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.

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