Monday, August 31, 2009

Learning Spanish for THE CASTILIAN

My Life As An Independent Film Producer
by Sidney Pink

There was a lot to do before the start of principal photography, and since we had the right of approval on the casting of all the principal parts, we were included in the casting sessions. We were hopeful of securing actors who could at least learn their lines in English - even with an accent. We would be forced to dub all of the voices later anyway, due to the inability of the Spanish technicians to maintain quiet while the shooting was going on. They, like the Italians, were accustomed to dubbed pictures and were still hiring actors for their looks without regard to their voices. It was not uncommon to have two actors for each role, one you saw and another you only heard.
Since I had a limited understanding of Spanish, I was completely dependent upon Jose Luis Bayonas, the son of my Spanish professor. Bayonas could have been a movie star himself. He was even more handsome than Gregory Peck, to whom he bore and uncanny resemblance. He was completely fluent in both English and French, and he had a deep resonant voice, which all of the women called sexy. He had a constant troupe of females trailing him, and he was so weak when it came to saying no to women that he was always in hot water. This, together with his inherent laziness, kept him from the success that cold so easily have been his. Bayonas appeared in small parts in almost every one of my Spanish productions, and he became the associate producer and assistant producer on the Pink permanent payroll.
Bayonas was great at his job, and I depended completely upon him for my Spanish translation until I began to get the feeling that he was not telling me the truth about what was being said around me, and even sometimes to me. I don't know what tipped me off, unless it could have been the looks tht some of the technicians, actors, and workmen were casting at each other. Not that Bayonas was protecting anyone but me; he just didn't want to hurt me by giving the exact translation of what was said. I knew then I had to learn to speak Spanish, well enough to defend myself against the possibility of being taken, due to his overprotectiveness.
I learned Spanish in exactly thirteen days and nights. I bought every "quick-learn" book available, and I insisted that Bayonas spend every working hour (evenings too) helping me to master the art of Spanish conversation. I didn't give a damn about the verbs or tenses of the proper accent. I just wanted to know how to say what I needed to say and be able to understand what was being said to me.
Two weeks after I felt sure I was being played for a fool, I was able to understand what was being said around me. I didn't get every word, but I damn sure knew the meaning of every sentence. I swore Bayonas to secrecy, and I spent the next week discovering what I had sensed was true. Not that anyone was deliberately sabotaging anything I wanted done; it was more in the sense of poking fun at what they perceived was my naivete in asking for things they felt was unnecessary and the rather uncomplimentary way in which they perceived Americans in general. I let a week pass before I made my move.
It was a Tuesday morning when I heard a particularly nasty remark about the "stupidity" of our attempts to make a scratch soundtrack to be used in our dubbing. Their norm was to have the script girl write the dialogue as it was said, in shorthand, and then later type it on a dialogue sheet for ultimate use in the dubbing studio. The Spanish, with utter disregard of lip sync, did their cutting with no soundtrack to guide them, and they cut solely for action. This permitted an editor to cut right into the middle of a word of important pause. This meant nothing to a Spanish or Italian producer, since thye redubbed everything in the studio without continuous lip synchronization. We needed the perfection that American and British audiences were accustomed to seeing. None of these technicians had ever worked on an international film before, and they scoffed at what they saw as the "nit-picking" that was making their jobs more difficult.
I was angry. I said in my best Spanish (good enough for them to understand every word): "I understand what you are saying and I have understood for a long time. Now I am telling you I will not tolerate any more of your slurs. The next one who complains about the way we do things will be looking for another job." There was a stunned silence, and from that day on, we worked with mutual respect and understanding, and that crew became as disciplined and expert as any I had in the States. We were even able to shoot direct sound in our next picture PYRO, which had all English-speaking actors. From the day of that outburst until the day I left Spain, all of our conversations were held directly with me in Spanish.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


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

As usual, Telly Savalas had to make his own creative contribution to the scenes, especially if that meant stealing the scene from everyone else. One day I had a frantic call to come to the set because Telly, playing the brutal Cossack colonel, was under a blanket making love to a girl in the telegraph station we had situated in the middle of Siberia.
Hurrying to the set and wondering how I could stop Telly from having such a good time, I arrived to find that, in the midst of this freezing Siberian scene, Telly had decided it would be wise to warm himself under a fur robe with the local girl. He wasn't making love to her, scarcely cuddling - a friendly encounter for mutual warmth. I liked it and told the director to shoot it just that way.
Telly came to me one day. "Bernie, you're the luckiest man I've ever met in the film business." This puzzled me. "Not because you're rich," he went on. He assumed that since I was in sole command of this studio opperation I was a least being well paid. I didn't dare tell him that I was still on a meager "expense only" account - it would have lowered me in his estimation. "You're the only one I've met in this business who sends a few pages, a new scene, up to the set, tells us to shoot it, and then gets to see it in the projection room next day. Most writers have to wait months, even years, if they ever get to see their work on the screen, and then it has usually been fucked up. But you get to see it exactly as you've written it immediately."
For all of his screwing around and his shticks, Telly was an exceptionally bright and perceptive man, and he had hit the nail on the head: I had been feeling fortunate for precisely the reason he indicated. I was able to see a scene in the dailies within a day of writing it. I learned which scenes worked and which lay on the screen like dead fish. I learned to distrust reliance on dialogue instead of image.
Mark Miller's book CHRISTOPHER LEE AND PETER CUSHING AND HORROR CINEMA, a filmography of their twenty-two films together, describes HORROR EXPRESS as "the ultimate Lee/Cushing film", praising their performances extravagantly. He also notes, "Savalas plays his small role of an unpredictable, arrogant bulldog for every ruble it's worth and practically steals the film from his two co-stars."

Saturday, August 29, 2009


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

My problems during this filming were not all technical or creative. Because of a variety of obstacles in London, including the disappointing performance of the earlier Westerns, it was increasingly difficult to carve out funds for my production. At the end of each week I had to have money to pay salaries; excuses were not accepted. The fascist Franco government did not permit unions or any kind of worker organization; but it did have a "corporate" structure that was supposed to protect workers' rights. In practice, this kept wages low, but an absolutely rigid rule was that wages due must be paid on the dot. If I let a payday pass without payment, I would be shut down the next day. !Ojala!, as they say in Spanish. (Working with an all-Spanish crew greatly improved by command of the language.)
Saturday was payday. Each Friday the accountant assured me there were no funds for the payroll. I would get on the phone to Yordan in London, explaining that I desperately needed money. This was Spain. No excuses would be accepted. All stalling tactics were out. These discussions would wind up with him telling me to write a check on my Los Angeles bank for $30,000 or $40,000 (money I did not have on deposit) and to send it down to the Banco de Bilbao, which would honor my check immediately and provide the necessary pesetas. He would also assure me that he would see that my check in Los Angeles would be covered because a bad check of that size would land me quickly in a Spanish hoosegow. Bad checks were a criminal offense in Spain and other continental countries.
Could I trust Yordan to cover my bum checks? I really didn't know. He seemed more relaxed about such transgressions than I, and I didn't feel this was the occasion to test the flexibility of the Spanish financial system. What choice did I have? We went through this routine repeatedly. Friday was shouting-on-the-telephone day.
Although the checks were covered, there were times when, in the days before electronic transfers, it took an unreasonably long time for checks to clear, and I heard complaints, short of threats, from my friends at the Banco de Bilbao. Sometimes the delays worked to my advantage, but more often, they resulted in protests. I became convinced that the bank, like most banks, enjoyed working on a float, enjoying the use of my money for a number of days before making payments.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Eli in danger

From THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND ME In My Anecdotage
by Eli Wallach
There were two incidents that brought an end to our game playing. In one scene I board a train en route to a Union army prison camp. I was handcuffed to a giant of a soldier who kept pulling at me. In the scene I ask him if I can take a piss. The guard slides open the train door to let me pee. "I can't while you're watching me," I say. As he turns his head, I jerk on the handcuffs, jump, and pull him off the train with me, then bludgeon him to death.
Handcuffed, I'm unable to get away, but in the distance, I hear a train whistle. I pull and push the dead guard (actually it was a dummy) between the tracks and lay my handcuff on the rail. Our great special effects team had created soft handcuffs that could easily be cut as the train ran over them. I watched Leone twitch his hands with excitement. "As the train approaches, I want you to turn around so your face is to the camera," he said. "I want to know that it's you and not a stunt man or a double."
I began to follow Leone's direction, but noticed as the train went past that each car had a small iron step leading to the door of the train car. And if I had raised my head from the ditch where I was lying just a few inches higher, I would have been decapitated. After the train passed, Leone sat beside me and told me he needed to redo the scene.
"Not with me," I said. "I'm not doing it again."
"I need the shot; it's important," Leone said.
"All right," I said, but insisted that the ditch in which I was lying be dug deeper. The train went into reverse, I settled back into my hole, laid the handcuffs on the track, and waited for the scene to start over. As directed, I turned my head to face the camera as the train passed. When the scene was over Leone approached me with Tonino Delli Colli - the expert cameraman who shot all of Leone's films. The huddled together, gesturing and arguing. Finally, Leone said that the cameraman couldn't see my face because I was too far down in the hole.
"Did you see that goddamn step on the train?" I asked. "Do you want me to finish the movie without a head?" Leone stopped and stared as the train disappeared in the distance.
"All right," he said. "We'll use the first take."
The second incident took place in a cemetery, where I was supposed to use a shovel to break open a leather sack of gold. It was rather tough leather, so the prop man had put some acid on the sack to make it easier for me to crack it open. I remember that it was hot as hell in the cemetery, and in the heat, I usually drank lemon soda that came in special bottles with a little porcelain cap and wires to hold it in place. Taking a break from the scene, I saw a little bottle, flipped back the lid, and started to drink. I got a mouthful of acid. As soon as it hit my mouth, I spat it out and the whole crew stopped chattering. Leone handed me a bottle of milk - "Drink, drink," he said, "it will help you."
"Goddamn it," I thought. If I had swallowed some of the acid, it would have destroyed my vocal cords. Leone was shaken but philosophical about it. "We didn't know," he said apologetically. "It's terrible. He never should have left it there, but accidents happen."
(Of course Eli is incorrect regarding Tonino Delli Colli shooting all of Leone's films. He only shot THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA.)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Eli and Sergio

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

Leone was a fine director - intelligent, innovative. He had assembled a great group of technicians - his cameraman, scenic artist, and composer had all worked together on his two previous Westerns. From time to time, he and I engaged in a sort of game. I'd try to outwit him with odd behaviors - for example, turning my back away from the camera. He'd retaliate by changing the lines I was supposed to deliver at the last minute to throw me off balance. In one scene he directed me to walk into a gun shop. He told me to take apart some of the guns, then put them back together using different pieces.
I hate guns, have never had any use for them. But I pretended to be an expert as I squinted through the barrel of a Colt pistol and stared down the owner of the gun shop. I then spun the bullet chamber of a Winchester and put it to my ear, finally putting the parts of the different guns together until I created a monstrous weapon. I loved the fact that Leone kept the camera running, figuring that I'd eventually run out of creative impulses. But I trumped his king by playing my ace: As I began walking out of the shop with my new gun, I spied an OPEN sign hanging on the door. I reversed the sign to read CLOSED and then ordered the bewildered gun shop owner to open his mouth wide and shoved the CLOSED sign into it. "Cut, cut!" Leone cried as he burst out laughing.
I used to joke with Leone about his directing methods and his nervous habits. He'd often open and close his fists or tear pieces of paper. I stopped once while filming and said, "Sergio, all I see are your hands; I can't concentrate on acting." He responded by stage managing some surprised to distract me. In the finale of the film, my character, Tuco, discovers the grave where some gold is supposedly hidden. Leone directed me to enter with reverence and gravity, and to walk on with hope and tension in perfect silence. And just as the camera began rolling, without warning me, he released a trained dog to start running toward my legs. Later on he told me that he wanted to break the dramatic tension and film my natural response of surprise. "This was my method," he said. "So our little game is even now."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Coproduction deal for THE CASTILIAN

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

Part of my coproduction deal called for our acceptance of none other than Espartaco Santoni as Fernan Gonzales, as well as a Spanish director, Javier Seto, who had written the original script. I never expected anything more than an exploitation picture, and so it mattered little to me that Espartaco would play the lead. As for the Spanish director, we had built into the contract our control of the final quality of the movie, and that gave us the protection necessary to handle any director. Espartaco was, of course, delighted to be in the same movie as Cesar Romero, and while he had never heard of Frankie Avalon, he accepted by assurances that it was a plus for all of us.
Five days after our script submission, I received a call from Dick Lederer; he would recommend the project to Ben Kalmenson with the right to recommend script changes or additions to the cast. I assured him that to the extent we had the power to make changes, he would be heard and his suggestions followed. Now we had fulfilled our obligations to MD, and I returned to Madrid a conquering hero.
A whole contingent met me at the Barajas airport on my return. Even Maruja was there to greet and thank me. She was so happy for her husband that she forgot any thought of her own future and gloried in her husband's opportunity just as if it had been hers. But Espartaco was still not satisfied; he needed to feel the accomplishment was his as well as mine, and his jealousy was all-consuming. Although he went through the motions of appearing pleased, it was obvious that he was disgruntled. I didn't learn the reason until later.
Javier Seto contacted me with the request that he and I, as well as his co-writer Luis de los Arcos, meet at the earliest possible time to discuss my script changes, so all alterations could be made in their Spanish work script. I remember my first impressions of these two when they entered my apartment. Luis de los Arcos, with whom I continued to work throughout my entire production career in Spain, was a character. He was so emaciated he resembled a skeleton, and he reeked of gin. I always knew when Luis was about to enter a room - his aroma arrived ahead of him. But he had the brain of a genius. It had been so abused by excesses of drugs and alcohol that it had become erratic, sporadic, and unreliable, but the genius was still there.
Luis could write (in Spanish, of course) on any subject; he had the capability of producing a completed script after hearing only a bare story line. He thought like an international writer, and his scenes were always succinct and spare. One of the despairs of my Spanish production era was Luis's inability to write in English. Everything he wrote had to be redone in English by me, and we collaborated on everything I did in Spain. He had been institutionalized several times but was always able to talk his way out of the hospitals. He collaborated with Seto on VALLEY, but only about story line, not scene or dialogue continuity. Despite all of his inconsistencies and aberrations, the most intelligent and talented man I have ever met was Luis de los Arcos.
Javier Seto, on the other hand, was the complete antithesis of Luis. He was fat and pear-shaped. Although he had no real talent, he was a great student of the cinema. He was earnest and completely dedicated, and as an assistant director for some of Spain's best directors, he had mastered the fundamentals of moviemaking. Javier Seto was willing and most eager to learn, but he had one miserable failing: If he disagreed with you, he no longer heard you. Most of the time that he worked with us he attempted to understand what we needed and cooperated, but when he felt his Spanish pride and machismo challenged, he became as stubborn as Sancho Panza's donkey.
We were able to complete all of the major dramatic scenes with him directing, but we had to replace him when we got to the battle and action scenes. Javier allowed me to work with Luis directly once he realized that he was out of his depth in attempting to understand our new script. Since it had been approved by Warner Bros., Espartaco gave the order that only I was authorized to make changes. Luis and I sharpened and honed that script to near perfection. When I felt we had a completed shooting script, I sent it back to Dick Lederer for final approval. Then I headed back home to my family for a rest and to resume my Spanish lessons.
Our coproduction agreement required us to provide the English shooting script (done), a major company distribution contract (done), a minimum of three international star names (done), and the cost of these actors' stay in Spain. We also had to pay the salaries of the American actors and the costs of any purely American scenes that would not be used in the Spanish version. If at a later date we added any scenes not called for in the script, these would also be at our expense. In return, we received distribution rights to the entire Western Hemisphere and the Far East including Japan. Thanks to Leslie Faber, we were able to make a British Lion deal with a substantial guarantee, payable on delivery, and for that we received fifty percent of the rest of the world.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


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

Irving Lerner helped me in every department. As associate producer, he worked with the cameraman and the film editor, a youthful Englishman, Bob Dearberg, who benefited enormously from Irving's expertise. Irving knew a great deal about laboratory work, film editing, and cameras, but his greatest expertise was music. He had started life as a musician. Irving and Telly Savalas persuaded me to hire John Cacavas to do the score of the film, even though we had to throw in a Spanish composer for nationality reasons. Cacavas was of Greek extraction, automatically making him a close friend of Telly, but Cacavas was very much an American who had been raised in the Midwest, perhaps one of the Dakotas. He was a talented and experienced conductor and composer but had never done a film score. He was willing to work for practically nothing to get started in the business. For HORROR EXPRESS, John Cacavas really took over, writing and conducting the entire score. Working with Irving, he developed a series of special themes or motifs that represented different characters or movements of our story. We came away with a superior score that has been commented on by people who know. Cacavas went on with Telly to make a distinguished career at Univesal doing the Kojak series and many more.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Eli on Lee

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

One of the underestimated aspects of THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY was Lee Van Cleef. Lee was an experienced professional. As "the bad", he gave the film its needed vitality, danger, and force. He was tall, dark-haired, with sparkling black eyes and a mustache. Part of his right index finger was missing. Leone always liked to use non-actors with disabilities - legless war veterans, for example - and he focused his camera on Van Cleef's finger during the final cemetary shootout.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

American casting for THE CASTILIAN

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

Meanwhile, I kept in constant touch with our co-producers about casting the various roles designated for American stars. We agreed that the second lead, that of Fernan Gonzales' friend and mentor, Jeronimo, should unquestionably go to Cesar Romero, who fit the part as though he had lived in that era. The role of the king of Navarre, a choice cameo, was also reserved for an American actor. We were to provide another star for a major part to be mutually agreed upon.
I was able to contact Cesar Romero's agent, and after he read the script, he agreed to accept our offer. Romero was needed for ten weeks of shooting and an additional week for dubbing. The picture itself was set for twenty-eight weeks of principal photography, including time for the action and battle scenes which did not require the principals. That was when I first Cesar, a true professional and a joy to work with.
The sixties were the years of the teenybopper, and the idols of the day were Paul Anka, Richie Valens, Fabian, and, of course, Frankie Avalon. I met Frankie's agent, Bob Marcucci, at the AIP offices while he was negotiating Frankie's appearances in the beach party series. Bob was responsible for the success of many of those teen-age idols. We discussed the possibility of casting Frankie Avalon in the role of Jerifan the troubadour. In my version of the script, Jerifan opened and closed the picture singing the "Ballad of Fernan". He carried the exposition of the very complicated story line that had to be narrated to keep the film moving and to avoid the long expository scenes I removed from the original Spanish script. It was a difficult part that called for singing - not the pop-type, but I was anxious to get Frankie's name on the picture since it assured us of some teen-age appeal.
Having never been out of the States, Frankie was eager to see Spain. Marcucci, on the other hand, wanted to get Frankie some exposure outside of AIP, and the promise of a Warner release tempted him. He finally agreed to let Frankie make the picture, providing Marcucci had exclusive right to compose a title song and possibly two more songs for the picture. We agreed, but the songs had to be subject to our final approval, and the deal was signed.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


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

Other effects problems were more trying. Our premise required the creature, whether in his original form or in his subsequent forms (after he had inhabited the bodies of many of our characters), to turn burning red eyes toward the character he had chose to take over. With the lights dimmed, these frightful red eyes had the power to drain the contents of the victim's brain and add it to the accumulated knowledge in the creature's brain. When this happened, the victim's eyes turned a blank white, signifying that the victim had suffered a brain-drain that left him goo and dead. In the story, our leads, Cushing and Lee, playing the anthropologists, verified this when they began to catch on to the process and performed autopsies in our all-purpose freight car. They found the exposed brains to be smooth as bowling balls, having lost their normal wrinkles!
It was relatively simple to have the eyes go white. Carefully supervised by an accredited ophthalmologist, we arranged with a local optometrist (in exchange for a screen credit) to insert black white plastic covers under the eyelids. The actor could see nothing through these, but he (or she) didn't have to do much except lie down dead. Turning the eyes into red headlights as the audience watched was more difficult. I urged the cameraman to try working with the red reflective material used in roadside warning signs, the material that appears to light up brilliantly when the headlights of a car hit it at the right angle. My notion was to seal a bit of this material over the actor's closed eyelid. The cameraman was dubious, but he arranged a trial. That never worked. I felt I was running into resistance, that the film crew didn't like my idea and didn't make a strong effort to get the angle of the lighting right so that the red reflection would be caught by the camera.
I was willing to consider anything that would work. The special-effects people came up with a dandy solution. It sounds tricky, but it worked easily. A tiny package was concocted of a very small flashlight bulb behind a red glass lens. A hidden wire led from this to a switch held in the actor's hand and connected to a battery pack. The eye package with the bulb and red lens was sealed over each of the actor's closed eyes. When the tiny bulb inside the package was switched on, the light shone through the red glass lens and produced the appearance of a "normal" eye that glowed red. It wasn't possible to see the entire package, including the red lens, was actually placed over the actor's closed eye. This was certainly a case where the Spanish effects people and cameraman knew a lot more than I.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Eli dines with Clint

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

During the weeks that followed, Clint continued guiding me through the emotional explosions that were yet to take place. When I was a little boy, my mother used to tell me, "You only have so many words programmed into you. Don't use up your quota; don't waste them." So I didn't talk much as a child. I wondered if Clint's mother had told him the same thing. I often thought that Clint didn't do much acting. He seemed to underplay every speech he made. But when I saw the rushes, I realized that he showed more through his silence than most actors do with a page of dialogue. The week before we finished filming, we sat and had dinner together. "This will be my last spaghetti Western," he told me. "I'm going back to California and I'll form my own company and I'll act and direct my own movies."
"Oh sure," I thought. "That'll be the day." Little did I know.
He certainly succeeded in making his dream come true. Years later, in the film UNFORGIVEN, in which he starred and won an Academy Award for direction, a card flashed on the screen. the film was dedicated to Don Siegel, who directed Clint in DIRTY HARRY and me in THE LINEUP, and to Sergio Leone. I thought that was a lovely gesture by a classy man.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

U.S. Distributor for THE CASTILIAN

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

After signing the final AIP settlement documents, I called Producciones MD advising them I had completed the American script of VALLEY OF THE SWORDS. At the same time I got approval to seek a distribution agreement with Warner Bros. I chose Warner not only because of my friendship with Ben Kalmenson, executive V.P., but also because I knew Warner was in need of product and was searching for an historical spectacle for its 1962-63 release schedule. While my English version was not totally complete, I felt it was good enough to let the Warner people judge their interest in the project. If they were interested, the could make constructive changes to that first-draft script.
I called Ben Kalmenson in New York and offered him the distribution rights for the Western Hemisphere and Japan in exchange for a pre-production contract without Warner's participation in financing. Interested, he set the machinery in motion for studio approval. I made extra copies of the script and turned it over to Warner's script reading department.
If the existence of such a department surprises you, let me explain the need for it. Hundreds of scripts are submitted yearly, and if producers were to read every script submitted, they would have no time for anything else; hence the reading dept. At Warner's, the readers read everything and prepared a three-page synopsis together with their comments and degree of interest. A recommeneded script would be channeled to the production department and then, if it had sufficent merit, to the proper producer.
Our project was different. We didn't need any production decisions; the only decision to make was whether it was the kind of picture Warner wanted to release, which would depend on its box-office potential. The reader was instructed to give the script evaluation to Dick Lederer, head of advertising and publicity. He in turn was to give his report to Kalmenson. I was promised an answer in seven days, so I waited in L.A.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Interiors of HORROR EXPRESS

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

Because our budget was stringent, we had to resort to many tricks and shortcuts in filming. I found my Spanish crew resourceful and willing. We had no proper full-size train interiors. Instead, we had acquired a set of flats that could be erected to represent the interior of a railway carriage. One was reserved for the interior of the freight car that carried the crate where the creature was stored and where much of the action occured; the other was constantly redressed to represent the interior of either the dining car (sumptuous), a sleeping compartment (convincingly period), of the fine private car of the wealthy and important Russian count who was aboard with his young and delicious wife. We mounted the two sets on springs so they could be rocked during shooting to simulate the motion of a train.
That was only the beginning of our effects. We had to see the passing countryside through a car window when we occasionally played the action during daylight. The Spanish art director, ingenious and effective, prepared a large roll of heavy paper on which he had painted his version of the Siberian countryside. Set up outside the car window, this arrangement was slowly unrolled, suggesting the passage of the train across the tundra. It looked quite Mickey Mouse to me, but I was surprised to see how well it filmed. Much of this was new to me, and I was amazed by (and I appreciated) the cunning.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Eli and the bridge explosion

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

As for me, I was not allowed to leave the new location because we had many Civil War scenes to film, the most important being the main battleground where the armies of the North and South were separated by a bridge. Leone's technical crew with labor supplied by the Spanish army had spent a month building that bridge, and a dam was constructed to deepen the little stream that ran underneath. Clint and I were to place dynamite at the base of the bridge, then blow it up so that the two armies would then cease fighting one another and move on, leaving us to wade across the river to where we were sure a large sum of money was buried beneath a soldier's grave bearing the name "Arch Stanton". The morning after Clint and I set the dynamite, we gathered around three or four cameras. Clint asked Leone, "Where do you want Eli and me to be when you blow up the bridge?"
Leone pointed to a small ditch about ten yards from the dam. "Over there," he said.
"And where will you be?" Clint asked.
"Well," Leone said, "I have one camera using long lenses up on top of the hill two hundred yards away. That's where I'll be."
After a long pause, Clint said, "I think Eli and I will be standing right at the top of the hill with you. We want to see the bridge blow up too."
"But, but," Leone stammered, "I want to pan down the hill past you and Eli lying in the ditch and then up to the bridge and then we blow it up."
Clint's reply was short and crisp. "No, Sergio," he said. "We will stand right up here by you. That's it."
The man who had planted the explosives for the scene was a captain in the Spanish army. The Italian special effects man was effusive with thanks for the captain's help - not only for the dynamite planning, but for building the bridge as well. "The honor for pressing the button to blow it up should be yours," the special effects man said.~"No, no," the captain said. "I don't want the honor. If we were at war, I would happily blow it up, but this is a movie."
"It's simple," said the Italian. "When I say vaya [go], you press the button. Please, please do it." The captain reluctantly agreed.
At the top of the hill, Leone stood, holding a blackened piece of glass, staring up at the cloudy sky. "Don't turn on the camera until that cloud moves away from the sun," he ordered. Clint was holding a golf putter and playing with it as I kept an eye on the bridge, waiting.
Down below, one of the crew members asked if he should turn the slow motion camera on. "Si, si," the special effects man said. "Vaya."
The captain heard the word vaya and pressed the button. Clint and I stared at the bridge. Leone stood still, his eyes glued to the blackened piece of glass as the sound of the explosive charge echoed down the valley. He let out a slow moan and then began screaming - "No cameras are shooting! No cameras! Half my bridge is gone! I'll kill that son of a bitch!" The special effects man jumped into his jeep and headed straight for the airport. Leone grabbed his megaphone and cursed in Italian - "May your seed dry up! May you drop dead! You're fired, you bastard! I'll kill you if I ever find you."
The Spanish captain walked over to Leone - his voice was low but firm. "It was my fault," he said. "I pressed the button at the wrong time. My soldiers and I will rebuild the broken part of the bridge in three days on one condition: You bring that man who drove away back here. You do not fire him, you understand?" Leone reluctantly agreed.
Three days later, as promised, the bridge was rebuilt and stood shining in the morning sun. Clint still fiddled with his golf putter. Leone was standing beside the camera. He stared at the special effects man and nodded. The Italian expert pressed the button and the bridge went up in flames.

Monday, August 17, 2009


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

(Forced to sue American International Pictures inorder to get money owed for the theatrical release of ANGRY RED PLANET and REPTILICUS as well as to fight that company altering without permission the film JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET, Sidney Pink took his family on a vacation to Mallorca.)
It took almost two months before I received the translated script from Madrid, and when I read it, I realized it would take a long time and herculean effort to turn that over-long, verbose, dull work into an acceptable international shooting script. Its characters were boring, the perfect example of the Spanish movie industry's inability to comprehend international tastes. Spanish writers believed a hundred words were better than one picture, and so they talked away about the battles that were going to be fought. The script included only one battle scene, and while that one could be spectacular, it took place at the very end, and no American movie patron would sit that long and wait for it to take place.
It was a formidable task, but I liked the story. It was, in essence, David and Goliath all over again, and its hero was potentially fascinating. It took place in the twelfth century when the Spanish peninsula was divided into small, hostile kingdoms. The Moors, the most civilized people of the world at that time, had begun their invasion of Spain and were subjugating the country village by village and province by province. Their fighting methods were fearsome, and they showed no mercy. Most of the kings of the provinces paid tribute to the Moors to keep them from raiding and pillaging their lands. Spain barely survived under that constant threat, and life in the northern provinces was a constant nightmare.
Abderraman was the caliph at that time, headquartered in the south. The kingdom of Castile was the smallest of the northern provinces but also the most warlike. Fernan Gonzales was the youngest son of the king of Castile; he refused to accept the Moorish presence and was banished. This same Fernan Gonzales became a hero as the first man to stop the Moorish tide of conquest in Europe. Had it not been for him and his grandson, El Cid, Europe today would bear all the marks of a Moorish civilization. At Hazinas (Valley of the Swords), he stopped the Moors in a decisive battle from which they never recovered.
The story in our script came from ancient ballads recounting the exploits of this legend, steeped in mysticism and supersition. It made for great visual moviemaking. Fernan himself was a most colorful and interesting personage. I delved deeper into his history than the original author, who had been content to accept the original ballad of a jester of the age, Jerifan. We researched history as written in the museums and libraries. I discovered that the word guerrilla had been coined by this same Fernan who said, according to the manuscripts attributed to him, "We can not beat the Moors in a war, but we are quick and deceptive; we can beat them in a series of little wars." The Spanish word for small war is guerrilla, and so that modern word comes from Spanish antiquity. I was completely absorbed in the history of the period, and the script we completed showed it.
At this same time, I was taking Spanish lessons from a teacher in Mallorca. She was a brilliant woman, the widow of a college professor and forced to earn her living by teaching gringos the language. Carmen was an excellent teacher but I was a poor student. My head was too full of my AIP problems, which were not going well, and I was distracted by the chore of having to write what was essentially an entirely new script. Carmen's son, Luis de las Bayonas, lived in Madrid, and he later became my translator, teacher, right arm, and good friend through all my years of production in Spain.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Telly & Sally on the HORROR EXPRESS

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

We were deep into the film when it was time for Telly Savalas to report. Having already worked together, Telly and I were good friends. I had met the beautiful lady for whom he had acquired the London apartment. Sally was one of the loveliest women I have ever seen. She was Anglo-Indian, with burnished coppery hair and a glowing, golden complexion. She was a show-stopper in any country, but in any language she was also the most languid person I had ever met. She seemed to drift along in a dreamworld of her own, never really responding to anyone or any situation.
Shortly after their arrival in Madrid, I called Telly at his hotel. Sally answered.
"How are you, Sally?" I asked in my hartiest tone, genuinely pleased to talk with her.
"I don't know," she murmured.
"Are you glad to be back here?" I asked, trying to make friendly conversation.
"I don't know," she replied.
"Don't you ever say 'yes'?" I coaxed her. "To anything?"
A pause. "Try me," she replied.
Her tone didn't suggest she really meant that, but her tone never betrayed anything. I confess she was so attractive that for a fleeting moment, a stray thought ripped through my mind. After all, what did I know about what went on behind closed doors with these two? But if opportunity it was, I let it pass.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Eli and family in Almeria

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

I did little to no wandering around Almeria. Worn out after a week of shooting, I'd have my usual cocktail-hour drink with our English landlord, have a fish dinner, memorize some of the scene we would film the following week, then drift off into a deep sleep. After filming one Saturday night, Leone asked if I would like to join him, his wife Carla, and his young daughters for a Sunday at the beach. I happily agreed and spent the day playing games with his young children, eating tapas and sardine-and-egg sandwiches, and drinking good Spanish wine. Being with the Leone family, though, brought on a fierce longing for my own wife and children. My letters to Anne were filled with pleas to come join me in Spain and bring the children and fervent vows never to go off to these crazy locations again.
About ten days later, my hands shoot as I opened a special airmail letter from Anne. "You go off to all of these exotic locations; now the whole family will come join you," she wrote, and asked me to pick them up when they arrived in Almeria. The letter was signed, "Love, from your lonely wife and abandoned children."
"What had I done?" I wondered. I remembered Clint saying the he didn't trust Spanish airplanes, but thank god my family arrived safely. I rented a suite for us at a newly opened hotel near the beach. It was a joyous reunion with Anne, Peter, Roberta, and Katherine. Leone invited them all to the set. They would watch me do a scene, then have lunch, where they would open their little white boxes and be surprised by the size of the chicken sitting between two slices of bread; but they were pleased by the red wine. In the evening, we'd all take a swim in the hotel pool. Leone even gave me a day off so that the Wallach family could wander around and do some shopping in Almeria.
After a week of filming, the cast learned that we would be flying north to do some location shooting near Burgos - the land up there looked like the Virginias and would serve perfectly for the Civil War battle scenes. Leone had spent a year doing research on that war, studying Mathew Brady's book of photographs. Generalissimo Franco had agreed to lend a thousand of his regular army soldiers for the battle scenes. He also allowed Leone to borrow American Civil War cannons and guns from the Madrid army museum. Leone's costumers were able to reproduce the blue and gray uniforms for the soldiers so that they'd look authentic.
Anne, the children, and I flew up to Madrid and from there were driven to a little town called Covarrubias. Our hotel looked out over the town square. After we settled in, I stepped out onto the tiny balcony and about a million mosquitoes flew in. We slammed the French windows shut. Roberta said that the town looked like the shtetl in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. Katherine suffered from stomach cramps. Anne took her to the drugstore only to find that all the bottled medicines were covered in dust. After three days, Anne decided that she and the children would return to Madrid. "I'll never call your locations exotic again," she said.

Friday, August 14, 2009


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

We had drinks first, and I observed the only real drinking was done by Espartaco. While the rest of us drank wine, Espartaco drank his whiskey. To those of you who may not know, in Spain the only true whiskey is Scotch. Julio had no tiem for drinking since he was too busy translating the rapid-fire Espartaco-Pink question and answer period. I was full of questions about Spain, Spanish production facilities, and the script for EL VALLE. Espartaco, on the other hand, was eager to find out the strength of my connections and power to get him his heart's desire, a release deal with a major company. He had no interest in his wife's career - his sole concern was for the film career he envisioned for himself. It was clear to me that Espartaco, although a professed Catholic, gave not even lip service to that religion. He would blow Maruja off the minute his need for her was over. Although many of the beautiful women we worked with fell for this miserable excuse for a man, he never fooled me or my associates.
The worse thing was he had no talent to back up his ambition. It became obvious that Julio Pena was merely a mouthpiece and Emiliano was in over his head. Espartaco (clearly in charge) dominated the conversation, and as I listened, I made a mental note I had to speak and read Spanish if I intended to do business with him. I was almost positive I was not getting a real translation of what Espartaco was saying.
During dinner, we agreed to meet again the following morning at the MD offices. After talking to Maruja herself, we would go look at the studio, lab, and postproduction facilities in Madrid. Considering the needs of the Bronston program, I knew the facilities would have to be at least the equal of the rest of Europe, and now Spain was the focus of the ever-shifting search for another Hollywood, they would soon be the equivalent of our U.S. counterparts.
When I requested an English version of the script, I was told none existed, but if I would agree to write the English script and dialogue, they would have Julio Pena go to work immediately in preparing a translation. I had no choice but to accept, but with the added proviso that if, in my sole discretion, the subject matter and story proved of no interest to an international audience, I would have no obligation to continue with the project.
I arrived at their MD offices as scheduled and met Maruja Diaz in person. She can only be discribed as a Spanish version of Lucille Ball. She wore that animated and impish Lucy look and was a born clown. She was in her late thirties, a trifle too plump for American tastes, but she was delightful. She spoke no English either, but she was easy to understand by her expressiveness and animation. She was incapable of fraud and wore her heart on her sleeve for all to see. She was desperately in love with Espartaco, who treated her like dirt.
I came to love Maruja and I hated seeing her treated like that. She was a wonderfully talented woman who rose from an uneducated but warm and loveing Spanish family. It was her depth and warmth coming from the screen and engulfing audiences that made her a star. I think she knew I liked her and she responded in kind. We spent a great deal of time together trying to make PELUSA an international picture, but it just didn't work: it ws just too darned much like a local joke. When Espartaco turned on her, she lost so much of herself that she never again made a hit picture.
Our tour of the Madrid, ChaMartin, and Roma studios convinced me Spain had everything necessary for becoming an international film production center. MD agreed to send the translated script within the next four weeks, and I flew back to Copenhagen, leaving Luis Sanchis to draw up whatever documents were needed to record and protect our agreement.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Shooting trains for HORROR EXPRESS

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

One of the first sequences I had planned for filming with both of them was at the abandonded Delicias railroad station in central Madrid. Aging and decrepit, the station was no longer in active use by the Spanish rail system except to store obsolete locomotives and carriages, but it was a magnificent structure of wrought-iron arches and columns supporting a glass roof, originally designed and built by Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, the genius with wrought-iron who built the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It was perfect for our period film set in the year 1906. More than that, we had the use of full-size period trains and locomotives, so we could see our characters climbing in and out of real trains, then see a real locomotive billowing great clouds of steam as it chugged from the station with our characters aboard. Since almost the entire action of our film was on the train, we needed many exterior shots of our minature traversing the snowy wasteland of Siberia. I decided we should establish an authentic, full-size train at the very beginning to convince the audience that all subsequent train shots were just as real. The initial sequence in the station worked out beautifully and gave the film a very handsome and substantial start. The strategy worked - no one complained that our miniatures looked fake.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Getting old.

Eli in the noose.

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

We arrived in Almeria that evening, a tiny town with one main street and no hotels. We were to spend the next two months here in a boardinghouse where each of us had a small room. Max Sloan, an Englishman, was the proprietor. "You'll get a good breakfast," he told me, "and we'll have a drink after you return from the shoot."
After a day of shooting, that drink always felt like a fresh glass of ice water after the desert."
The second day of shooting in Almeria, we picked up the scene where Tuco was being turned over to the sheriff to be hanged. Remembering Clint's warning about not showing off or doing dangerous stunts, I asked Leone if we could discuss this hanging scene.
"It is my understanding," I said to Leone, "that the special effects man has put a small charge of dynamite in the top of the noose around my neck. Am I correct?"
"Yes. Correct," Leone said.
"And then Clint, hidden in the barn at the edge of the square where I'm to be hanged, takes aim and shoots the noose around my neck. Correct?"
"Si, si," Leone said.
"I urge you to put some cotton in the horse's ears," I said.
"Why?" Leone asked. "I've never heard of that."
"In Hollywood they always put cotton in the horse's ears - to calm them," I lied. "Otherwise, when they heard the shot, they would take off."
Leone didn't buy it. "Don't worry," he said, then added in Italian. "Non c'e pericoloso." (There's nothing dangerous.) His use of Italian at this point indicated to me that he didn't give a damn whether it was dangerous or not. "Get on the horse," he ordered. "It's getting late."
I sat on the jittery horse, my hands tied behind my back, the noose tight around my neck. The heat was intense; the horse kept twitching the mosquitoes off his flanks. Most of the extras who were standing around to watch the hanging were English. They had all migrated to sunny southern Spain, where living costs were low and they could escape from rainy, foggy England.
The scene began with the sheriff unrolling a long document and intoning in a loud voice, "Wanted in fourteen counties of this state, the condemned is found guilty of the crimes of murder, armed robbery...inciting prostitution, kidnapping, extrotion...rape."
As the sheriff got to the final crimes on the list, I looked down at this poor little old English lady and growled at her. Leone called cut, ran up to me, and said, "Do that again."
"Do what?" I asked, literally at the end of my rope. "What in hell do you want me to do again?"
"Look at the lady and growl," he said, and demonstrated, "Grrr!"
I did as he asked; I scowled and snorted as the poor lady winced, and Leone stook beside the camera and applauded.
"Therefore," the sheriff continued, "according to the powers vested in us we sentence the accused here before us, Tuco Benedicto Pacifico Juan Maria Ramirez and any other aliases he has, to hang by the neck till dead. May God have mercy on his soul. Proceed!"
The sheriff raised his whip. Just then Eastwood shouldered his rifle, aimed carefully, and fired. At that moment, to give the illusion that Clint's aim was flawless, the special effects man pressed a button, the rope exploded and snapped, and the horse took off like a bat out of hell while my hands were tied behind me. I kept yelling at the horse to stop, using my knees to try to control him, but it was no use. It took about a mile before the horse stopped.
That night I reread the rest of the film script - there were three more hanging scenes left. "Goddamn it," I thought. "Leone better order a box of cotton. Not only for the horse's ears, but mine as well."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sidney Pink goes to Spain.

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

(After making three films in Denmark, American producer, director, writer Sidney Pink investigated production facilities in Yugoslavia.)

I scheduled my return to Copenhagen from Belgrade with stopovers at Palma de Mallorca and Madrid. Leo Bertelsen was a yearly visitor to Mallorca, and he suggested the beauty and climate of that island would be perfect for my family's winter stay. I also heard of the bargain-basement cost of food and hotels in the city of Palma from Leslie Faber. Leslie gave me the name of a Mallorcan lawyer who assisted British Lion in several lawsuits. Luis Sanchis was a graduate of Oxford and very conversant in English as well as familiar with the film industry...
I spend only three days in Mallorca, but in those three days Luis and I formed a relationship that lasted throughout my entire nine years in Spain. He became my friend, my lawyer, and my confidante. Luis never once betrayed a confidence, and never meddled where he was not wanted: he also gave me some of the best advice of my life. Luis was responsible for my first coproduction in Spain and represented my companies in all of their dealings with the Spanish government.
While in Mallorca, Luis contacted a producer in Madrid who was preparing a giant production that needed international stars and know-how. The company was the personal production arm of one of Spain's top box-office stars, Maruja Diaz, whose last picture, PELUSA, had set new records in all Spanish-speaking countries. She was married to a young Venezuelan, Espartaco Santoni, whose hungry ambition was driving him to expand the horizons of her talents and money. He was anxiously searching for someone who could help him get worldwide distribution for a project called EL VALLE DE LAS ESPADAS or THE VALLEY OF THE SWORDS. Luis was acquainted with the company and Maruja as well as the script. It was the true story of Fernan Gonzales, Spanish hero and the grandfather of El Cid.
Samuel Bronston was shooting a spectacle film with Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren based on the life and exploits of El Cid. The time seemed propitious for a follow-up picture that could reap the benefits of the Bronston superproduction. Luis made an appointment for me to meet the heads of Producciones Cinematograficas MD, and I flew to Madrid.~I arrived in Madrid at ten o'clock in the morning, where I was met by three gentlemen from MD (which I later learned stood for Maruja Diaz, who owned and starred in all of that company's films). Espartaco Santoni was as phoney as his name implied. He had the swarthy good looks of his Italian heritage, and he was overly anxious to be gracious. He was of medium height and weight and exuded a reptilian charm that, while it repelled me, must have been like an aphrodisiac to certain types of women. My instant dislike of him was most unusual for me, but as I learned later, my instincts about him were well founded.
His associate was Emiliano Piedra, who was everything Espartaco would have liked to be. Emiliano was the Spaniard we had been brainwashed into visualizing by Hemingway and other writers, who depicted the average Spanish caballero as gallant, righteous, and honest. Emiliano was a true Castilian, with a fair complexion and delicate features. He allowed his companions to carry the conversation and only spoke when necessary.
I learned to like and respect Emiliano; he was a man of honor and never went back on his word, although others were not so kind to him. (It was Emiliano who later got taken by the late Orson Welles on FALSTAFF, which, contrary to the original contract, was made in black and white instead of color. Welles spent almost $300,000 on colorful and costly materials for costuming. These were, of course, indiscernible in the finished black and white feature. Emiliano lost a fortune on that venture.) Emiliano was a scion of an aristrocratic family and was (as I learned later) the financial angel for the company. A mediocre actor named Julio Pena accompanied Emiliano and Espartaco to serve as out interpreter, since neither Espartaco nor Emiliano spoke any English and I, unfortunately, spoke no Spanish.
They got me through customs and immigration quickly; I don't believe it took five minutes. Prestige and power work wonders in unraveling the omnipotent red tape of the Latin countries. I was given VIP treatment and taken by limousine to the Hotel Fenix, a large, luxury hotel right off the Rambla, as the Avenida del Generalissimo was called. The hotel was located just a few minutes from the downtown area and the other older hotels like the Palace and the Ritz. It was within walking distance of the Prado as well as the Castellano Hilton, headquarters for the American stars and directors who were working in Madrid.
My new associates took me to the desk, advising me to rest until they returned "later that afternoon, at about 10:30." When I asked Julio how that could be considered afternoon, I got my first lession in Spanish life. He informed me evening did not begin until after dinner, and we were going to dine at an outdoor restaurant, La Florida, where dinner wasn't served before eleven.

(Pink always refers to Maruja Diaz, but the public knew her as Marujita Diaz. The writer and director of PELUSA, Luis de los Arcos and Javier Seto, would also be part of the team making THE CASTILIAN.)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Lee and Cushing on HORROR EXPRESS

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

In London, Ben Fisz had cast two highly regarded stars of the Hammer horror films, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. He had also made a deal for Telly Savalas to return to Madrid briefly for a truncated role. It was creative casting, and so was the deal made with Telly, who was, predictably, broke again. They had agreed to purchase a seven-year lease on a West End apartment, which would be his gift to the lovely lady with whom he was living. The added inducement - the gift was tax-free. I understood the cost was $22,000, which was a bargain for his services.
Christopher Lee was the first star scheduled to work. He showed up on time and conducted himself professionally. Tall, well-built, with strong, handsome features, he looked more like a leading man than a creature from the bog, but this suited his role in our film splendidly. He was pleased with his role and with the script. We worked out his wardrobe, he reported to the set promptly and knew his lines. He was cordial with me, with Eugenio, with everyone. When he wasn't working on the set, he roamed the hall of our dressing-room building where my office was located and sang arias from Boris Godunov at the top of his excellent baritone.
After the first week of shooting, Peter Cushing was due to start. I went to the airport to welcome the actor, whom I had never met, never even seen on screen, since I was not a fan of horror films. I had no trouble spotting Cushing: a refined looking English gentleman in a perfect British tweed suit, handmade London boots, proper necktie. He was slender, not tall, very fair, with delicate features - not what I had expected from one of the world's leading actors of horror films. No Frankenstein monster he.
My admiration for him faltered from the moment we got into the car for the drive to the studio. In quiet but insistent tones he made a startling announcement. "You know, Mr. Gordon, I don't intend to work in your film." He was not a man who was making a rude joke.
I tried to digest this. "Then why are you here?"
"Mr. Fisz in London explained that I had to report and explain matters to you. I agreed to do the film on the basis of having read the first draft of the script, but when I read the final one, the one we're shooting, I told Mr. Fisz that I didn't care to work in the film."
"You could have called and told me that from London. I would have arranged for another actor. You're supposed to start working tomorrow."
Cushing was genuinely contrite. "I entirely agree. That's what I told Mr. Fisz, but he insisted that I come here and report directly to you."
Since the studio property virtually adjoined the airport, we had arrived by the time we had concluded our brief conversation. I settled Cushing somewhere while I grabbed a telephone and called London.
"What in the hell is going on?" I demanded of Fisz and reported my conversation with Cushing. "I'm supposed to start shooting with this man tomorrow."
Fisz's attitude was that he had provided the actor and the problem was now mine. "You're the producer," he virtually sneered. "So produce."
My shouting accomplished nothing except to entertain the considerable gathering that had assembled outside my office door to listen to my very loud and angry epithets. Completely at a loss, I sought out Christopher Lee, who was an old colleague of Cushing's.
Lee smiled. "That doesn't mean a thing. Peter is always like this at the start of every film."
"What am I supposed to do about it?"
"We'll meet with him at the hotel after work," Lee said, "and everything will be fine."
We met outside Cushing's room at the Eurobuilding in a small public area, where the three of us sat in easy chairs, away from any other guests. I had no notion what to say or how to begin, but my efforts were not needed. Voluble under any circumstances, Christopher started to talk, a virtual filibuster of anecdotes and irrelevant remarks. Neither Cushing nor I could get a word in. No mention was made of Cushing's refusal to come to work, and if Cushing had any notion of voicing his intentions, he never had a chance. The whole performance was cleverly designed to keep Cushing from opening his mouth.
After about forty minutes of nonstop monologue, Christopher stood up. "All right, Peter, see you at work tomorrow."
If Cushing was surprised, he didn't betray it. I was dumbfounded, but Cushing reported to work the next day.
After a week, Peter, who was a truly gentle and decent man, serious about his work, dropped into my office. "I want to tell you, Mr. Gordon, how sorry I am for the way I behaved the day I arrived. I want you to know that I've studied the script again, and I really like it. I like the way the work is going, too."
I learned that Peter's wife, with whom he had been very close for almost fifty years, had died not long before, that this was his first venture outside of Britain since her death, that he was feeling devastated and alone in a foreign clime. Apart from his usual resistance to starting a film, Christopher believed that Cushing's intense sense of loss may have contributed to his initial feelings.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Eli sleeps with Clint.

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

The next day Leone gave a small party where I was first introduced to my costars, Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef; both were veterans of Leone's previous Westerns. This would be Clint's third film working with him. Also in attendance were the members of Leone's technical crew. The wine and the Italian food all served to relax me. Leone talked about the film, the shooting schedule, and the locations and, at one point, he pulled me aside.
"Rest today," Leone said. "And the day after tomorrow, we will start with scenes six and seven."
Upon reading the call sheet for the first day of shooting, I couldn't believe my eyes. We were to leave the hotel at 6:30 A.M., drive for one hour to a Western set outside Rome, get into makeup, and be on set ready to shoot by 8:00. This was a far more grueling schedule than anything I had ever experienced in Hollywood.
In the first scene we were to shoot, my character, Tuco, is taken to a public square to be hanged. "E-li," Leone said to me as I stood on the set - he always used my first name with a strong stress on the last two letters - "You will be on the back of the horse screaming. Clint will turn you over to the sheriff and collect his reward for your capture."
"Fine, fine," I said.
"We will not shoot in sequence," he said. "You will be hanged after we move to location in Spain. Clint will shoot the rope and you will ride off on horseback."
Two days later Clint and I flew to Madrid, where we were to spend the night before we would fly to Almeria on the southern coast of the Mediterranean. North Africa was visible in the far distance. In Madrid all the hotels were booked with conventions and trade shows. Clint told me that he had a friend who had an apartment and who would gladly put us up for the night.
Pancho Kohner, whose father was my agent in Los Angeles, was most happy to see us, and he showed us to his spare bedroom, which had one small bed. "Do you want the left side or the right?" Clint asked.
"I don't know," I said. "I guess I'll take the left side." This made sense - politically I was always to the left. I wondered if Clint would snore, but soon I was asleep. Later in the shoot when Anne was visiting me with the children, I told her the story. She laughed and said, "Now you can brag that you're the only man to have slept with Clint Eastwood."
Clint and I were to leave Kohner's apartment at nine the following morning, but when we woke up, Clint told me that he hated to fly "in those rickety crates the Spaniards call plances." He said he would rent a car and driver and asked if I would ride down to Almeria with him.
"Sure, I'd be happy to," I told him.
On the long ride down to Almeria, Clint filled me in about Italian westerns, how there were no unions, how the hours went from sunrise to sunset, and shooting took place six days a week, how the food on location would come in little white boxes. It was usually pasta of half a chicken or a pork chop stuck between two pieces of bread, some fruit, and a bottle of red wine.
"Don't eat too much of you'll fall sleep by midafternoon," Clint told me. "And don't volunteer to do any dangerous scenes. Let the stuntmen do the tricks."
"Oh, I've made Westerns before," I told him. "I know how to take care of myself."
"No," Clint said, and gave me a hard stare. "You've never made a Western like this. Don't show off."

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Director - Guido Zurli 1962
Cast: Jose Suarez (Dionigi Tragona), Linda Cristal (Alema), Cristina Gaioni (Isabella), Mimmo Palmara (Jafaire), with Walter Barnes (Friar Metachini)Jose Jaspe (Calavas), Jose Tores (Omar), Renato Montalbano (Sultan of Constantinople), Helene Chanel (Rosalana), and Vittorio Sanipoli (Demetrius).
Story by Umberto Lenzi
Screenplay by Sergio Leone, Adriano Bolzoni, Bebo Marrosu, Guido Zurli
Music Gian Stellari and Guido Robuschi
Copyright Nazionalmusic, Milan
Art Director Oscar D'Amico
Costumes Mario Giorsi
Assistant Costumes Rosalba Menichelli, Silvano Giusti
Footwear Pompei
Make-up Renato Bomarzi, Angelo Roncaioli
Set Dresser Danilo Zanetti
Hair Dressser Emma Camia
Production Supervisor Giancarlo Campiodori
Assistant Director Giulio Pannaccio
Production Secretary Gianfranco Borgiotti
Script Girl Marcella Mariani Rossellini
Cameraman Franco Di Giacomo
Assistant Cameraman Fernando Gallandt
Sound Pietro Spadoni
Special Effects Oscar Verdenelli
Fencing Master Fernando Poggi
Exteriors filmed in Yugoslavia in collaboration with Dubrava Film - Globus Film of Zagreb
American version directed by Robert Stafford
Filmed in Eastmancolor in Totalscope
Director of Photography Luciano Trasatti
For the second unit Franco Villa
Editor Otello Colangeli
Production Manager Fernando Cinquini
Executive Producer Franco Caruso
Produced by Giacomo Gentilomo
James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff present
U.S. Distr. American International
An Italia Produzione Film Production
Prod. Reg. 2801
Oddly, ROBIN HOOD E I PIRATE didn't have a Friar Tuck, which would have seemed to have been a good role for Walter Barnes. Instead he played a pirate. Well, Barnes got to play a lusty and brawling Friar in LE VERDI BANDIERE DI ALLAH. And while it wasn't the world famous Tuck, it was pretty darn close.
Reminding viewers of THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, the cannon of San Antioch devastated all Saracen ships which came near. While the King of Spain and the Sultan of Constantinople were working toward peace, Governor Demetrius of San Antioch made a deal with King Charles of France to do all that he could to keep hostilities alive. Our hero, Captain Dionigi Tragona, refused to overlook this treason, and resigned from the military. This estranged him from his father, who continued to serve the Governor, and his fiancee, Isabella, whose father wouldn't allow the marriage. Soon, however, a failed attack by Turkish sailors and the kidnapping of Isabella would change everything.
Jose Suarez didn't get to play the swashbuckling hero very often, and his performance in this showed why; he's a good-looking man, but didn't have the charisma to make a good action star. And when he stood beside Mimmo Palmara, who had co-starred a number of times with Steve Reeves, Suarez hardly registered.
Luckily, the real stars of this movie were the women, and what a set of lovelies were assembled! There was the Gypsy fortune teller played by the raven-haired Linda Cristal. Besides making a sympathetic and credible heroine, she also had a chance to do a nicely seductive dance. For lovers of blonde hair, two beauties were featured in major roles. Helene Chanel was the more statuesque of the two and played a Venetian beauty who ended up sold into the Sultan's harem. Cristina Gaioni played the initially virginal fiancee of our hero, and was convincingly mousy enough to fall under the villain's spell. If these three weren't enough to convince viewers of where the filmmakers real interest lay, then the fact that a long section of the film took place inside the Sultan's harem would settle the case. Intercut with the harem scenes were shots of Cristal and Palmara being tortured in the palace dungeon, which gave the film a slightly creepy atmosphere of sadism - which was just about the only sequence which seemed reminiscent of other films upon which Sergio Leone labored as a writer. Note that the original story was credited to Umberto Lenzi, who had just made his directoral debut in LE AVVENTURE DI MARY READ, also with Walter Barnes.
Script-wise, the novelty of the film was that the Christians and the Saracens became friends and allies against a common enemy. This cross-cultural allegiance was best represented by the character of Friar Metachini. A Christian cleric held captive on The Black Eagle, which was captained by the one-eyed Jafaire, Metachini soon became indispensable as a doctor. While he was kidded for not being a good hostage for ransom, the Friar proved to be a loyal crew member by being the one who discovered the document which uncovered the plot by the Grand Vizier to murder the Sultan.
Eventually, Metachini, aided by Dionigi, had to steal into the Sultan's harem to prevent an assassination and to rescue Jafaire.
As in previous films, Barnes made a convincingly good-natured fellow with an enormous appetite. This role allowed him more than his usual chances to be comedic, and he proved able. He also handled the action stuff as well as usual.
For a movie with so many Spanish actors, it was hard to believe that this wasn't a co-production with Spain, and that the exteriors were filmed in Yugoslavia - but would the credits lie?
Director Giacomo Gentilomo was the producer of this film, and seemed to be working with the standard budget given to these kinds of pictures. Reportedly, he was also the director of at least the second unit stuff, but there was no evidence here of the atmosphere found in his better films; SIGFRIDO, MACISTE CONTRO IL VAMPIRO (U.S.: GOLIATH AND THE VAMPIRES), and MACISTE E LA REGINA DI SAMAR (U.S.: HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN).
First time director Guido Zurli didn't get another feature credit until 1966 with E MEZZANOTTE...BUTTA GIU IL CADAVERE. In 1973, he went to Turkey with Alan Steel for KUCUK KOVBOY.
(This is available in a B&W version from Something Weird Video. It is unknown who re-edited the print to put the first scene before the credits, and half of the credits after the end. Thank you to John Strange for helping me to see this.)

Friday, August 7, 2009

Finishing the script for HORROR EXPRESS

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

Back in Madrid, after a full month of rewrites, Julian insisted on taking off to Rome. He was fed up with the script. With misgivings, I let him go but immediately regretted it. Eugenio was uncharacteristically stubbern about needing changes, and I had to agree that further work would help. I was back on the phone to Rome. "I hate to do this, Julian, but I need you back here."
"Not a chance," he replied.
"The script needs work, and I'm too busy to do it myself."
"I'm sorry." He meant it. "I have a life here and a wife who's been neglected for too long. I just can't leave again so soon."
"I'm sorry, too. And I understand. But I wish you wouldn't force my hand."
"What does that mean?"
"It means you're putting me in a lousy position. It means that if you're not back here in a couple of days, I'll have to get someone else to work on the script."
Julian snorted. "Fat chance. Who will you find in Madrid?"
Actually, I had anticipated this impasse and had checked around . I knew that John Melson (from the BATTLE OF THE BULGE script) was still around and eager for work. "Johnny Melson is here and he wants to work. You remember him."
Long pause. Julian was considering. "How long will it take?"
"A week. Maybe two. Not more."
Julian came back, worked quickly and well, and in another ten days we had the script in satisfactory shape. Eugenio kept dragging his feet. I began to wonder why. He had a script that was much better than either one he had worked on before. Why was he so negative? Yorday was gone. Didn't he feel secure working on an English-American production where I was in charge? I was learning that most directors had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the set for the first day's shooting. Was that the problem? Or was it something else? I was not fated to get a good answer to this, because, fewer than three days before our start date, I had an emergency call from him.
"I'm sorry, Bernie, but I have to go into the hospital for an operation. I won't be able to do the picture."
Get another director? Now? And a Spanish director at that, because of the damned Spanish nationality problem? Alarmed as I was, I had the decency to ask Eugenio about his condition. "What's the problem? What kind of operation are you having?"
"It's for hemorrhoids," he explained. "I've put it off as long as I could. I can't wait any longer."
This struck me as less than a life-and-death matter. "How long will you be in the hospital?"
"Three of four days."
"I'll postpone production for a week. We'll just have to start a week later." He was stuck. He would have to go on. We didn't get started until the second week of December, 1971, which meant we ran through the Christmas and New Year's holidays. Despite problems, I felt I was really making a film - no Ben Fisz, no Milton Sperling, no Yordan. Not even Sacristan. I have never enjoyed anything so much in my life.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

No holster for Eli.

From: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND ME In My Anecdotage by Eli Wallach
One of the first things that Leone explained to me was that for the part of Tuco, the Mexican bandit, he didn't want me to wear a holster.
"So where do I put my gun?" I asked.
"You have a rope around your neck with the gun on the end of it," he told me.
"So the gun dangles between my legs?" I asked.
"Oui," Leone said. "You twist your shoulders hard, I cut to your hand, and there's the gun."
I asked him to show me how to do it. He grabbed a gun on a rope from his desk and placed it over his head. He twisted his shoulders quickly. The gun jerked up, but it missed his hand and hit him in the groin. He groaned and caught his breath. "Just keep it in your pocket," he said.
I was glad to be able to skip the holster bit. Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen, and most of the leading Western stars took lessons and became very skillful at spinning their guns and popping them into their holsters without looking. But I hadn't taken lessons, and whenever I had appeared in Westerns, I always had to look down to find the damn holster.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Levine finds HERCULES

From American Film, September 1979
Dialogue On Film Joseph E. Levine
This educational series is directed by James Powers.

Question: You have been involved with many so-called art films from Europe. What do you think made them work in this country?
Levine: For a long time they did not work. There were only a couple hundred theaters in the whole United States that would play an art film. It was films like PAISAN and OPEN CITY and THE BICYCLE THIEF that helped to break down the barriers and attract more of the American public to these quality pictures. As the years wore on, pictures like BOCCACCIO '70, MARRIAGE ITALIAN STYLE, DIVORCE - ITALIAN STYLE began to make some inroads in a limited way. It was not possible to exist as a producer or importer of art films alone. If I were to succeed, it became obvious to me that I would have to produce or import commercial films. That was the only means of survival.
Question: It was in the late fifties, though, that your career picked up speed, when you bought a not very important Italian film called HERCULES.
Levine: I not only picked up speed, but I picked up a great deal of money, which is kind of nice to have around. It was a very important film to me. Everybody hated it, except the public. This film was not released - as an exhibitor friend of mine said, "It was exploded!" It ws a great exploitation picture. The people who paid to see HERCULES were by no means disappointed. They liked the film. They saw what the ads said they would see, and they were pleased. What else can one ask for?
Question: It has been said that you spent $100,000 on the picture and a million to exploit it.
Levine: I spent $125,000 on the picture and $1,156,000 to launch it. That $1,156,000 had the same effect that $10 million would have today.
Question: What led you to acquire HERCULES?
Levine: I heard from the grapevine that someone in Rome had just finished a film called HERCULES. I was very intrigued by the title. I flew to Rome, saw the film, and bought it. It was not quite as simple as that, nothing ever is in Rome. I won't bore you with the details, except to add that I saw the film in the screening room of MGM. I thought it was terrible, but instinctively I felt the title and the whole concept of the picture would have a great chance in America. The picture was poorly dubbed. When Steve Reeves said, "I love you" in reel 2, it came out in reel 3. When the mast on the ship fell, the sound of it falling came out two minutes after the action. The Italians were not fussy about their dubbing and could not have cared less. However, we did cure the bad dubbing, and we dubbed Steve Reeves's voice and gave it a godlike quality. His own was rather squeaky and high.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Fiscal inspectors on the HORROR EXPRESS

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

At work on HORROR EXPRESS, I made every effort to respect Sacristan's special status and macho image. I let him keep his office and saw to it that the new production manager trod carefully in dealing with the cacique, but word must have spread through the small Madrid film community that Sacristan was out at the only foreign-run studio. Out was out and my effort to remain on good terms with him were doomed, as I later learned.
Another complication arose, one I didn't anticipate. The studio real estate had been purchased and paid for by Bobby Marmor and Yordan. Everything - all the construction of the sets and buildings - had also been paid for by them, but Spanish law did not permit foreign ownership of any media, including film studios, so the nominal ownership had been vested in some Spaniards (one being Sacristan) and our studio accountant. The attorney, Paco Lizarza, may also have had a piece, though he was careful to keep his skirts clean, since what had been done contravened the law. The studio's muddled ownership would come back to haunt us.
Creating a truly Spanish production company to produce HORROR EXPRESS and subsequent Spanish nationality films was even more complicated. The same nominees who "owned" the studio became officers and shareholders, plus Eugenio Martin and me. Amused, I gave my consent to become one of the minor corporate officers, with a share or two of meaningless stock. There were no assets and the stock had no value. Since I was strictly a minority shareholder, there was no conflict with Spanish law. When the film was almost completed, Lizarza informed me that Spanish fiscal inspectors were snooping around, suspicious that our financing was not really Spanish and that the whole operation was fraudulent.
"You have to understand, Bernie," he said, so earnestly that I could see sweat on his brow as well as the dandruff on his shoulders, "the fiscal inspectors here are the most highly educated and trained officials in the whole country. Something like the people they send to the Ercole Normale Superieure in France." I was familiar with that setup. "You have to understand," he emphasized again, "in Spain maybe you can get away with murder if you have the right connections. But you don't get away with violating the currency laws. You'd be surprised at the people they send to prison for that." He paused to let that sink in. "It doesn't matter who you are or who you know."
I could only assume that he was referring to the fact that I was a foreigner. "So what do we do now?"
He hunched his shoulders, "We're not in trouble yet. I'll try to handle it."
I had never considered the legal violations involved as truly significant because we were in fact bringing money into the country, honestly financing the films and creating employment for Spaniards. Where was the harm? But the government took a dim view of all this because, under the cover of Spanish nationality and its benefits, we would ultimately be exporting films to lucrative markets all over the world and never repatriating the proceeds to Spain. When Eugenio, not the most courageous man in the world, heard what was going on, he almost fell apart. I didn't feel very snappy either and made myself scarce when the inspectors came around to the studio. I never heard the end of this saga but assumed that Lizarza and Sacristan had somehow satisfied the expert snoopers.