction to the film. Never had anyone been proven so wrong and prejudice-ridden as Howard Barnes. The reaction to the picture was enthusiastically positive on the part of everyone, and it cemented my relationship with Paul Rosen, who was impressed with the production values we were able to put on the screen despite our small budgets. THE CHRISTMAS KID also clinched the demise of Howard Barnes; Dick replaced him shortly thereafter.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sidney wants to renegotiate with Westinghouse.

From: SO YOU WANT TO MAKE MOVIES
My Life As An Independent Film Producer
by Sidney Pink

There was still a lot of work to be done before I left for New York. Although I had no intention of turning another camera until we had a new deal with Westinghouse, I still had to prepare for the future with the idea that we would be able to work out our differences and go forward. We had the A THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS script for Elorietta, plus MADIGAN'S MILLIONS from Henaghan. On tap were two more story ideas by Howard Berk, THE BANG-BANG KID and an adventure yarn entitled RAGAN. Berk also had two more story outlines that sounded interesting and on which I took options. They were the TUNNELS OF KAISERFURT (a World War II story) and a very funny idea, THE PRESIDENT IN SIXTY-FOUR WORDS OR LESS. I had my own original HONEYMOON FOR SPINSTERS, and John Melson submitted IF THE SHROUD FITS. There was no lack of good scripts, and I could foresee a still brighter future if we were able to get more money from WBC and spend it on better production.~I had already delivered the six precontract films to Westinghouse, and under the new production contract we delivered TALL WOMEN, FICKLE FINGER OF FATE, WITCH WITHOUT A BROOM, DRUMS OF TABU, VENGEANCE OF PANCHO VILLA, and now THE CHRISTMAS KID. Quite an accomplishment for less than one year. Our film had been shipped from our Spanish lab to Movielab in New York, which had accepted all the materials. We had more than fulfilled the terms of our contract and Westinghouse complied on its side. It was a good time to stop, catch our breath, and map out the future.~There was still the matter of setting distribution deals for Spain. Since all our pictures were of Spanish nationality and had well-known American stars in them, we were much in demand. I was not knowledgeable about Spanish distribution so I had deferred to the expertise of Pepe Lopez Moreno and Tony Recoder...
At long last my answer print was ready. Howard Berk had finished a first draft of this two stories, and Elorietta submitted a final script for TREASURE OF MAKUBA and GIRL OF THE NILE (which was retitled EMERALD OF ARTATAMA). Now I was ready to go back to New York and face the Westinghouse crew again. I knew they were preparing some real surprised for me, but I had to be brave. Off I went to face a New York winter.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sidney finds that it sometimes pays to be a producer.

From: SO YOU WANT TO MAKE MOVIES
My Life As An Independent Film Producer
by Sidney Pink

THE CHRISTMAS KID was a mess. The normal orderliness of the filing and storage of takes and prints had been completely fouled up by the two assistants that John was supposedly training. Takes had been mislabeled, scene numbers and clappers had disappeared, and chaos was the order of the day. I called in Antonio Ramirez and requested he identify every scene that was either unmarked or unrecognizable and get the cutting room back in order so that we could start again from scratch.
It took a week to get reorganized, which gave me time to realize my deal with Westinghouse was not good for us. An analysis of the WBC contribution to our budget disclosed we were actually paying more for the prerequisite contract demands than Westinghouse was paying us. The cost of meeting WBC's standards was well in excess of the $90,000 paid to us, without the added headaches caused by Barnes and Pack.
I called Arnold in New York to explain the figures to him. After a long exchange of opinions (the bill for that one call was over $600), we agreed that Peter and he would contact McGannon and set up an appointment to re-evaluate the deal. We had now delivered the first six pictures, and I felt it was a proper time to discuss and evaluate the contract from the viewpoint of both parties. I needed at least four weeks to finish and deliver THE CHRISTMAS KID which gave us the last of the six.
John Horvath returned and gave as his excuse for leaving that his first citizenship papers did not permit him to remain out of the States longer than five months at one time. He was required to return to the U.S. for a minimum of forty-eight hours before he was permitted to leave again. He admitted he had taken extra time to be with his girlfriend whom he had finally decided to marry. He told me he was not happy with the responsibility of being in charge; he preferred the role of assistant. Regretfully I refused his requests, and so he would have to return to New York with his new bride. I offered him financial help if he needed it.
Henaghan came to me with a new script called MADIGAN'S MILLIONS and the hope that we were still speaking. This was Jimmy's way of apologizing, and I recognized it. His Irish pride would never permit an admission of error, but he knew I knew and so all was well. MADIGAN was a good script and I bought it.
I invited Jim to attend a screening of the new first cut of THE CHRISTMAS KID. We held it secretly at the Fono Espana room. It was still rough, with a seperate soundtrack, but it was looking good. We finally were able to put the film together with the feeling and tempo with which I had shot it. Henaghan admitted the film was turning out far better than his original ideal, imparting a flavor he had never seen in a Western.
Later, reviews and audience reaction confirmed that we had produced a new kind of Western, and I am proud of it. Louis Hayward was pleased with his performance, and although Jeff never personally told me this, his girlfriend phoned me soon after his untimely death to tell me Jeff considered his performance in THE CHRISTMAS KID one of his best, and he had enjoyed his stay in Madrid with us. Sometimes it pays to be a producer.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Brando on why people like movies

From: Marlon Brando: The Godfather Roars
by Chris Hodenfield
Rolling Stone May 20, 1976

"But films... it's funny. People buy a ticket. That ticket is their transport to a fantasy which you create for them. Fantasyland, that's all, and you make their fantasies live. Fantasies of love or hatred or whatever it is. People want their fantasies over and over. People who masturbate usually masturbate with, at the most, four or five fantasies. By and large.
"Most people like the same food and they like the same kind of music, they like the same kind of sexual fantasy for a period of time, then maybe it changes. As it is in children. Who is it?" He drummed the dashboard. "Bruce Lee. That's the hero. Then you grow up and grow out of your Bruce Lee period, or your Picasso Blue Period, and go into another period.
"But with kids, because they overpower us, because they have no representation, because they are so dependent, all they think about is power. Dinosaurs of the Million Dollar Man, because they feel so helpless, because they have no way out of it, except fantasy. Because they are only that tall."And that's all films are." He had a concerned knit to his voice, like a preacher talking about poverty. "Just an extension of childhood, where everybody wants to be freer, everybody wants to be powerful, everybody wants to so overwhelmingly attractive that there's just no doing anything about it. Or everybody wants to have comradeship and to be understood.
"They become lullabies. They're 'tell-me-again-Daddy' stories. That's all television is: 'Tell me again, Daddy, about the good guy and the bad guy and the strong guy and Kung Fu and Flash Gordon.'"
His voice grew soft. "People love to hear the stories, they love to hear the lullabies.
"Tastes change, but the function doesn't. I might as well be Jimmy Cagney in WHITE HEAT. The same story, the positive and the negative, the yin and the yang, the antihero.
"There's no fooling. People are sheep. They'll just do any fucking thing. Anything. I mean, the sum total of everything I believe is the sum total of everything I've read, seen. I'm not told how to do it, it's just... something's influenced me. James Joyce or Schopenhauer of my aunt Minnie.
"But everybody's looking for the man on the white horse, everybody's looking for the one who will tell the Truth. So you read Lao-tzu, you read Konrad Lorenz, I don't know who else, Melville, Kenneth Patchen, somebody you think is not a bullshitter. Somebody who has the eyes of a saint and the perceptions of a ghost.
"They're gonna tell us the way, they're gonna show us. They never really do, and we run around being cheap imitations of all those influences."
He shrugged in a resigned way. "But there isn't much of another way."

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sidney Screens The Movies

From: SO YOU WANT TO MAKE MOVIES
My Life As An Independent Film Producer
by Sidney Pink

The screening began promptly at 9:30, and I was surprised to see about forty people in the audience. I had given permission to Gustavo and Fernando to attend, and they were there with friends. When I tried to find out who the others were, I was told by Pepe Moreno that he had taken the liberty of inviting a few Spanish distributors to see the finished product in the hope of making a good deal for Spain. I met and spoke to the managers of Universal, Warner, and Columbia as well as independent distributors. In Spain the independents were actually more important than our own American companies. Import licenses for foreign films were issued by the government on the basis of the number of native films distributed, so most of the American films were distributed by Spanish companies. This worked in our favor by eliminating a monopoly by any one company.
The Fono Espana screening room was actually a working dubbing room and not a very comfortable place to watch a movie, but the sound equipment was excellent. The film began rolling and I really enjoyed it. THE TALL WOMEN is a well-made movie; its only drawback is its discernibly small budget. The Indian attack scenes were acceptable, but not notable. I wept inwardly at my own folly in not realizing the potential I had in my grasp.
The acting, however, could not have been better, especially the superlative performances by Anne Baxter, Perla Crystal, Maria Perschy, and Maria Mahor. The poignancy and fear they felt were transmitted from that screen almost hypnotically. You did't realize it was only a movie - they made you live their experience. The music was good and added to every scene, and the sound effects were real and unobtrusive. Marcello Gatti's camera caught the misery and terror of that Western desert, and his lighting in the cave sequences captured the essence of the women's fear. It was a remarkable job of photography, and Marcello was nominated for an award by the Italian Academy. The picture moves in American tempo, and Antonio's editing was extremely well done.
I must admit to a little bit of pride when the picture ended and the applause resounded. Tony Recoder came over and introduced me to the CBS executive who expressed the same sentiments this picture evoked where it played: "Do you really mean to tell me that this picture was made in Spain?" (That question might have been apropos had we not been sitting in Madrid.) He asked me if the picture had been sold for network TV, and of course I had to refer him to Westinghouse.
Tony later told me CBS offered $250,000 for a two-run network showing, but Westinghouse turned it down. In those days, a quarter of a million dollars was a lot of money for a television showing, but apparently not to Westinghouse. The refusal robbed me of the opportunity of getting my work on a national network for all of American to see. I wonder if that couldn't have been one of the reasons for Westinghouse's refusal. After all it doesn't make sense to reject a $200,000 profit that wouldn't affect WBC's library rights for its own stations and could only raise the asking price when the film went into syndication.
This, of course, gave me still another reason to love Pack and company. It is wonderful to look back - you have such clarity of vision and it becomes that clear day when you can see forever. I realize now that I could have forced Westinghouse to accept the deal but only at the time. At this stage, all I can do is shrug and say "C'est la vie."
The next showing was FICKLE FINGER OF FATE, and again I was pleasantly surprised. The film turned out much better than even I had hoped. Dick Rush added a couple of personal flourishes that worked well. For example, his beauty contest winners, who play such a vital role in the story, wore different colored wigs and were named by color. The girls were beautiful, and the wigs made them appear colorful and exotic-looking. Macasoli did his usual fine camera work, and Dick managed to get a performance out of Tab Hunter that got him great trade paper reviews and additional work. I was pleased with the result, and so was Barnes. the same distributors who had seen THE TALL WOMEN saw the FICKLE FINGER OF FATE screening. We were all on a high until we saw THE CHRISTMAS KID later that afternoon.
Unbeknownst to me, John Horvath took off for the States and left the cutting of THE CHRISTMAS KID to a Spanish assistant who had absolutely no knowledge of the script. Ordinarily, this could not have happened since our cutting rooms were in the basement of our office building, and I normally visited them daily. However, once again I had a problem with Purgatori trying to prove his mettle as a worldwide film salesman. He was contacted for distribution rights by an unusually large number of countries due to stories in trade papers announcing the completion of our programmed pictures.
The world markets were in need of film because of the curtailment of Hollywood production, and anyone making as many films as we were became highly desirable. Purgatori was in hog heaven, again beginning to feel self-important as the once discourteous buyers were now seeking him out. It was my intention to make an overall deal for world distribution, either with an American distributor or with one of the big British, German, or Italian distributors. No matter how many times I told Purgatori of my plan, he remained convinced that his way was preferable, and he kept on pushing. I was tied up in Rome for sixteen days straightening out the affairs of Domino Films. I returned only just in time for the screenings.
That day's CHRISTMAS KID screening was exclusively for me, our cutting staff, my secretary Marianne, and production crew. I did not permit Howard to enter and for once he didn't protest too much. I think seeing to films in one day that were much better than he had reported them to be was about as much as he could stand. I was truly thankful I had not invited him. I knew that THE CHRISTMAS KID had to be a good picture based on the rushes, but what I saw sickened me. The cut made absolutely no sense and the result was pathetic.
When I demanded to know where Horvath was, all I got were shrugs from the staff. I asked Marianne if she had any knowledge of his whereabouts, and after much hemming and hawing she told me he was in New York, but was expected back in two days. I raised hell with her for not notifying me about this and for giving him permission to leave. I knew John well enough to know he would not have left without some kind of permission, implied or otherwise, and I also knew of his very close relationship to Marianne. If Marianne hadn't been such a tremendous asset to me, I would have fired her then and there, but experience as assistant to Alan Funt on Candid Camera made her completely irreplacable, not to mention that I really loved her as a friend. No irreparable damage was done, but now I had to go to work in the cutting room personally.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Tab Hunter Meets Luchino Visconti

From: TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL
The Making of A Movie Star
by Tab Hunter with Eddie Muller

Returning to Rome was a case of going from the ridiculous to the sublime.
"Luchino Visconti wants to meet you," Tomas told me. "He wants us to come to dinner at his villa."
Tomas had just completed a starring role for the great director in BOCCACCIO '70, an anthology of short films by some of Italy's greatest directors: Visconti, Vittorio de Sica, Federico Fellini. I was a huge Visconti fan. Roddy McDowall and I had seen ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS at the Sutton Theater in New York when it first came out, and I'd gone back to relive it five consecutive nights, stunned every time by Alain Delon's brilliance and Annie Giradot's incredible death scene. I enjoyed ROCCO more than anything since THE BLACK SWAN, which I saw when I was eleven. I couldn't believe that the maker of this wonderful movie wanted to meet me.
Arriving at his magnificent villa on Via Salaria, we were greeted by a white-gloved manservant flanked by a pair of huge, slobbering Great Danes. The entryway featured enormous Renato Guttuso paintings, which puffed me up a little bit. On my earlier trip to Italy, I purchased a Guttuso from a dealer in Rome. I'd later learned that Guttuso and Visconti had grown up close friends. There were few people, I'd learn, that Visconti didn't know.~The man was an intriguing contradiction. Born into an affluent, artistocratic family - his full title being Count Don Luchino Visconti Di Modrone - he became a full-fledged Marxist after lending his palazzo to the Communist resistance during World War II. He survived being imprisoned by the Gestapo and went on to create neorealist films that attacked Fascism and championed the working poor. Yet he lived like royalty.
We were ushered into a fabulous living room filled with art, antiques, and piped-in classical music. Visconti was holding court. Annie Giradot and Renato Salvatori, the costar who killed her in ROCCO, were sunk into an enormous sofa, engulfed in down pillows. Marina Cicogna, who was either a marchesa or a contessa, sipped champagne with her companion, who was definitely an investment banker. The conversation flowed from French to Italian to German. Three young butlers in immaculate white uniforms attended to the guests.
"I didn't know Communists could live like this," I quietly cracked to Tomas.
Visconti welcomed Tomas with a big hug. He was like an elegant panther, supremely relaxed in his own skin, a commanding presence with a rich, mellow voice. Looking at me he said, "So, finally we meet...Welcome." I wasn't sure what that "finally" was about.
We dined at a great table set with pounds of silver and gigantic candelabras dripping wax over everything. Butlers hovered discreetly. I'd never seen anything so decadent - and I loved every minute of it.
Visconti's gatherings were legendary for the eclectic mix of guests. Not only movie players, but people from the stage, opera, politics, fashion - the man's interestes and passions were boundless.
One of those passions was horses. Even as he cultivated youthful interests in music and theater - he was friends with both Puccini and Toscanini - Visconti's real job was breeding racehorses. It seemed to be his calling until he moved to Paris and became friends with Coco Chanel, who introduced him to director Jean Renoir. That's when cinema became Visconti's ossessione. After the war, he smoothly alternated between directing films, theater, and opera, becoming accomplished, and established, at each. Maria Callas credited him with teaching her how to act.
He also earned a reputation for favoring "beautiful" leading men. I couldn't help wondering if this was why the Sigh Guy rated an invitation to the villa. Luchino's preferences were well known but never discussed. To be flagrant was to be gauche, something no elegant nobleman could abide. The Italian press, unlike its American kin, paid little attention to Visconti's sexual orientation. His public politics earned the ink, not his private affairs.
Whatever his motives for wanting to meet me, I was surprised, and delighted, when during dinner Luchino revealed that he'd tried to contact me years earlier, through Famous Artists Agency. He was looking for a fresh young Hollywood actor for his lush 1954 costume melodrama, SENSO, and thought I might have been right for the callow Austrian officer with whom Alida Valli falls in love. But when Henry Willson didn't respond, Farley Granger - a much more experienced actor - got the part.
I'd heard lines like this before, but Luchino was serious.
"We are going to make a film together - soon," he told me. It was like getting a benediction from the pope. In Hollywood, I'd have passed it off as predictable show-business party patter. Luchino wasn't like that. You felt you were in the presence of a man who made a difference, and you took everything he said as gospel truth.
My next picture, regrettably, was a far cry from Visconti's realm. While he prepared a masterpiece, THE LEOPARD, I signed on for OPERATION BIKINI.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Finishing THE CHRISTMAS KID

From: SO YOU WANT TO MAKE MOVIES
My Life As An Independent Film Producer
by Sidney Pink

Unfortunately, Jeff Hunter and his girlfriend had a fight during the first week of production and he started drinking, making the film more difficult than it should have been. Jeff was so drunk one day he couldnt' speak even the simplest lines, and he became abusive and beligerent. I liked Jeff Hunter; normally he was as gentle as a puppy, but when he got drunk, he became frighteningly mean. He had now disrupted any possibility of work for the rest of the day, and perhaps had ruined any hope for the picture. It was time for me to take action, so I did.~I shouted even louder than he and I gave him an ultimatum. Either he went back to his apartment and sobered up, after giving us his solemn word of honor not to drink again during the shooting of the movie, or I would be forced to fire him right then and there. If I had to do that, I would also file charges against him with the Screen Actors Guild that would keep him from working again until he repaid all damages caused by his behavior. I also reminded him he was a visitor in a foreign country and making us all look like ugly Americans. I asked him to consider how ashamed he would be after he sobered up, and I managed to get through to him. He understood what I was shouting at him, and he sat down and asked that he be allowed to continue on the picture. He gave us his solemn promise not to drink again.
From that day until we finished shooting, Jeff never touched a drop. We finished the picture three days ahead of schedule and below budget. We promised the crew they could have the entire day off to see the world championship soccer game being played in Madrid if they would help us finish our big scene, the burning of the saloon, in a night sequence. THE CHRISTMAS KID was shot in exactly sixteen working days, without a complete script or rehearsal, yet it still turned out to be one of our most critically acclaimed pictures. We had a magnificent cast that included not only Jeff Hunter and Louis Hayward but also Perla Cristal as the beauty, Gustavo Rojo as the lawman turned mayor, Luis Prendes as the judge, Fernando Hilbeck as Jud (Judas), and all of our American Pink Players. It will always be a truism that "a movie that works is a movie that has a happy crew," and outside of the minor fracas with Jeff, we had exactly that. It was a joyful experience and it showed on film. I had begun by hating Jim Henaghan and I ended up grateful to him because I had been able to test my own abilities.
I am indebted to THE CHRISTMAS KID for making my life much more tolerable by removing Howard Barnes from the situation. Howard learned I was writing the scenes of the script the night before they were shot and that Jeff had begun drinking again. Howard became thoroughly convinced the picture would be a bomb, so without seeing any of it, he began writing reports to New York about the inferior quality of the picture. He built up such a strong image of its inadequacies that Pack was ready to exercise his right to reject without even seeing the film.
I knew nothing about this, as usual, until I finished production and was ready to edit. Then Dick called me with the news he was going to reject the picture on Howard's recommendation. Accepting his decision, I reminded Dick I was now at liberty to sell the picture elsewhere without any further commitment to show the film to Westinghouse. When Pack heard this, he realized he might be losing something, as he was always free to reject a film after seeing it. He could not understand why I wasn't the slightest bit perturbed with his decision. I didn't try to change his mind or even discuss the matter, so he changed his own mind and decided he was acting prematurely.
I believe this was when Dick realized Howard Barnes could never really function as his representative with our company. Barnes was consumed with a desire to destroy our relationship with Westinghouse and was no longer able to look at things objectively. Anything I did would be unacceptable to him, whether the end product was good or bad. I put John Horvath in charge of cutting THE CHRISTMAS KID while I turned to other problems, including the final answer print of THE TALL WOMEN.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Marlon Brando on Gillo Pontecorvo and LAST TANGO IN PARIS

From: Marlon Brando: The Godfather Roars
by Chris Hodenfield
Rolling Stone May 20, 1976

"Kazan is a performer's director," he said suddenly. "The best director I ever worked with. Because most actors... it's very lonely out there. Most actors don't get any help from directors. Emotional help, if you're playing an emotional part. Kazan is the only one I know who really gives you help.
"Most of the time you just come like a journeyman plumber and you gotta have your own bag of stuff, ready to go. But the people who perceive most delicately are Bertolucci and Gillo Pontecorvo [BURN!]...
"Shakespeare said something that was remarkable. You don't hear it very often. He said, 'There is no art that finds the mind's construction on the face.' Meaning that there is the art of poetry, music or dancing, architecture or painting, whatever. But to find people's minds by their face, especially their face, is an art and it's not recognized as an art.
"Bertolucci has that and so does Gillo Pontecorvo. Gadge [Kazan] also knows when things are in and when they're out. Has a good feeling. He works viscerally and on instinct. Bertolucci is extraordinary in his ability to perceive... he's a poet. Some directors are difficult to work for. Gillo is very difficult to work for, very highly disciplined. But Bertolucci is easy to work for."
Different intuitions? Different manipulations?
"Definitely. Gillo has a very stringent and disciplined technique. Kazan would say, 'Go out and rehearse this scene and bring me something back.' He'll take about eight points out of twelve or eleven, andyou argue with him. He'll give you points and there's no ego involved. He's a guy that works without ego.
"There might be a difference of interpretation. But he's got the last word on that. That's the director's privilege. And they'll always beat you to the tape in the cutting room. You might say 'yeah' quick. But if you thought about it and said, '..... Yeeeeah.' Maybe he thought that was too goddamn long a take, so in the cutting room he dropped out thirty-eight frames and it comes out '..... Yeah.' Which alters the meaning. But if you're tight with the director, you know what they're after."
I asked him if the LAST TANGO (IN PARIS) details were autobiographical.
"Oh, well he [Bertolucci] had some cockamamie notion. What he wanted to do was sort of meld the image of the actor, the performer, with the part. So he got a few extraneous details. Played the drums. I don't know... Tahiti... so that the man is really telling the story of his life. I don't know what the hell it's supposed to mean. He said, 'Give me some reminiscences about your youth.' That made me think about milking a cow, my mother's getting drunk, one thing and another. He went, 'Wonderful, wonderful.'...
"It wasn't an easy film. Playing it in another language was hard, and in a way it was easy because I just made up any goddamn thing. Not anything, just sorta he wanted this theme or that theme. No matter what you did, within a given context,he leaves you alone."
He ruminated on a distant cloud. He jaw flexed.
"I don't think Bertolucci knew what the film was about. And I didn't know what it was about. He went around telling everybody it was about his prick!"
The laugh sounded like an asthma attack. "He looks at me one day and he says, you know... something like, 'You are the embodiment, or reincarnation... you are the... symbol of my prick.' I mean, what the fuck does that mean? He has some conflicts that he's quite open about...
"I have no idea what the picture was about. I mean most pictures are the extensions of people's fantasies. You learn more about the reviewer when they review. A good reviewer anyway, like Pauline Kael. I think she overwrote the picture because she was overwhelmed by some personal experience she had."
What did you see in the movie?
"I saw the picture about two years later. No, it was three years later, and I thought it was funny. I didn't know what it was about." He gazed emptily at the ceiling. "It was about a man desperately trying to find some meaning in life, full of odd symbols. He dies in a self-conscious way, in a fetal position. The woman shoots him at the end, and this whole thing was to have taken place over a three-day period. Impossible to have those transitions. It's a mythological tale; it doesn't happen in life."
His eyes unfocused. "It was fascinating, that tango scene... in contrast to those strange men and movements and people. Iconoclastic. But you do something... the idea that he simply wanted to revert to his nature, he wanted to find out what was the common denominator in his misery, what his nature is... and then he found that his nature is not what he thought it was. And as soon as he reverted to a more natural way, meaning a more bourgeois concept, then she finally became more savage and primitive on an unconscious level. Finally killed him. He was sort of threatening her. Maybe it's..."
He realized what a mouthful had passed, considering that he didn't know what the film was about. His gaze shifted out the window with a certain amount of disgust. "I don't know."
Did you catch Ingmar Bergman's remark?
"No, what he say?"
He saw Jeanne as a boy, that Bertolucci didn't have the nerve to cast a boy in Maria Schneider's role.
"Oh. Well, he came as close to it as he can get. I mean, she's a professed...homosexual."
There were a lot of rugged stories around that movie, that it was an emotional pounding, that you'd never do anything like that again, that it took some recovery time.
"Naaah. As soon as they let go of your leg, then it's out to Tahiti or the desert."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sidney has no script for THE CHRISTMAS KID.

From: SO YOU WANT TO MAKE MOVIES
My Life As An Independent Film Producer
by Sidney Pink

I hired Spain's foremost cutter, Antonio Ramirez, to take charge of the cutting rooms, and I rehired Antonio Sau to take command of production and relieve me of production decisions. Then I rolled up the sleeves of my sleeveless shirts, increased my smoking habit to four packs a day, and directed THE CHRISTMAS KID myself.
In a Catholic country I didn't dare follow the Jesus parable too closely, so I had Luis de los Arcos write up a brief, inoffensive script that bore an equally innocuous title JOE NAVIDAD ("JOE CHRISTMAS"). He wrote this script in three days, and it took three more days to get censor approval and our shooting permit.
In the meantime, I put every available member of our production staff to work in setting up our production requirements. We had neither the time nor the money for elaborate production or big battle scenes. We couldn't even use Indians. What remained was the story I now had to write.
I decided all the action would take place within the confines of the small town of Jasper in the Wyoming Territory and would culminate in a confrontation between good and evil. I decided to cast Louis Hayward as the devil, this time in the person of an ever-smiling, evil gambler who comes to Jasper after a copper strike has made the town rich. I portrayed Joe Christmas, played by Jeff Hunter, as the renegade son of the town drunk, who holds his son responsible for the death of his mother. Joe's upbringing and education are left to the three wise men who try to impart to him the best of their wisdom and the love he finds nowhere else. Joe grows up with the same hate in him that his father carries, and with a total disrespect for all he has been taught...
This is how the story evolved, but I was unable to write it before we started shooting. I hired an English-speaking assitant, Enrique Bergiere, and my son as dialogue director. We never left the Western movie set the Italians built in the outskirts of Madrid for their many spaghetti Westerns. We used it as the only background for the action, which allowed us tight control of the shooting schedule and budget. It was the easiest film I ever shot, and except for the difficulty of writing new scenes and dialogue every night and giving them to the actors the same day they were to be shot, it was almost like child's play.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tab Hunter on THE GOLDEN ARROW

From: TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL
The Making of A Movie Star
by Tab Hunter with Eddie Muller

Rossana Podesta draped herself against a date palm in the desert oasis. In her diaphanous gown, she oozed sex appeal. I tossed the loose end of the burnoose over my shoulder, adjusted my sword, and descended on her. She rose slightly, inviting my kiss.
A million flies swarmed into our hair, our eyes, our mouths. They were all over everything, everywhere.
"Cut!" screamed director Antonio Margheriti, in Italian, his native language.
We were on location in Egypt, shooting a sword-and-sandal spectacular for the Italian company, Titanus Studios. Margheriti stormed around, spewing lots of vowels, gesturing wildly at the mostly Egyptian crew.
"What's he saying?" I asked Rossana as we battled the insect invasion. Rossana, of course, spoke English. Six years earlier, at twenty-one, she'd won an international casting search to fill the title role in HELEN OF TROY, Warners' 1956 mythological extravaganza. The American experiment failed, and Rossana was now back home earning a living. After this, she'd make VIRGIN OF NUREMBERG.
"Antonio is asking how to say shit in Arabic," Rossana explained, spitting flies.
At times like this, I doubted the wisdom of putting everything I owned in storage, turning my horses out at a friend's farm in Northern California, and accepting the lead role in LA FRECCIA D'ORO, aka THE GOLDEN ARROW. Like the keys to the kingdom - you settle for an open door. Most of the films I'd made at the end of the 1950s had just come out in Europe; the name Tab Hunter still had marquee value across the Atlantic. So Dick Clayton set me up with the Kaufman and Lerner agency, a Rome-based representative of Famous Artists.
Thomas Milian, a friend who'd struggled for years as an actor in New York, was doing fabulously well making pictures in Italy. "Over here I'm a star," he'd written to me, noting that he was now officially "Tomas". He encouraged me to give the Italians a try. I'd loved Italy when I vacationed there, so I figured - why not get paid to go back?
Not being able to speak Italian wasn't a drawback. The script of LA FRECCIA D'ORO - my copy was the only one in English - featured page after page of truly horrendous dialogue. I played a bandit named Hassan who learns he's actually the son of the sultan. To earn my rightful place in the royal family, I must retrieve a magic amulet. All I could think of was Tony Curtis in THE PRINCE WHO WAS A THIEF: "Yonda lies da castle of my fadda." I spent every night in my hotel rewriting my lines so I'd at least have fun delivering them. I camped it up shamelessly. Not that it mattered - all my dialogue was eventually dubbed by a stiff-as-a-board Italian baritone with no sense of humor. I ended up sounding like Rossano Brazzi.
Disappointment over being stuck in a stinker was eased considerably by weekly infusions of cash, delivered personally by the production manager. I'd sign a voucher and he'd hand over a bundle of lire, some of the old notes as big as place mats. On top of that, Kaufman and Lerner had gotten me a nice stipend for weekly living expenses. A simple, old-fashioned way of doing business, which I appreciated.
This wasn't a fly-by-night production. Titanus Studios spared no expense. Wardrobe fittings alone took two weeks, with every costume made to order. The Italians kept leisurely production schedules. It gave me plenty of time to sightsee, in both Rome and Egypt. It did, however, make it harder to save my lire, which I needed to stockpile if I was ever to get out of hock to Jack Warner.
Bugs notwithstanding, LA FRECCIA D'ORO was a fun shoot. How could I not love racing a purebred Arab across the desert, hamming it up like Errol Flynn? Unfortunately, horseback riding wasn't my sole mode of transportation in this film. The other was a flying carpet. But LA FRECCIA D'ORO was not THIEF OF BAGHDAD.
Considering what he had to work with, Antonio Margheriti wasn't a bad director. He worshipped American movies and didn't seem to care how lousy the material was, as long as he could follow in the boots of his boyhood idols. Sporting a ten-gallon cowboy hat and a five-gallon belly, he'd ride up on his horse, rein in, and say, "Very John Wayne, no?"
That was about the extent of his English. We tried to make script improvements, through an interpreter, but at a certain point I just gave in and accepted that there was no pony under the pile of shit. LA FRECCIA D'ORO's overextended budget ended up sinking Titanus, at least temporarily. Margheriti, however, landed on his feet - renamed Tony Dawson. While "Tomas" Milian became an honorary Italian, Antonio Margheriti became the American he'd always wanted to be. It was like a cinematic cultural-exchange program. Under his new Hollywood name, Margheriti would grind out four decades' worth of profitably dreck like DEVIL OF THE DESERT AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES, MR. SUPERINVISIBLE, and CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE. "Tony" would have a long, successful career knocking off popular films of every genre.
[I don't know how bad a blow THE GOLDEN ARROW was to Titanus, but what really crippled it was SODOM AND GOMORRAH, directed by Robert Aldrich. And Antonio Margheriti was never billed as "Tony Dawson" but rather "Anthony Dawson" - which happened to also be the name of an British actor.]

Monday, December 7, 2009

Sidney in trouble with THE CHRISTMAS KID

From: SO YOU WANT TO MAKE MOVIES
My Life As An Independent Film Producer
by Sidney Pink

Madrid was still buzzing with activity. Bronston was doing the mammoth BATTLE OF THE BULGE, bringing many of Europe's finest actors and technicians to Madrid, and we were busy wrapping up our first four pictures and preparing five more. I was tied up trying to get the answer print of THE TALL WOMEN while at the same time final-cutting FICKLE FINGER OF FATE and WITCH WITHOUT A BROOM. Elorietta, who was eager for more action, began preparing his next three productions, with PANCHO VILLA scheduled next.

[BATTLE OF THE BULGE was not made by Samuel Bronston, but by the survivors of his bankrupted company - in particular producer Philip Yordan. And the Elorietta film was called THE VENGEANCE OF PANCHO VILLA.]

Jeff Hunter finished his part in WITCH WITHOUT A BROOM and was now on his two-week hiatus, awaiting the final script of THE CHRISTMAS KID, and I didn't have even a page of it. Worse than not having a script, I had no director. I talked to every decent director in Spain as well as some Italians with experience directing Westerns, but no one would touch a Western based on the life of Jesus. I raised hell with Henaghan about the script, and he kept on with his promises until he finally did show up with the opening scene written up.
It was a story of a young blacksmith and his wife traveling west to find a homestead in the Colorado Territory. The wife is pregnant, due any day, and the time is Christmas Eve. They are making their way to their next overnight stop when their wagon loses a wheel. Forced to stop until the husband can repair it, she does into labor and he has to deliver the child himself. He rushes them to the closest shelter, a deserted stable on the outskirts of a town, and there she becomes critically ill. Frantic, he screams for help, and his shouts are heard by three of the town fathers on their way back from a hunting trip. These three wise men - a lawyer, a doctor, and a lawman - respond to his call and try to help. The doctor tries in vain to save her, the woman dies. The father, engulfed in guilt, blames the baby for the death of its mother and refuses to have anything more to do with it. The baby is a boy, and when the father refuses to give him a name, the three men take him under their care. They name him The Christmas Kid because he was born on Christmas day.
That was as much as Jim had been able to write, and when he came to present these opening pages, he demanded that his German girlfriend Katia be cast as the mother. When I refused, he angrily threw the pages at me and said, "You write the damned thing; you won't get another line out of me!" and stormed out of the office. I learned later that he knew I would never permit Katia to play a role in any of my films; he used this approach to get out of a commitment he was unable to meet. He hadn't the foggiest idea of how to develop the story or script, and after procrastinating as long as he could, he picked a fight with me in order to make it appear I was responsible for the mess he left me in.
What a snafu! Westinghouse accepted the title and the idea of a Western based on the life of Jesus: the fact that Henaghan was the writer allowed WBC the luxury of accepting the project without the usual precautions. Now I had no script, no story, and no idea what to do. Jeff Hunter was on a play-or-pay contract, and I also had a contract with Louis Hayward for the same picture. I had no director - every attempt to find one failed - and I had to begin production in less than three weeks. If that wasn't enough, I was in the midst of editing two pictures and preparing four more. That was one of the very few times in my life when I contemplated suicide, or murder. I was unable to confide in anyone at Westinghouse, and so once again I followed the Cagney principle.

[In 1937, Pink worked for Grand National and met James Cagney who made two pictures with that independent studio while on the outs with Warner Bros. Pink says that Cagney taught him the credo "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead."]

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Andre de Toth in Italy

From: DE TOTH ON DE TOTH
by Anthony Slide

After his excursion into television, de Toth did not return to American films, but instead followed the road to Rome taken by other American film-makers at the time. There he directed features, among them: MORGAN IL PIRATA (MORGAN THE PIRATE, 1961), MONGOLI (THE MONGOLS, 1961) and ORO PER I CAESARI (GOLD FOR THE CAESARS, 1962). An Italian co-director was credited to each film in order to qualify for government subsidies, yet Andre would not have minded if these co-directors had taken full credit. The Italian productions did little for his reputation and were more an excuse to enjoy the good life in Rome.

SLIDE: For the next two or three years, you travel a lot. You go to Italy to make MORGAN THE PIRATE.
DE TOTH: I made fourteen television shows in eight months, or something like that. Jesus! I just wanted a mental shower.

(In television) many directors are nothing more than traffic cops.
Oh... I don't know... It was new, then, and exciting for me, especially working with Sam Peckinpah on The Westerner.

What did Peckinpah do on the show?
He produced and wrote it. The first time I worked on a TV script was with Sam Peckinpah. We liked each other and had a ball. And that ball as wet.

If you liked working with Peckinpah so much, why did you leave him and television to go to Italy?
I didn't want to get stuck in Hollywood's TV quagmire, the pit of typecasting. Italy was a vacation, taking a breather between climbing new peaks. Unfortunately, I climbed the wrong one, and when I skied down one of the Swiss Alps, I broke my neck. And that wasn't on the schedule.

Did you find it difficult dealing with the Italian technique of post-syncing dialogue, rather than recording live sound?
I didn't post-synch. They post-synced themselves for the Italian version. I shot the films in English.

All the cast could speak English?
All who played major parts. For the few who didn't, I had standby English-speaking actors and actresses on the sets, watching the scenes, and the moment I made a print, they came on, while the movements, the gestures, the rhythm of the scene was fresh in their memory, replayed the scene in English with the English-speaking characters. It worked. Not 100 per cent, of course, but the scenes were alive; they had the same atmosphere. It's not the most economical way of going about it, but I found it most effective. And nobody has used this technique before or since, as far as I know. If you, unwisely, find yourself in the same mess, and there isn't any up-to-date post-synch facility at your disposal, try it, Herr Future Director, I have no copyright on it. Bon chance!

What of your actors? Steve Reeves in MORGAN THE PIRATE, Jack Palance in THE MONGOLS...
Reeves was a very nice gentleman. And, of course, Jack Palance is a prince.

And you had Ron Randall and Jeffrey Hunter in GOLD FOR THE CAESARS.
I loved Italy, I loved them and the dolce vita. I did what I could, I was up front, I didn't hoodwink them or myself. Those films served them and were good for me as an experiment.

The last Italian film was GOLD FOR THE CAESARS in 1962, and then there is a long break until PLAY DIRTY. Why is that?
There sure was a break. I broke my neck for the first time.

Were you really as down then as some of the gossip columnists would have one believe. Can I quote one of them?
If it's bad, sure.

Here's James Bacon in the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. I guess he must have been a friend of yours. Maybe he isn't after you hear this. He says, 'Andre is just about washed up mentally, physically and emotionally.' Is that how you felt?
No, but I understand, they have to write something, and thank God happiness is not news. Those little things don't bother me. I broke my neck twice since, and that didn't bother me either, I am still here, so... I kept on writing - that's wrong, not writing, dictating screenplays when I was totally paralyzed. They were mostly for Germany. They paid the bills for the de luxe Swiss sanatorium where I was 'washed up mentally, physically and emotionally'. Can't you see, I'm still crying.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Sidney has new projects for new actors

From: SO YOU WANT TO MAKE MOVIES
My Life As An Independent Film Producer
by Sidney Pink

There is one kind thing I must say about Dick Pack: He never took long to make up his mind on stories or scripts. He realized it would be impossible for me to fulfill the contract if I didn't have approved projects to plan ahead, so he reserved his recalcitrance for casting, and in that he was a real tyrant. I still wonder what would have been the result of this model alliance if Dick Pack and I had been able to get along better. We needed each other, we really wanted the same things, and our goals were attainable. I never really understood why he would never permit us to do the job we contracted for and allow us the freedom to use our own creativity as we deemed necessary. Alas, that is a mystery to which I will never have the answer.
I had to go back to New York for casting. My ability to work with Jack Gilardi was severely handicapped by the need to remain in New York for frequent casting consultations with WBC, so I found it necessary to get a New York agent who would be interested in handling our needs. I was introduced by Eli Landau, a client of the Gettinger office, to the Famous Artists agency which soon thereafter became Ashley Famous. It was one of the five most powerful theatrical agencies and represented some of the most important star names of the time.
Paul Rosen was one of the agency's higher-echelon vice presidents and some sort of relative to Arnold Kopelson, so he took a personal interest in our accounts. In addition, he knew that what we lacked in quality and cast budgets we made up for in quantity. At that time, no one else was making five to six pictures per years, and we were the talk of the industry. By handling us, Paul also had the opportunity of using some of his new and promising actors, actresses, directors, and other technicians. Another bonus in working with us was the opportunity for an all-expense-paid trip to Europe, and many of the actors we used had never been abroad before. It was a mutually beneficial alliance that worked out very well.
Pack approved all of our material, and I worked with Paul getting names for the projects. For the Pancho Villa film he suggested John Ericson, who was in Italy at the time working on a Ponti production. He was a well-known young leading man who had been a contract player at MGM for six years. During that time he had played romantic juveniles opposite Elizabeth Taylor, Pier Angeli, Judy Garland, and others. He was well thought of and had never been associated with B-pictures (Pack's foremost criterion). He was accepted.
We encountered some trouble casting the ARABIAN NIGHTS script, but in the end, Pack agreed to accept an unknown American actor if we were able to get Raf Vallone and Lucianna Paluzzi, both of whom were clients of Ashley's Italian branch. Raf Vallone was generally considered to be a leading character, and he too was never associated with B-pictures. Lucianna Paluzzi was fresh from great reviews and spectacular success in the latest Sean Connery 007 effort and added some luster to the cast.
Before I left Madrid, I learned Cameron Mitchell was working in Rome and would be available in a few more weeks. Although he was not in the Ashely stable, the agency was able to get him for us and an overjoyed Pack gave rapid approval. While these names may today seem almost meaningless, it must be remembered that in the sixties any well-known motion-picture name was extremely leery of any TV ties. Since there was industry-wide knowledge of our associations with Westinghouse Broadcasting, any contract with us carried with it the threat of studio boycott attendant to signing for TV programming. I like to believe we played an important role in the breakdown of that taboo.
Paul advised me he was able to get Louis Hayward for a three-week contract for the sum of $15,000 and suggested he would be a real addition to any cast at that price, and I agreed. I had admired the work of this very fine actor for many years, and the thought of being able to work with him was exciting. I knew I would have no trouble with Pack in signing Hayward. Pack was as excited as I at having him as one of our troupe. The New York trip was a whirlwind visit but eminently successful, and I returned to Madrid with a full lineup enthusiastically approved by Westinghouse. Now I was chafing to get back to work.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tab Hunter on SHOTGUN

From: TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL
The Making of A Movie Star
by Tab Hunter with Eddie Muller
LA VENDETTA E IL MIO PERDONO (SHOTGUN in North America) was a spaghetti western shot on meat sauce. We worked long, hard hours at a tiny studio in Rome, and Neal even had a small role. whetting his appetite for acting. Fellini was shooting next door, parading carnival freaks and gypsies through the soundstages all day long.
I became friends with Marina Cidogna, whom I'd met years earlier at Visconti's villa. She was a successful film producer now, who'd learned moviemaking in Hollywood as a protege of David O. Selznick. She was in pre-production on I GIOVANI TIGRI starring the handsome Austrian actor Helmut Berger. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Berger was a Continental version of Tab Hunter, a young, unschooled actor exploited for his handsome features, still learning his craft as he was thrust into the limelight.
Marina had a breathtakingly beautiful Brazilian girlfriend by the name of Florinda Bolkin. Over dinner one evening, Marina asked if I'd appear with Florinda in her screen test, to be directed by her good friend...Luchino Visconti. I leaped at the chance.
After spending the day shooting a disjointed western, I'd be picked up by Visconti's chauffer, who'd wisk me to another soundstage across town, where I'd put in a few more hours working with Florinda and the Master. After that, I'd join Florinda, Helmut, and another Brazilian actor, Carlos de Castro, roaring through Rome in a Cadillac convertible that belonged to Carlos's boyfriend, Arndt Krupp, scion of the German industrialist family that supplied the Nazis all their munitions. Even in Rome, a city as wide open and sultry as an elegant whore, this group could stop traffic, anytime, anywhere.
Europe in the sixties was a heady place, sexy and decadent, which is as good a description as any, I guess, of the brief indulgence Helmut and I shared. I rarely resisted such temptations, even though I was with Neal. I'd developed the ability to compartmentalize the sexual aspect of my character, a trait I shared with a lot of Catholics. I may not have denied myself much, but I could always later deny, at least in my own mind, what I'd done.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Sidney finishes five out of six pictures

From: SO YOU WANT TO MAKE MOVIES
My Life As An Independent Film Producer
by Sidney Pink

I finished final editing on THE TALL WOMEN about the same time we finished shooting FICKLE FINGER OF FATE and WITCH WITHOUT A BROOM. Since we had two cutting teams, WITCH was cut daily as it was shot, and our cutters were so good they had been able to keep up with FICKLE FINGER as well. Barnes was able to see a complete final cut of THE TALL WOMEN, and this time he understood it would be entirely in color when we made our answer print. We finished sound effects and were preparing an original music score with the hope of securing an answer print in two weeks.
Barnes was also able to see rough "paste-togethers" of the other two pictures, so I hoped we would be able to live peacefully together, but such was not the case. His report to Pack was that THE TALL WOMEN was not as good as FINGER ON THE TRIGGER (which he had never seen), and he was very disappointed in FICKLE FINGER OF FATE. He had been very high on WITCH WITHOUT A BROOM before and so he could not pan it, but he was totally lukewarm about its ultimate result. I didn't learn this, however, until much later.
I needed additional scripts in order to get more pictures into production, but I had successfully finished shooting five of my first six committed films. I didn't believe it could be done, but I was now ahead of my own shooting schedule.
I was getting disturbed at Jim Henaghan's inability to send any kind of script on THE CHRISTMAS KID. I could forsee real problems with Jeff Hunter if I didn't get a script in time to start within the proscribed limit of his contract. He was getting along extremely well with Elorietta because he brought his girlfriend with him, and she was able to keep him on the wagon. Jeff too was a potential alcholic, and from what I had been told, he was hell on wheels when he was drunk. He could have been one of our most popular leading men if (like so many of the other promising actors) he had been able to control his own excesses. I wish someone will some day find a means of removing drugs and alcohol from our society. They do no one any good and cause too much human suffering.
Elorietta brought a script of a new version of the too-often-told tales of Pancho Villa, but it was a good story and John Melson felt he could rewrite it into a decent commercial vehicle. At the same time, one of Elorietta's writers gave us a story outline of a new version of the Arabian Nights fable, this time with a beautiful woman as the genie (this was long before the TV genie was presented). Also from the Elorietta group came another action-adventure about treasure hunting in the South Sea Islands that looked promising.
Meanwhile, Luis de los Arcos had written a screenplay that dealt with the discovery of an ancient pharaoh's tomb with its attendant search for the giant emerald of the pharaoh's wife. It had two leads I was sure could be filled by Rory Calhoun and Jim Phibrook. I made constant use of Jim and I really wanted to get Rory back to Spain. I loved that rascal and it was always a joy to have him around. Now I had five more scripts and story outlines to send to Pack for preliminary approval before casting.