Saturday, February 27, 2010

Dino gives Fleischer another contract.

by Richard Fleischer

BARABBAS had its world premiere on Monday, June 4, 1962, at the Odeon Haymarket in London. It was also the premiere of the theater itself. There was a glamorous, celebrity-studded dinner afterward at Quaglino's. Seated at my table were John Davis (chairman and managing director of the Rank Organization), Mike Frankovich (head of European production for Columbia Pictures), Sam Goldwyn, Dino, the Right Honorable Ernest Marples, M.P., Lord and Lady Morrison of Lambeth, and Tony Quinn. Scattered around the room were, among others, the Dunchess of Argyll, Lord Balfour, the Duke and Duchess of Bedford, Paul Getty, Nubar Gulbenkian, Harold Lloyd, Sir. Michael Redgrave, Peter Sellers, and David Susskind.
The opening of BARABBAS also marked the end of my nineteen-month job for the Dino De Laurentiis Cinematografica. Since it was a biblical epic, it was only fitting that there be an elaborate Last Supper. But Dino wasn't ready to let me go. He had another project in mind, called ZACKARY, the story of an American spy living in Japan just prior to Pearl Harbor. It was an interesting and unusual yarn based on reality. I signed a one-year contract, commencing August 15, 1962, to do the picture. My family was simply delighted. To them, Paris now seemed like a summer romance compared to their true love, Rome. The mysterious seductress had worked her wiles on them.
Work did not go well on ZACKARY. Dino seemed to have a staff of truly terrible Italian hack writers under contract. He gave them a crack at the story, with ghastly results. Then he got a great idea. He'd heard of a famous Japanese screenwriter (famous in Japan, that is) and thought it would be a fine idea to have him write the script. He brought him to Rome, set him up with a suite at the Excelsior Hotel, and told him to do his stuff.
About four weeks later I inquired as to how he was getting along, so a meeting was set up for me to go to his hotel apartment and review what he was doing. I arrived with an interpreter who spoke English, but not Japanese, to find a writer sitting cross-legged in the center of the huge, completely empty living room. All the fancy furniture, lamps, and carpets had been removed. Next to him were a large inkpot, several paint brushes, and a large, rolled-up scroll of paper. We did the customary bowing and smiling, then he took the paper scroll to one corner of the room and started to unroll it. It went clear across to the opposite corner and was covered with large, brush-painted Japanese characters. This was the script. We stood there admiring his handiwork. It would have made wonderful wallpaper. I hadn't the foggiest idea what it meant and there was no way he could explain it to me, since he spoke no English or Italian. After about five minutes of staring at the scroll the interpreter and I bowed and smiled our way out the door.
I don't know what Dino was expecting, but when I reported my experience to him, he threw up his hands in exasperation and said, "I fix! I fix!" Apparently he then found an Italian who knew Japanese, because shortly after that I received a page-and-a-half translation of what had been written on the scroll. It was pure gibberish. The writer was sent back to Japan and the picture was abandoned.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Sergio on trial for COMPANEROS

Sergio Corbucci: I had to go through an obscenity trial because of the film VAMOS A MATAR COMPANEROS. For the first time, I had the protagonist - played by Tomas Milian, who did his own dubbing - speak the vulgar vernacular, with a few coarse picturesque phrases like "up your ass"; "shithead"; "I've gotta piss". It seemed only proper to be so improper, because the character was vulgar, and it would have seemed ridiculous to have him say "I have to tinkle" or "go to blazes". And so I got busted for obscenity, and the film was held up for a spell.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Italian crew of BARABBAS.

by Richard Fleischer

Working with Italian crews has a certain charm. There's a preference for improvisation rather than complete preparedness that adds a quality of commedia dell'arte. And then there's temperament. Almost every crew member, sometime during production, will have his operatic "moment". A few come to mind: the production designer breaking down and bursting into tears when construction wasn't going as he wanted; my first assistant director chasing the head carpenter all over the stage with a hammer; the soundman asking the cameraman if he would adjust a light so the microphone wouldn't cast a shadow on the set, and the cameraman leaping at him in a blind fury, trying to strangle him; things like that.
And then there's a relaxed attitude that can be beguiling. The head of the crew came to me one day, looking very embarrassed. "Signor Fleischer," he said, "I'm terribly sorry but our union says that tomorrow we must go on strike for one hour."
"What hour will it be?"
"Whatever hour you choose, signor. Whenever it will be convenient for you."
"Really? Any hour I chose? How about lunchtime?"
"That will be fine. Tomorrow we strike for one hour during lunch."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The reluctant writer of O' CANGACEIRO.

Bernardino Zapponi: Did I write a film called O' CANGACEIRO? Ah yes, it's true. I'd totally forgotten! So many years back! I did a very concise story that had been asked of me: about the cangaceiros, the bandits of Brazil, as a variant on the Spaghetti Western. I did that, but I didn't want to write the screenplay. But they didn't find anybody else, and I ended up doing it. I don't remember if I even saw the film! I did slip in a gag that I liked a lot, not half bad: Milian puts the nitroglycerine into the holy water receptacle, and the priest then goes around sprinkling the holy water on the cannons and everything blows up. Everything I wrote worked fine for the director - who was a young man - Giovanni Fago, with the producer, with Milian; him especially. He did some truly hilarious things! What a nice guy, Tomas Milian, a delightful person, very classy, vastly superior to the material he's in. But alas he's an insecure person, and for the usual neurotic reasons he'll go on to play a "Monezza". But he's an actor of the very highest order, who, alas, has gotten himself stuck in the rut of this unholy series of awful movies, which have a great success, and one just leads to another.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A bag of charcoal for BARABBAS

by Richard Fleischer

Before the picture was over there was another example of the crew's near-perfect efficiency. We were in Sicily, near the top of Mount Etna, with five hundred extras dressed as Roman slaves. Getting five hundred extras, plus the crew and tons of equipment, up there was no easy task. We had to shoot the sequence on a Sunday, since that was the only day we could get that many people from Catania, a two-hour, twisty, mountain drive from the top.
When we got there, the weather was terrible. Heavy overcast, with black clouds covering the black volcanic cinder surface. There was no definition between the sky and the ground. It was black on black with not enough light even to get an exposure. I had no choice but to wait it out. If the weather didn't break, and it sure didn't look like it would, it would be a very expensive shooting day down the drain, and we'd have to wait another week to try it again.
All I needed was one shot, but it was quite a shot. It would start on a long line of slaves snaking back to the horizon (if you could see the horizon), moving slowly toward the camera. We pan past the line and end up close on Tony Quinn and Vittorio Gassman, who are going to be chained together at the ankles. The camera tracks past them and zooms in on a white-hot, fiery, charcoal brazier and we see a pair of tongs pluck a rivet from the charcoal and then see it used to link the two loose ankle chains together.
I rehearsed the shot until it was mechanically perfect. If the sun ever did break through, I wanted to be able to shoot it without any foul-ups. The only part I hadn't rehearsed was the actual riveting of the chains. I decided we should try that, too, even though we had a professional blacksmith to do the job when it came time to shoot. That was when we made a terrible discovery. They had forgotten to bring the charcoal!
Two propmen took off in a car at breakneck speed down the treacherous mountain road back to Catania. It was Sunday, everything would be closed, but they'd do their best. I called lunch.
Lunch came and went. I rehearsed some more, our eyes scanning the mountain road, looking for some sign of the car. We watched the sky, too. No break there. It was a solid as ever. I was dying.
It was approaching the time of day when, clouds or not, it would be too late to shoot, when someone shouted, "Here they come!" Sure enough, it was our car racing up the mountain. I looked at the sky. Unbelievably, a hole was opening up, there was a small patch of blue. The company was galvanized into action. The slaves ran to their starting positions. The car screeched to a skidding halt in front of us and the two propmen leaped out with a bag of charcoal. They dumped it into the brazier and the two other propmen blasted away at it with blowtorches. The hole in the sky grew and sunlight flooded through it, lighting exactly the area we were using for the scene. I called, "Action!" The shot went perfectly. As I called "Cut!" the hole in the clouds closed up and we were in near-total darkness.
Everyone was applauding and laughing, but I was in a fury. I let the prop department feel my wrath, blasting them up one side and down the other. The company stopped and stared at me. They looked surprised and offended. My assistant director came over to me. "Signor Fleischer, why are you so angry?"
"How can you ask me a question like that?"
"Well, how many shots were you doing to make?"
"Just the one."
"Did you get it, signor?"
"Yes, I did."
"Was it satisfactory?"
He held his hands close to his shoulders, his palms up, a look of mock bewilderment on his face. "Well, then?"

Monday, February 22, 2010

Sergio Leone on Ennio Morricone and ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST

Sergio Leone: Morricone's music is indispensable to me. Ennio's been my friend since school days, and he knows what I want, even though at times he gets a bit brutalized by me in the process. The music is indispensable, because my films could practically be silent movies, the dialogue counts for relatively little, and so the music underlines actions and feelings more than the dialogue. In the latest films, I've had him write the music before shooting, really as a part of the screenplay itself. I believe that Kubrick too has followed this method. At one point he must have been thinking of Ennio for A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, because he telephoned me saying a thing a bit nasty about Ennio: "Explain to me why of all the Morricone albums I own, I only like the music he's written for your films?" But, I made Ennio take the job seriously, I explained what I wanted very clearly, and I was also capable of throwing away ten beautiful musical themes before approving the right one.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST is the film that beat GONE WITH THE WIND at the box-office, at least in Europe. When France Soir did a poll at the major French universities, asking why they liked the film so much, eighty percent of the students replied with the same line: "Because it's a film about real men."
Apparently, the spectators, or at least those ones, identified the mythic character with a certain type of truth that we'd given these characters, really because of its absence from public life these days. The young feel the need for a true character today more than ever before. I avoided responding to the critics who said the film was much too serious, and other little things. Fortunately, the much more authoritative Andrew Sarris responded to him in my place. He's considered the most important critic in America, and he wrote an essay of sorts about ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST.
I repeat that the Western genre ended for me with THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY, which concluded the triptych. That notwithstanding, I had to go to work and make another one. When I shot ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, even though I admitted it to no one, least of all my producer, who was poor Bino Cicogna... I felt guilty when I'd see him because I was certain I was condemning him to a flop. In my heart of hearts, I knew that I wanted to make a film I'd always dreamed of, and now at the height of my success I had the opportunity to do so, but I also knew from the get go that people would think I'd lost my mind. I confirmed this sense the first day the film was shown. I waited out in the lobby of the Supercinema in Rome where it was playing, when a working class woman came out burbling to her fourteen year old son: "This Leone has gone nuts. This time he doesn't understand anything. America has gone to his head!"
It was exactly what I expected that the public would say, because they were used to the incredible speed of FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, and couldn't accept ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, which is an auteur film; a film in which I proposed, first of all, to tell in an arc the birth of a nation like America. Very immodestly - but since its true I must say it - I borrowed the most stereotyped characters from the American Western - the whore from New Orleans, the bandit on horseback, the businessman, the classic Western characters - and I set them down within the context of a dance of death. Hence the reason why time is so drawn out; because the characters are aware, by the end of the film, that they won't survive, and thus analyze and enjoy the last breaths of life, truly because they know they are already dead, belonging to a past that's been cancelled out by the present, while the future will erase them forever.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A face in the crowd of BARABBAS

by Richard Fleischer

Trying to use the huge crowd to its best advantage, I decided to jump out of continuity and shoot the end of the gladiatorial battle between Quinn and our chief villain, Jack Palace, where Tony is victorious and the crowd calls for Palance's death. Nine thousand people screaming, with their thumbs down! What a shot! The result was unexpected. When the crowd saw Tony, in response to their thumbs-down gesture, kill Palance, they cheered, got up, and started to leave the arena. All nine thousand of them. They thought the show was over! It took an hour to get them stopped and headed back to their seats.
On the second day of shooting we were working closer to the crowd and I could scrutinize it. I was looking for good character faces I could feature in various reaction shots. There were some excellent types, but one face truly stood out, that of an eighteen-year-old girl of stunning beauty. She was gorgeous. A knockout. I pointed her out to my assistant and told him I wanted her in every close shot I could possibly use her in. And I asked him to find out who she was and where she came from. It turned out she was the daughter of an officer at the U.S. military base in Vincenza.
It wasn't too long before Jack Palance also spotted her. And it wasn't too much longer that she moved in with him. Her name was Sharon Tate.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The effect of BLACK JESUS on Woody's career.

by Woody Strode and Sam Young

In those years, to compare me with Jesus didn't go over well with distribution, and the movie bombed even though I got some good press. Howard Thompson, film critics with the New York Times, wrote:
"With his keen, lidded eyes and strong, gaunt face, Strode does a perfectly respectable job of portraying an imprisoned, tortured and executed visionary leader in an African country. His gentle spirit of non-violence and agonized endurance under pressure are painfully real."
I don't believe the black press hardly covered it at all. Most of the fans were liberal white people. It was so odd to have a picture like that. The black leaders like Laumuba, that I represented in the picture, were like bandits. The establishment didn't like them. Laumuba was considered a communist, so it was very controversial. Of course, the Italians didn't give a shit; they just didn't like what the white world was doing to the Africans at that time.
Good or bad, I was the star of BLACK JESUS, and the people, the press had to talk about me in those terms. I now had Hollywood thinking about me in those terms.
After the release of BLACK JESUS, Marty Rackin contacted me about being in a picture he was getting ready to make called THE REVENGERS. THE REVENGERS stars William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Susan Hayward, and Woody Strode. Marty was the first one to give me an advertised starring role in an American picture. He paid me $3,500 a week plus free travel and expenses for my wife while we shot in Mexico. That how the Italians and BLACK JESUS had inflated my value in this country.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Getting the first shot on BARABBAS

by Richard Fleischer

It's always a good idea to start shooting a picture when you can, with some of the easier scenes so the company has a chance to break in, get used to working together, solve the inevitable organizational problems. We began filming on one of our biggest, most difficult, and most complicated sequences: the spectacles and gladiatorial combats in the two-thousand-year-old arena in Verona, which was doubling for the Colisseum in Rome. Talk about "with a cast of thousands" - our first day's shooting broke a world record for the number of costumed extras, 9,115.
Knowing the reputation of the Italians for being something less than highly organized, I had my doubts about their ability to do the hairdressing, wardrobe, makeup, props, and God knows what else, for more than 9,000 extras, 300 gladiator-stuntmen, and an entire circus with lions, elephants, and bears, and have them on the set and ready to go by 9:00 A.M.
I was wrong. They did it. Commencing at 4:00 A.M., a fleet of seventy-five buses went to nearby towns and outlying districts of Verona and shuttled the previously hired thousands of extras to the arena, where they went through a production line and came out looking like Roman citizens of two millennia ago, perfect in every detail. Much to my surprise, by nine-thirty in the morning I was ready to line up with the actors. I called for Tony Quinn to come on the set. At nine forty-five I called for him again, and again at ten. By ten-thirty I was frantic. The extras were getting restless, the lions were sleeping in the sun, the excitement was draining away. Where the hell was Tony?
The answer, when I finally got someone to admit it, was dismaying, but somehow not altogether unexpected. They had left his specially designed gladiator sandals in Rome! Now they were working like mad trying to mock up a temporary pair so we could at least get through the day. We got the first shot before lunch, which, any way you look at it, we something of a miracle. It seems the Italians (if this crew was at all representative) are extremely efficient down to almost the last detail.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Woody returns to the U.S.

by Woody Strode and Sam Young

Well, with the kids off on their own, Luana and I decided to sell the chicken ranch in Montebello. I bought a house and five acres of land in the foothills of Glendora, California. That's where I live today, about twenty-five miles east of Los Angeles. I had lived there only three months when I moved to Italy. After three years, I came home to see Kenny. After he moved on, I decided I'd stick around and spend some time in America.
Well, by that time SEATED AT HIS RIGHT had been sitting on the shelf for three years. A guy named Sig Shore, who produced the film SUPERFLY, and also bought and distributed films, bought the rights to the Zurlini film. At that time in America, there was a growing market for black films, and Sig Shore put some money in his pocket behind that. Ron Pennington in the Hollywood Reporter on September 22, 1971:
He [Sig Shore] said he thinks residual values on these pictures are just a good if not better than on other pictures, adding that "television will be delirious to get black pictures, as they are always interested in demographic patterns." Shore also said he feels "airlines will have to start playing these pictures if they expect to attract blacks with their in-flight movie program. They're going to have to come up with a more balanced package," he said.
When Sig Shore called me to say he had bought Zurlini's film, he said, "Woody, I've got it sold in 64 markets. It'll open in New York, and I've given it a new title."
I said, "What will you call it?"
Well, I almost fainted. Because of my Christian background, I'm superstitious. I got back on the phone, "BLACK JESUS?"
He said, "Yes, will you come back to New York to help promote the film?"
I decided not to discuss the religious area. I said, "Okay, I'll come back there." I flew back and met Sig Shore. He set me up on Times Square signing autographs. On the billboard above me was my picture and the lines, "Woody Stode in BLACK JESUS". And underneath that, "He who ain't with me - is against me," a line I never say in the movie. But Sig Shore was quite a promoter; he was selling an image and a title, not content.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dick works with Production Designer Mario Chiari

by Richard Fleischer

Thirteen miles south of Rome runs an imaginary border that separates the more affluent North from the poverty-stricken South of Italy. The government created this boundary to help lure industry to the southern region, called the Mezzogiorno, by offering cheap land and hugh tax breaks. Dino bought several hundred acres of grassland in the South, smack up against the line. It was here that he planned to build a huge, state-of-the-art movie studio.* In late 1960, when I reported for work, it was still just hundreds of acres of grassland.
Early one morning, soon after I started work on the film, I was taken to see this barren emptiness. The production designer, Mario Chiari, and a small troupe of his assistants came with me. We looked over the rolling fields that stretched to the horizon, then Chiari turned to me and said, "Now where do you want us to put ancient Jerusalem?" I gulped and waved my arm in a vague direction. "Well, over there, I guess." "Okay," he said. "And where do you want the Praetorium?" A knot formed in my stomach. I'd studied the model of the entire city that Chiari had built in the studio, but this was no model. This was just empty fields! Once I made a decision, four hundred workers would labor for four months building this set. If I made a wrong decision now, it would be a disaster later. "How about over there, by that rock?" I said, "Okay." Chiari replied, "this will be the southwest corner," and he had one of his assistants drive a stake into the ground at the spot I'd pointed out.
So it went for several hours while we laid out the positions of buildings, streets, and squares to hold how many people? Three hundred? Five hundred? With horses? Chariots? You want a hill here? Okay, how high? We finally got through it, all one hundred multistoried buildings of it. I was wrung out, a little sick from nervous tension, but glad it was over. Then Chiari came back to me from driving in the last stake. "Okay," he said, "now where do you want ancient Rome?"

*Eventually he did build the studio. Officially it was the Dino De Laurentiis Studios, but everyone insisted on calling it Dinocitta.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Woody living with the Italians.

by Woody Strode and Sam Young

I went right from BOOT HILL to CIAK MULL, L'UOMO DELLA VENDETTA; THE UNHOLY FOUR, directed by Pasquale Squitieri. He was a young director, or as they said in those days, a small oater. I got cash and 25 percent of world sales for that one.
Then Dino De Laurentiis offered me a part in THE DESERTERS with Richard Crenna, Ricardo Montalban, and Slim Pickens. Every once in a while you can catch that one on the tube. De Laurentiis gave me another $75,000.
I've often commented on that stage of my life because I didn't know I could just completely live with white people. I was like a zebra with a bunch of lions, and I went right to the trough with them. I learned from the experience that I could live anywhere in the world. I was as comfortable in Italy as I would have been with my own people. I found the Italians to be as simple as the Polynesians. They're the only white group I know that act like natives.

[Of course the film is called THE DESERTER.]

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dino puts the blame on Dick for Yul.

by Richard Fleischer

Yul Brynner was another case. Dino wanted him to play Barabbas (and so did I), but Brynner wasn't interested. That didn't daunt Dino. He made arrangements for me to meet a reluctant Yul Brynner in Paris and try to talk him into it. It looked hopeless to me, but off I went. I spent most of a day in hot discussion with Brynner, and by the time I left he had agreed to play the part. We shook hands and he said how much he was now looking forward to working with me. I phoned Dino in Rome and he shouted, "Bravo, Deek, bravo."
Several days later Dino called me into his office.
"We no use Yul Brynner!"
"Why not?"
"He crazy. He want a fortune. He think he really King of Siam."
"Damn! That's too bad."
"How you like Tony Quinn?"
"He'd be terrific."
"Bravo, Deek! I like. We use!"
A few weeks later a letter arrived from Yul Brynner. He was upset to learn that the reason for his not being in the picture was because I didn't like him.
Click! Again I couldn't prove it, but the only logical source of that misinformation must have been Dino. After the hype and selling he'd previously given Brynner it made him look better if the blame could be switched to me on a personal basis, rather than on Dino's reluctance to come up with the money.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Woody wants to do BOOT HILL the Italian way.

by Woody Strode and Sam Young

So I took the part and I flew back to Italy. The picture was titled BOOT HILL with Bud Spencer, Terence Hill, Victor Buono, and Lionel Stander. They were all starring in their first western. It was an old-fashioned western with a circus in a big top tent. The director told me, "Woody, we want you to put on these tights, climb the trapeze, jump out, grab that rope, and slide down onto this box on the floor. This stuntman will attack you, and that's when the fight scene starts."
I said, "Goddamn, you finally found someone dumb enough to do it!" But for $50,000 I was going to swing on those ropes.
We were working from six in the morning until ten, eleven o'clock at night. The American actors went by the union rules and that meant twelve hours off between shooting days. They called their agents, and their agents told them to stop working. I told Luana, "Mama, don't say nothing. If this is how the Italians work, then they got themselves a jock strap. It ain't nothing but a little sweat to me."
Nine o'clock one night, Mr. Colizzi said to me, "Woody, all the other American actors have quit. We don't want to take advantage of you. Do you want to call your agent?"
I said, "Mr. Colizzi, let me tell you something. You gave me $50,000 to do this job, and I didn't come here to steal your money. What do you want me to do?" He couldn't believe it.
He stopped the production and fired the director. We started again and Giuseppe Colizzi took over the direction. He gave me an extra $25,000 to finish the picture. I made $75,000, the most money I had ever seen.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Manipulation during the casting of BARABBAS

by Richard Fleischer

Dino has always been a master at business dealings and negotiations, although they always seem to be conducted in a free-wheeling, emotional, and intuitive manner. He was certainly a charter member of the club that made offers you couldn't refuse. If Dino wanted someone, or something, he would get what he wanted by offering a deal that was too attractive to turn down. Reality would set in later. There was a popular saying that Dino considered a signed, sealed, and delivered contract merely the start of serious negotiations.
Whatever his faults, flaws, and deficiencies, Dino was and is, above all else, a consummate salesman and an unsurpassed showman. And a manipulator. I got my first taste of all three when we started casting BARABBAS.
The name of one of France's leading, most respected actresses, Jeanne Moreau, came up as a possibility to play an important female role. She was not only a fine actress but a star as well. I was highly enthusiastic and so was Dino. "We bring her to Rome," he said. "You make screen tests. Not for acting. For clothes, for makeup, for hair. And we invite newspapers. They love Moreau. They go crazy to see her. We get big publicity. It no cost nothing!"
He was right. We brought Moreau to the De Laurentiis Studio and the press went mad. There were about thirty reporters and photographers on the stage where I was to make the tests, milling around, crowding in on her, elbowing each other out of the way. It was almost impossible for me to reach her to introduce myself. Dino stood by, watching with enormous satisfaction. After almost an hour I got my assistant directors to clear the mob back, and I proceeded with the tests. She was wonderful. Even though the tests were purely mechanical, she became the character in the script the moment the camera turned. Even under those conditions her spiritual beauty shone through. Obviously she was ideal for the part. I was thrilled with the idea of working with this great actress.
Moreau returned to her home in St. Paul de Vence, in France, and we reaped the benefit of her brief visit. Front-page photo coverage, long articles about the picture and the genius of Dino De Laurentiis for managing this casting coup.
A week later Dino called me into his office. "We no use Moreau!" he announced.
"Why not?"
"I got better idea. Much better."
"We use Silvana!"
Click! The whole thing suddenly fell into place. Silvana Mangano, a great Italian beauty and movie star, was Dino's wife. I could never prove it, but I just can't imagine that the idea of using Silvana for that part had not already been set in his mind. He just couldn't resist the publicity opportunity that had presented itself. I had no qualms at all about using Silvana in the film. She was ideal, too. If she'd been suggested first I wouldn't have hesitated a moment in saying yes. But what rankled was the realization that we'd all been sold, exploited, and manipulated.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Woody gets a job offer on the set of SHALAKO

by Woody Strode and Sam Young

At lunchtime, I walked into the tent. A Mr. Giuseppe Colizzi came up to me, "Woody Strode, my name is Colizzi, please, have a cigar.
"I represent an Italian production company. What you did today I have never seen another actor do. I would like you to come to Italy with me and star in my next picture. I can give you $50,000 for ten weeks' work, first class plane tickets for you and your wife, and $500 a week to live on."
First blood.
I told him, "I'm coming, but don't say anything to my agent!"
I got on the phone and called Sid Gold. He said, "Oh Woody, you'll get a bad script." But for $50,000 I would've played Mickey Mouse.
On SHALAKO, I made $1,000 a week, the same as I made on THE PROFESSIONALS. I had never made any real money in America. I'd been in some classic pictures and never made a dime. I was never in a position to bargain. Where else was I going to go? I was unique doing just what I had been doing: throwing a spear, playing Indians, slanting my eyes, putting on pigtails. They probably thought they were doing me a favor.
When the Italians saw what I could do, they just flat out made me an offer, and they offered me a star's salary. Mr. Colizzi told me, "You see that white actor over there?" - I won't call his name because I don't want to embarrass him - "He cannot ride a horse and we are paying him $350,000 for one picture."

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Fleischer talking script with De Laurentiis

by Richard Fleischer

Story conferences with Dino sometimes had their moments. We were discussing the final shot of BARABBAS with a confused Barabbas finding himself crucified and not really understanding why. Christopher Fry had written a moving, poetic final speech for him as he dies on the cross. Dino was much taken with it. Jumping to his feet behind his desk, he reenacted the scene with great passion. He flung out his arms, looked up toward heaven, and read his version of the final speech in Italian. The translator broke up in gales of laughter. "What's so funny?" I asked. "What did he say?" "Hey, God!" he translated. "What the fuck is going on?"
His blunt, almost crude manner can be disconcerting, particularly to young actresses. Over the more than thirty years I've known him I've introduced him to hundreds of actresses for casting purposes. I don't think I've seen a single interview last more than thirty seconds. They're in and out before they know it. Frequently they burst into tears once they're outside. But in the thirty seconds they were in his office, they were given a very thorough anatomical examination by his X-ray eyes. As soon as the girl was out the door he'd usually say to me, "No tits. Next!"
The abrupt treatment, however, wasn't just reserved for actresses. The actors got it, too. Not long ago I brought an actor to his office for his approval. The actor stood before Dino's desk for a couple of minutes while Dino finished a phone conversation. When he hung up he stared at the actor for several seconds. Finally the actor said, "Do you mind if I sit down, Mr. De Laurentiis?" Dino responded with unaccustomed graciousness, "Sure. Sit down," he said, motioning to a chair next to the actor. The actor sat down and Dino said to him, "What's your name?" I was impressed. Dino must really like this guy to take this much time and interest. "Fred," said the actor. "Good-bye, Fred!" said Dino.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Woody's missing scene from SHALAKO

by Woody Strode and Sam Young

They shot the film in Almeria, Spain. At that point in my career I was traveling with my own saddle, two 60-foot ropes and an 80-pound bow. Once you reach a certain level, you've got to have your own equipment. I remember there was one scene in SHALAKO where I had to go off-stage and shoot the fire arrows because nobody else could do it. Those are the types of things I had learned after thirty years of action pictures.
And, to go back for a second, in John Ford's TWO RODE TOGETHER, there was a scene where I came riding in with my Indian sub-chiefs. I stepped down off my horse, said something in Indian, hopped back on the horse and let out a war cry. I pulled out with all the Indian warriors on my heels. The horses crossed some light cables; the insulation was cut and the sparks went flying. John Ford got the shot: it was a great scene. I didn't realize how dangerous that run was until I started training for THE PROFESSIONALS.
Jack Carey told me, "Woody, I saw you in that goddamned TWO RODE TOGETHER. If your horse had fallen, those Indians would have run right over your ass. Anytime you're ridin' and you're leadin' a pack of horses, the pack has got to split and leave you an alley. That way if your horse falls, the pack runs around you."
That paid off when I got to SHALAKO. I had to make a 1,500 yard run on horseback with all my warriors following me. We ran 1,500 yards right at the camera; the camera panned and we ran 500 more yards up into the canyon. I had a bunch of Spanish Gypsies following me. They didn't look like the European Gypsies, who look more like white people. These Gypsies were real brown; I don't know how they got their color, but they made perfect Apaches.
I told them what I was going to do. "I'm going to run ten yards out in front. I want everybody to split up in two groups, one on either side of me."
The first run-through, my horse fell and I wasn't injured. The second run, I was holding my bow way out in my right hand; we ran right at the camera, turned and ran into the canyon. Probably the greatest horse charge in the history of film. We came back and Eddie Dmytryk said, "We've got to do this scene again."
He had us do it three more times. The third time my horse went wild. I had to take the bow and whip him because he was blowing up, snorting and flaring. I walked back to the camera and Sean Connery, Brigitte Bardot, you can imagine all those high-class actors, said, "Woody, are you crazy? You'll get yourself killed!"
I said, "No actor can do what I just did." And Eddie Dmytryk never used that scene in the film.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Fleischer on De Laurentiis

by Richard Fleischer

Dino's English was impossibly bad. The only way I could tell that he was trying to speak English instead of Italian was when he talked a little slower. We had to have a translator present at every meeting. It took a while to get used to his vehement manner of speaking; in fact, it was quite frightening at first. I'd come into his office and present him with a suggestion or an idea. The translator would do his job and Dino would go into what seemed to be an apoplectic fit. He would yell and shout, pound the desk with his fists and elbows, jump to his feet and gesticulate accusingly at me, his voice filled with deep emotion. Shit, I would think, I've done it now. He thinks I'm an idiot. I'm fired for sure. Dino would drop back down into his chair, breathing heavily, and nod curtly to the translator, who would turn to me and say, "He loves it."
Over the years his command of the language has changed considerably for the better, but not his pronunciation. English still sounds like a totally unknown, undecipherable, foreign tongue when he speaks it. His comprehension is excellent, except when he conveniently doesn't want it to be. Then he'll say, "I no understand" and revert to hyperspeed Italian. This usually happens in any money discussion, that's not going in his favor. His grasp of the language suddenly evaporates.
His use of primitive sentence structure still amuses me. I know he has a sophisticated knowledge of grammar, but he still will say, "I like!" of "I no like!" I've observed him in meetings when an agent and a producer are pitching a project. Dino will listen for a while, then suddenly interrupt with "I like! We do!"

Saturday, February 6, 2010


Duccio Tessari: The desire to transpose the mythological stories into an ironic key after a dozen or so had already been filmed was not something I came up with in a lucky moment. It's just that I've always been on-set giving support to the filming, since my first assistant director's job with the Germans. Each time that they suggested a subject to me, of whatever type, I immediately looked for the ironic side, because to be honest, the idea of a Hercules with those collapsing columns or a Maciste who breaks chains didn't seem to me to be subjects and characters that could be taken all that seriously.
The idea to make an ironic Ercole was mine and Cottafavi's, for HERCULES CONQUERS ATLANTIS. In truth it's very difficult, when two of you work together, to establish which of the two came up with the idea - because perhaps it was just a minor thought, a prompt I gave him or a suggestion, or perhaps it was his given to me... The ideas, when you work together, always come from the whole partnership, because they are stimulated by that circumstance. In that epoch in which we worked together, Cottafavi was a delight, a true gentleman who was not called Vittorio, like he tells you, but as I have discovered, Benedetto Vittorio Emanuele Secondo, and therefore he must be of a family tree decidedly monarchic. He loved me greatly, above all because I smoked cigars and when I went to supper at his home, his wife felt obliged to withdraw so that I could smoke and accordingly he was able to smoke, too, without being forced to go outside onto the terrace.
Cottafavi was a very cultured man, very prepared, very intelligent which did not go well towards making a film of great commercial success. He always had the ambition to make a more committed film. He had made films of this sort, but they hadn't been understood. They'd done very badly.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Woody gets an offer for SHALAKO

by Woody Strode and Sam Young

[After ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, Woody returned to the United States.]

While I was home, Euan Lloyd, an English producer, contacted me about being in SHALAKO, a $5 million production for Palomar Pictures International, a subsidiary of the American Broadcasting Company. He'd lined up Sean Connery and Brigitte Bardot to play the starring roles. Lloyd wanted me to play the Indian chief. I said, "No, you've got to get a full-blood Indian to play the role" - because I was fresh off the boat and a little sensitive to the racial situation in America - "There's too much racial stuff going on, and I don't want to get the Indians mad at me."
He said, "Let's try to work something out. I really want you to play the part."
I said, "I'll tell you want I'll do. If you'll hire my Sioux friend, Tug Smith, to play alongside me, then I'll play the chief."
"Woody, Eddie Dmytryk has an Indian who has played in all his pictures. This is Eddie's special person, and he would like this Indian to play your right-hand man."
Eddie Dmytryk has made over forty films, including THE YOUNG LIONS and THE CAINE MUTINY. He also directed westerns and made some great ones like BROKEN LANCE and WARLOCK. Eddie had a lot of pull and his special Indian was Rod Redwing, who had the fastest draw in Hollywood. He taught the fast draw to everyone you ever saw. Cecil B. DeMille brought im into the movie business.
So when Euan Lloyd told me Rod Redwing was going to play my right-hand man, I said, "I'm not going to be able to do the job. Every Indian in Los Angeles is looking forward to seeing Tug go overseas with me. If I accept the job, I just don't know how I'll be able to face them."
The Englishman said, "Okay, bring Tug down here and let me take a look at him."
I told Tug, "Put on your Indian outfit because Euan Lloyd's never seen a real Indian."
We went down and met Lloyd at the Copper Skillet, which was right across the street from the studio. Euan Lloyd was wide-eyed as he looked Tug over. Tug was wearing his deerskin suit with the beads and the fringe, a headdress with eagle feathers and moccasins.
I said, "You know, Tug speaks five languages, Cheyenne, Arapaho, everything. Speak some Indian languages, Tug,"
The Englishman fell apart, "Oh my God, Woody, he's perfect. He can play your sub-chief, your muscle, and we can take Rod Redwing and let him play your father." So I got the job like that, and I put my wig on.

[Photo of Tug Smith found on -]

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Fleischer on Dino

A Memoir by Richard Fleischer

As you entered the small lobby of the office building you were confronted with a profile view of the De Laurentiis logo, a two-foot-long bronze statue of a magnificent lion. It stood on a waist-high pedestal dead center in the room. Arrogantly displayed under its raised tail was a splendid pair of very shiny balls. There was a superstition (probably promulgated by Dino) that rubbing these burnished testicles brought good luck. Absolutely noboy passed by them without giving them a rub, so they were always highly polished.*
*The lion with the shiny balls followed Dino when he moved to New York years later, and then on to Hollywood where their efficacy, but not their luster, finally dimmed, probably from too much rubbing.
There aren't many people in the world who are immediately recognized by their first name alone, but Dino is one of them. Even in the fifties all you had to say was "Dino" and everyone knew whom you meant. He seems, somehow, to have been born a legend.
An impeccably tailored bundle of raw energy and volatile emotions, he is not only a legend, but also a character. The impact of meeting him for the first time is something akin to sticking your finger into an electric light socket. Short, dark, high forehead, steely black eyes with bushy eyebrows that sweep up satanically at the ends. The word "gravelly" was invented to describe his voice, which he uses to bark out short, staccato, exclamatory sentences. His personality is the same as his speech: curt, abrupt, brusque.
And then there is his smile. It can be open and winning, even disarming. But it can be something else, too. He can give you a smile with his lips only, the rest of his face immobile. It is like looking into the face of icy Death. I know. He did it to me once.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Sergio Leone directs Woody Strode

by Woody Strode and Sam Young

When we shot the part where I'm standing under the water tower, it was hot, and I took my hat off to wipe my forehead. When I did, a drop of water fell and hit me. Sergio was standing behind the camera not more than five or six feet away. He had an interpreter with him, because Sergio never tried to completely speak English on the set. As the translator was telling me what Sergio wanted, water from the tower kept dripping, and the camera was picking it up, so Sergio decided to use it.
He directed the scene just like real-life. I took my hat off, the water dripped and hit me; I wiped and looked up. I put my big, black cowboy hat back on. The camera stayed with it and after a few minutes the brim was full. Then Sergio said, "Woody, drink the water off your hat." I took the hat off, I lifted it, and drank. He said, "Now slowly, put it back on."
Well, that became quite a famous scene, and it was never in the script. It was just an accident because the water happened to drip onto my hat.
Now, at the conclusion of the opening scene - when I get shot and killed - they put a squib under my shirt. That's a bag of blood with a small, explosive charge. Charlie, Jack, and I all pulled out guns and cranked at the same time. When the bullet hit me, I had to fall over backwards. Because of my wrestling experience, I was able to go straight backwards and land on my shoulders. And the blood just burst out.
They had to cut that part for the American version. Just like in SPARTACUS, when Olivier sticks me with a knife like a bull. They had a special effects guy crouched behind the railing who shot the blood out of a squirt gun. That was too graphic for the American censors so they cut it out. But SPARTACUS was really graphic, they showed cold turkey what happened; the Italians were the same way.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Dino De Laurentiis hires Richard Fleischer

A Memoir by Richard Fleischer

Just at the moment when things had reached their nadir between Zanuck and me, right after we'd returned to Paris to finish THE BIG GAMBLE, Providence descended from heaven and kissed me on the brow. Dino De Laurentiis showed up and offered me a job.
A couple of years earlier Dino had pursued me in Hollywood to direct WAR AND PEACE, but it didn't work out. Now here he was in Paris offering me a huge biblical epic based on Nobel Prize winner Par F. Lagerkvist's novel BARABBAS. Christopher Fry would write the screenplay, and it would be shot in Rome. As soon as I finished my chores on THE BIG GAMBLE, Dino wanted me to report for work immediately on BARABBAS. I could already feel the warm Italian sun melting the Zanuck ice from my bones. Even if I had loved Darryl, I would have gladly jilted him for this assignment.
My family was something less than ecstatic about having to leave Paris. It hadn't been easy for them to become adjusted to Parisian sophistication after the barbecue and jeans life-style of California. Uprooted from their native home and friends, they had to put down new roots in foreign soil. There were plenty of tears.
Now, a year later, there were more tears. Why did they have to leave Paris? They loved Paris. It was their home. Their friends were here. Wait, I told them. Rome is beautiful, too. You'll see, you'll love it. Honest.
There was a World War I song that went, "How're you gonna keep them down on a farm after they've seen Paree?" We weren't exactly down on the farm, but we had seen Paree - and Rome, at first glance, was something of a letdown. I mentioned this to my Roman assistant, a jolly, chubby, hyperthyroidal young intellectual with the wonderful name of Guido Guiderini. "Ah, but you don't understand!" he effused, his arms making graceful circles in the air. "Paris is a common whore! She lies there naked on the bed, her legs spread apart. Nothing is hidden. A vulgar display of the obvious. But Rome! Rome is a mysterious seductress. Her beauties, her charms are hidden. Slowly, tantalizingly, she reveals them to you until you are overwhelmed, intoxicated by her." Guido may have been a bit operatic, but he was right. When we left Rome four years later, everyone was crying again.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Woody and an unhappy Sergio Leone

by Woody Strode and Sam Young

Then he confided in me, "Woody, this is my last western."
"Because they call them spaghetti westerns." Sergio Leone was terribly insulted by that. See, Sergio loved the West just like John Ford. When you see the accuracy of the sets, the costumes and the props, it was classic. And Sergio was a big fan of John Ford, although he wasn't a tough guy like Ford. Sergio was a typical Italian, very warm and emotional. But to show you his respect for John Ford, I found this review of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST in the Hollywood Reporter.
[The] Director has stopped playing celluloid "variations" on westerns, and now appears desirous to become a straight oater filmmaker, a sort of Giovanni Ford. This means Leone's own special talent for playing with film ideas gets lost in no man's land of the merely imitative.
Now there's no sense in explaining the film because Jack Elam and I get gunned down and killed in the opening scene. What happens is, we arrive at a little train station out in the middle of nowhere. The audience doesn't know what we're up to. Jack Elam takes a seat on the platform, and I set up about a hundred yards away under the water tower that feeds the trains. When the train arrives, we regroup. We're standing there and nobody gets off the train. The train pulls out and when it clears the station, it uncovers Charles Bronson standing on the other side. We pull our guns, and Charlie kills us.