Tuesday, March 3, 2015

‘MAGNIFICENT 7’ REMAKE UPDATE, PLUS ANDY DEVINE BIO REVIEW!




‘MAGNIFICENT 7’ REMAKE GAINS CAST, DIRECTOR

Antoine Fuqua, helmer of TRAINING DAY and THE EQUALIZER is set to direct the MGM remake of the 1960 classic, THE MAGNIFICENT 7, which was directed by John Sturges from William Roberts’ screenplay.  The new script is by John Lee Hancock, who wrote THE ALAMO (2004) and wrote and directed the Oscar-winning THE BLIND SIDE. 



In the original film’s story, poor peasants hire gunmen to protect their town from the depredations of a pack of bandits, led by Eli Wallach.  In the new version, the villain is a gold-mine baron taking over a town.  The widow of one of his victims hires a bounty hunter, and the six men he needs, to get her justice.  The bounty hunter is Denzel Washington, who was very effective in the Civil War drama GLORY.  The widow is Hayley Bennett, who worked previously with Washington and Fuqua in THE EQUALIZER.  Two of the remaining Magnificent 6 will be Ethan Hawke, fresh from his Oscar nomination for BOYHOOD, and who previously worked with Washington and Fuqua in TRAINING DAY; and Chris Pratt, of ZERO DARK THIRTY and MONEYBALL. 


Toshiro Mifune and the rest of the SEVEN SAMURAI


The Round-up had reported in December 2013 (see story HERE) that much-promoted star Tom Cruise was out, as was the screenplay by TRUE DETECTIVE creator Nic Pizzolatto. THE original MAGNIFICENT 7 is itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 classic SEVEN SAMURAI.


YOUR FRIEND AND MINE, ANDY DEVINE, A MEMOIR OF A FATHER AND HIS SON




By Dennis Devine

A Book Review

A son, leaving his father’s death-bed in Long Beach, feeling he’s disappointed his parents, can’t bear to go home and face his mother.  So instead he takes a train into Hollywood.  A man notices his size, asks if he plays football, and almost before he knows it, he’s playing a bit part in a movie, along with a pair of USC students, Marion Morrison (later John Wayne), and Ward Bond.  The three will be co-workers and friends for life.  You’d never put that story in a script – too contrived – but that’s exactly how Andy Devine entered the movie business. 

One of the most interesting sub-groups of biographies is the life-story of parent by offspring.  Some are heartbreaking, epitomized by Christina Crawford’s MOMMY, DEAREST, and some are revenge pieces, like B.D. Hyman’s MY MOTHER’S KEEPER, which may have given Bette Davis a stroke.  But when the relationship isn’t awful, such a tome can provide a unique perspective on the life of a public figure.  My favorites of this sort have long been GYPSY AND ME, by Erik Lee Preminger, secret son of Gypsy Rose Lee and Otto Preminger; and GLENN FORD, A LIFE by Peter Ford, son of Glenn Ford and Eleanor Powell.  (you can read my review of that one HERE. )  To that duo I happily add YOUR FRIEND AND MINE, ANDY DEVINE, a fascinating story of both a movie star’s life, and the experience of growing up in his shadow. 


Andy in STAGECOACH -- and yes, 
he really drove that team


The beginnings of father and son could hardly have been more different.  Andy was born in Flagstaff, Arizona in 1905, the son of a Tipperary, Ireland-born hotel operator.  In 1939, his son Dennis would start being born at The Brown Derby, where Carole Lombard would command a fleet of eight taxis to take the Devines, herself and husband Clark Gable, and all their Hollywood friends to Cedars hospital, to enjoy drinks and Cobb Salad while Dorothy Devine gave birth. 

Devine is a novel choice for such a biography.  While certainly a money-making star, the raspy-voiced comic actor – the result of a childhood accident that lodged a curtain-rod down his throat – was never a leading man, and rarely if ever a lead.  But he was a recognizable and beloved character actor with 191 credited screen roles, as well as years of experience on radio.  And he lived like a star – my mother-in-law went to school with Dennis’s older brother, and he was the only kid to go to and from Van Nuys High in a chauffeured limousine.  Andy starred on TV in ANDY’S GANG for five years, and on WILD BILL HICKOCK for seven.  He took the role of ‘Jingles’ after Burl Ives turned it down, and got paid more than Guy Madison, who played Wild Bill!    


You know you've made it when your
face is on a cerial box!


One of the surprise revelations is the negative part his long-time studio, Universal, played in his career.  Devine was always hoping to be loaned out to other studios, who gave him big parts in important pictures.  At his home lot, they were so eager to have all of their contract players working that they’d cast him in anything as anything, no matter how unsuited he was.  When, after the war, Universal wanted to cut expenses, they tried to humiliate Andy into quitting.  They gave him a horse costume, and Lon Chaney Jr. a bear costume, thinking they’d be mad enough to quit, but they wouldn’t leave until they’d been completely paid off.

From there he moved to Republic, sidekicking four times for Wild Bill Elliot, and nine times for Roy Rogers; he was billed under Trigger, but so was everyone except for Roy.   The book brims with wonderful inside stories about the making of STAGECOACH, CANYON PASSAGE – where Dennis and his brother appeared with their dad, and LIBERTY VALANCE.  Dennis’ analysis of the ages and experience of those in VALANCE is fascinating. 


Andy and Woody Strode in
THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE


The author pulls no punches in his opinions about some of the biggest names in Hollywood.  Columbia Pictures President Harry Cohn: “Cohn was…a rude, penny-pinching bastard.”  Republic Pictures President Herbert Yates: “For financial security, Dad liked contracts, so he signed with the knowledge that Herbert J. Yates had a terrible reputation.”  Director John Ford: “…Ward Bond unexpectedly passed away in Texas.  At his funeral, knowing that Bond was a Ford favorite, the press asked director John Ford to comment on Bond’s passing.  (He) replied, ‘Now Andy Devine is the biggest asshole I know.’”

Some of the best ‘worst’ stories are about Bing Crosby, whom he describes as, “…a loner, a drunk, and a sociopath, but (who) could be extremely charming when necessary.”  Bing’s wife, Dixie Lee, was a friend of the Devines, and once threw a party at the Devine ranch in Van Nuys.  “She called it the ‘Crapped on by Crosby’ party.  It included everybody who had been cut off or betrayed by Bing throughout the years.  The event had quite a turn-out.” 

Dennis Devine doesn’t hesitate to include his parents’ shortcomings as well.  They’re both portrayed as self-centered and uninvolved in their son’s life.  Mrs. Devine, who was the beautiful actress Dorothy House, met Andy when they were both in the Will Rogers/John Ford movie JUDGE BULL, and she gave up her acting career after they married.  Dennis was furious when she moved her lover into the family home under the guise of ‘tennis teacher,’ and when Andy wouldn’t face up to what was going on under his roof, son forced father to kick the lover out. 

Dennis was a driven athlete, a breaker of records, and nearly an Olympic swimmer.  One can’t help thinking much of the drive was a desperate need to receive his parents’ approval.  Yet his parents weren’t completely useless.  Dennis was friendly with his father’s gay publicity agent, Stanley Musgrave.  “One night Stanley invited me to have dinner with himself, Rock Hudson, and Cole Porter.  In passing, I mentioned this to my mom.  She hit the roof.  ‘You’re not going to dinner – you are the dinner!”  She made sure that meal never happened.



WILD BILL HICKOCK, with Guy Madison


Dennis was closer to his father during the end of Andy’s life, when he had a sensational success playing Captain Andy in various productions of SHOWBOAT.  Andy’s decline and death come in slow and saddening detail.  The main interest in the book is Andy Devine’s life, and it seems at times that Dennis spends more time detailing his own real estate dealings than necessary, but again, so much of Dennis’ drive and ingenuity seems to come from largely raising himself that it is enlightening on its own terms. 

YOUR FRIEND AND MINE, ANDY DEVINE, is a highly enjoyable, well-illustrated book from Bear Manor Media, priced at $19.95.  You can order it HERE.  


THAT’S A WRAP!


Leonard Nimoy in CATLOW


Sad news this week, to learn that we lost Leonard Nimoy.  Although he will always be Mr. Spock to most of us, he appeared in one of the last of the Republic serials, ZOMBIES OF THE STRATOSPHERE, in many 1960s TV westerns, and in 1971 starred with Yul Brynner in the western CATLOW!


Next week I’ll have updates about the Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival and TCM Classic Film Festival, and other cool stuff.  Have a great week!

Happy Trails,

Henry


All Original Contents Copyright March 2015 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved       

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

LESTER CUNEO – THE FIRST ITALIAN WESTERN STAR! PLUS TCM FEST, COWBOY FEST, AND SELECTED SHORTS!



LESTER CUNEO – THE FIRST ITALIAN WESTERN STAR!



The idea of an Italian western star immediately conjures up the 1960s, and the image of a handsome European, perhaps with an Americanized moniker, riding a horse through the Tabernas Desert.  But the first, actually a Chicago-born actor of Italian heritage, started his screen career in 1912 in the United States.  Lester Cuneo’s name is largely unknown today, because he died before the transition of films from silents to talkies, and because his films have long been unavailable.  But now Grapevine Video has made two of his starring features, SILVER SPURS and BLAZING ARROWS, both from 1922, available.  His work is overdue for reappraisal.       

Born in 1888, the tall and handsome Cuneo, with dark eyes and a Roman nose, was a stage actor from his teens, and entered movies at the age of 24.  He was lucky to be in Chicago, headquarters of film pioneer Col. William Selig, and went to work at Selig-Polyscope Studios. For more information on Cuneo and Selig, I turned to Andy Erish, author of the definitive biography of the man, and history of the studio, SELIG – THE MAN WHO INVENTED HOLLYWOOD. 

He told me, “(Cuneo) only made a couple of films at Selig's Chicago studio hub before traveling to Colorado to join the company's Western unit. Ironically, one of the films made in Chicago was a comedy/drama about Italian immigrants in the US called ACCORDING TO LAW, but Cuneo played an immigration cop - not one of the immigrants! Anyway, Cuneo appears to have been assigned to the Colorado unit as a replacement for Tom Mix, who decided not to renew his contract early in 1912 in order to help organize and participate in the first Calgary Stampede. Cuneo played the same sorts of roles Mix had opposite William Duncan - occasionally as the hero, but more often as the villain. When the director of Selig's Colorado troupe, Otis B. Thayer, left after a few months, Duncan took over. Cuneo still alternated playing villain and hero with Duncan.

“Mix rejoined the Selig western unit at Canon City, Colorado around Thanksgiving 1912 after sustaining some serious injuries in the Stampede and the rodeo circuit. Now Mix was often cast in the roles that had been played by Cuneo or Duncan, though all three at various times continued to play hero, villain or henchman. The troupe moved to Prescott, Arizona at the beginning of 1913 where they remained for a year and a half. Duncan directed all of the films and wrote most of them, too, until Mix began writing scripts around September 1913 that more fully integrated his cowboy skills and athletic prowess into his characters and plots. Mix had written a handful of scripts since first joining the company in 1910, and suggested bits of business (physical action) to liven up others' scripts (including those written by Duncan). But the movies written by Mix that were made in Prescott in the fall of 1913 completely transformed the movie cowboy into an action hero whose exploits were an outgrowth of rodeo stunts. Mix had already developed an international following in 1910-11, but the content and success of the films he wrote in Prescott put him in a class by himself.

“Cuneo became the odd man out, serving as sidekick or henchman to Mix's heroes or villains. At the end of 1913 Duncan was reassigned to focus his energies solely on directing Mix - no more acting. Mix had brought a couple of old rodeo and ranch pals into the Prescott unit, notably Sid Jordan, further displacing Cuneo. By the time Selig moved the Western Unit to Glendale, California in mid-1914, Mix had already taken over as director, writer, producer, star, (with) Duncan leaving for Vitagraph. Cuneo seems to have remained behind in Prescott, where he starred in a handful of Selig Western shorts directed by Marshall Farnum (brother of better known actors William and Dustin). Sometime during the summer of 1914 Cuneo left Selig for Essanay, and appears to have relocated to their Chicago studio.” 

Lester Cuneo established himself as a star in Westerns, and unlike many of his contemporaries, starred in films of many other genres.  A more versatile actor than most, he was screen-tested by Ernst Lubitsch for the title role of FAUST in 1923 (sadly, the film was never made).  In 1920 he married beautiful co-star Francelia Billington, and they would produce fourteen movies – and two children – together.  Already a notable actress in her own right, the previous year she had what would be her most important film role, as the married woman pursued by Austrian officer Erich Von Stroheim in BLIND HUSBANDS. 



SILVER SPURS, co-directed by Henry McCarty and James Leo Meehan – both first-time directors! – opens in contemporary (for 1922) Manhattan, as the very cosmopolitan Lester, a western novelist, is at his gentlemen’s club, kidded by his friends for wanting to escape to the simpler life of the imagined west.  They surprise him with a good-luck gift of a pair of silver spurs, and he is on his way. 

In the California town of San Vincente he befriends the local padre (Phil Gastrock), and soon becomes embroiled in helping lovely Rosario del Camarillo (Lillian Ward), by inheritance the queen of the rancho, who has been swindled out of her property and position by Juan Von Rolf (Bert Sprotte).  Von Rolf is such a swine that although married, he treats his wife like dirt, and flaunts his relationship with cantina-girl Carmencita (Zalla Zarana), who makes a play for Lester, in part to make Von Rolf jealous.



In BLAZING ARROWS, again directed by McCarty, an Indian couple, Gray Eagle (Clark Comstock) and Mocking Bird (Laura Howard) discover a white couple, dead by their wagon, and a helpless baby.  The childless couple raises the baby – calling him Sky Fire – as their own.  Abruptly the babe has grown into college student John Strong (Lester Cuneo).  He is on the verge of proposing to wealthy co-ed Martha Randolph (Francelia Billington), but in a nod to Conan Doyle, she is an orphan being raised by guardian Lafe McKee.  Lafe has mismanaged her money, is in hock up to his ears to villainous Lew Meehan (who also co-wrote the script), and will do whatever it takes to keep her from marrying, and gaining control of her fortune. 

John Strong is about to reveal to Martha that he is an Indian (he doesn’t know he was adopted) when Lafe announces it, and forbids the marriage.  Crushed, John drops out of college, goes home to his Indian family.  Distraught, Martha is sent away to the country to ‘get over’ John.  And wouldn’t you know it – they end up in the same place where, as luck would have it, Lew Meehan is known and reviled as a crooked exploiter of Indians.  Contrived as it may sound, the film is very entertaining. 




Although not in the Tom Mix league, Cuneo was a talented horseman, and in both films acquits himself well in the saddle.  Both films have plenty of plot-motivated riding and shooting and fighting, and effective villains.  Unusually, the SILVER SPURS villain, Juan Von Rolf, is described as a German and Mexican ‘half-breed,’ perhaps carrying some lingering hostility after the recent Great War.  Ethnicities, and the views of the period, are important in both stories.  In BLAZING ARROWS it is a given that Martha could not marry an Indian.  However, in a switch on the old Cavalry pictures, it is the Indians to the rescue when the good guys are hopelessly outnumbered.  In SILVER SPURS, Cuneo sees Rosario’s devoted Indian servant, Tehana carrying her mistresses’ laundry, and in a courtly manner carries the load for her – but he doesn’t let her ride!  She still walks while he stays on his horse!

Another interesting aspect of Westerns of the early 20th century is that they didn’t think of the ‘old west days’ as over, and happily mix debonair Manhattan parties with Indians in tepees and every westerner on horseback.    


Lester Cuneo


Tragically, three years later, the very talented and promising actor would be dead, and by his own hand.  He had fallen out of favor as a leading man, and had begun taking supporting roles in poor films.  He had begun to drink to excess.  Francelia filed for divorce; the decree came in November of 1925.  Reportedly, he told his children, “Daddy’s going away,” took a pistol from a closet, locked himself in the bedroom, and killed himself.  He was 37.  After his death, his widow, who had appeared in 140 films, would make only one more without Lester, before the coming of sound, and four years later would make her one ‘talkie’ movie, a supporting role in a Hoot Gibson western, before succumbing to tuberculosis, and dying at age 39.

But SILVER SPURS and BLAZING ARROWS preserve that moment when Fracelia were young, active, attractive, and full of hope.  Each film is available for $16.95 from Grapevine Video HERE  .  BLAZING ARROWS also includes UNCOVERED WAGONS (1923), a one-reel comedy starring Charlie Chase’s kid brother James Parrott.  It features pioneers in Calistoga Model-Ts, and Indians on bicycles, and is an irreverent hoot!

In researching this piece, I came upon an article from the November 1920 issue of Screenland magazine, with Lester Cuneo telling about an adventure in the Mexican desert.  The text is below.











COMING EVENTS!

There are so many interesting events on the near horizon that it’s time to start marking up your datebook, and making reservations!  I’ll have more details on some of these as the dates get closer.

THE PAPERBACK COLLECTOR SHOW – SUNDAY, MARCH 22ND

For decades fans of soft-back books have met annually to buy and sell, and for the second year in a row this event is being held at the Glendale Civic Auditorium, with a paltry admission price of five bucks.  More than 80 dealers will be showing their wares.  This is a not-to-be-missed event in my book – sorry – and I’ve always had great success filling in missing gaps in my Tarzan, Fu Manchu, Luke Short, and other series here.  You can buy very high end, or be a cheapie like me, and buy what are sneeringly called “reader copies”.  In addition to regular paperbacks, there are many pulp magazines of all genres. 


Earl Hamner signing books last year


Best of all, over 45 artists and authors will be attending and signing their books for free!  Sadly, there are rarely Western authors there, but among writers of particular interest are TWILIGHT ZONE writer George Clayton Jackson, TZ writer and THE WALTONS creator Earl Hamner Jr., sci-fi writers Ib Melchio, William F. Nolan, and Bob and Ray biographer David Pollack.  You can learn more HERE.


THE TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL – MARCH 27th  THROUGH MARCH 29th



History According to Hollywood is this year’s theme.  Turner Classics pulls out all the stops for this annual Hollywood event, which will feature way-more-screenings-than-you-can-see at Grauman’s Chinese with their new IMAX screen, the Chinese Multiplex, Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre, The Ricardo Montalban Theatre, and poolside at The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.  The Red Carpet opening will feature a restored SOUND OF MUSIC with Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer and other stars in attendance.  The current schedule, still in flux, lists 27 movies.  Of particular interest to Round-up readers are the musical CALAMITY JANE (1953), starring Doris Day as Jane, and Howard Keel as Wild Bill Hickok; and the world premiere of the restoration of THE PROUD REBEL (1958), directed by Michael Curtiz, and starring Alan Ladd, Olivia De Havilland, and David Ladd – and David Ladd will attend! 

Among other guests attending will be Ann-Margaret, Dustin Hoffman, Alec Baldwin, William Daniels, Sophia Loren, Spike Lee, Norman Lloyd, astronaut James Lovell, and stunt-man Terry Leonard.  You can learn more, and buy passes, HERE.


MONSTERPALOOZA MARCH 27th – MARCH 29th


Julie Adams


The Burbank Marriott Hotel and Convention Center will play host to as creepy a bunch of people and near-people as you have ever seen, at this annual event that attracts horror-movie fans from around the world for screenings, panel discussions, and a tremendous dealers’ room.  Guests of particular interest to western fans will be Michael Biehn and Julie Adams.  Also attending will be NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD director George Romero, Sonny Chiba, Linda Blair, Yaphet Kotto, Teri Garr, Cloris Leachman, Margot Kidder, Valerie Perrine, Sybil Danning, Richard Anderson and Gary Conway.  You can learn more HERE.


MYSTERY AUTHORS’ LUNCHEON – MARCH 29TH



At the Sheraton Park Hotel in Anaheim, Behind The Badge is the name of the event which will feature a talk by LONGMIRE author Craig Johnson, as well as writers Allison Brennan and Robin Burcell.  You can learn more HERE


THE SANTA CLARITA COWBOY FESTIVAL – APRIL 18TH – APRIL 19TH



For the 22nd year, fans of cowboy poetry, cowboy music, cowboy literature, cowboy movies, and art, and clothes, and food, and cowboy everything imaginable will converge on Santa Clarita, an early home to western moviemaking.  For several years now the joyous gathering has been at Gene Autry’s old Melody Ranch, but that venerable movie studio, now run by the Veluzat family, has become so busy with the upswing of western movie and TV production that the celebration will take place in the heart of Santa Clarita proper. 

The action and entertainment will be at several easy-to-walk venues clustered around Main Street, including The Vu Theatre, The Repertory East Playhouse, The Canyon Theatre Guild, The OutWest Boutique and Bookstore, and there will be three stages and many other exciting escapades featured at William S. Hart Park, once home to one of the greatest of cowboy stars. 



In addition to covering the event for the Round-up, I will be for the second year be taking part in events at OutWest, moderating panel discussions and doing one-on-one interviews with writers.  There’s no schedule yet, but among the poets, authors, artists and songwriters taking part will be John Bergstrom, Almeda Bradshaw Al P. Bringas, Margaret Brownley, Karla Buhlman, Jim Christina, Peter Conway, Mikki Daniel, Eric H. Heisner, Dale Jackson, Jim Jones, C. Courtney Joyner, Andria Kidd, Stephen Lodge, Petrine Day Mitchum. Audrey Pavia, Karen Rosa, Katie Ryan, J.R.Sanders , Tony Sanders, Peter Sherayko, Janet Squires, Miles Swarthout, and  Cowgirl Hall of Fame, stuntwoman Shirley Lucas Jauregui

Next week I’ll have a run-down of the musical performers.  To learn more, and to buy tickets, go .HERE 


THAT’S A WRAP!



If you haven’t yet read Andy Erish’s book, COL. SELIG – THE MAN WHO INVENTED HOLLYWOOD, there is likely to be a gaping hole in your movie-history education: there certainly was in mine.  The other great movie moguls who outlived him rewrote Hollywood history, and the poor Colonel got largely deleted, but his contribution to cinema is remarkable, and should be known to all who care about our art-form.  You can learn more, and buy it,.HERE


Happy Trails,

Henry

All Original Contents Copyright February 2015 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved   




Monday, February 16, 2015

L.A.\ITALIA FEST OPENS!



Fabio Testi and wife Antonella Liguori


The Tenth Annual Los Angeles, Italia Film, Fashion and Art Fest opened on Sunday at the Hollywood & Highland complex, at the Chinese Theatre multiplex.  The second movie shown, at three p.m. that afternoon, was the only actual Western of the week-long event, and a rarely seen one: TWO BROTHERS IN TRINITY, shown to honor its star and co-director (with Renzo Genta), Richard Harrison.  Richard Harrison is a unique honoree at the Fest, for he is neither Italian by birth nor parentage.  But he was a very popular American star of Italian movies. 



Handsome and muscular, he played small supporting roles in U.S. films, usually characters in uniform, until moving to Italy in the early 1960s, where he became a star in sword & sandal films, ala Steve Reeves.   He also starred in spy thrillers, crime films and Spaghetti Westerns, and later on a slew of Ninja films.  TWO BROTHERS IN TRINITY is a likable Western comedy in the ‘Trinity’ oeuvre, although not an official part of the ‘Trinity’ series that starred Terrence Hill and Bud Spencer.  In TWO BROTHERS, two half-brothers from the same mother, Richard Harrison and French-born Donald O’Brien, each inherit half of their mother’s gold-rich property, near the town of Trinity.  Very different in outlook, cad Harrison wants to build a brothel, while his Mormon Minister brother wants to build a church, and they have to fight prospectors, outlaws and each other to get their hands on the gold.  It’s fast, physical and fun, with a good balance of Western and comedy elements. 

Before TWO BROTHERS IN TRINITY screened, an official from the fest apologized for the quality of the copy, explaining that it was the only one available, and was in fact Mr. Harrison’s personal copy.  The color was so washed out as to be in black and white, and the image was grainy and not sharply focused, although happily, as you got involved in the story, you forgot the film’s technical flaws.  But it served to reinforce the importance of film preservation.  When a film like this has been seen around the world and released on video, it’s easy to assume it is ‘safe’ by the sheer number of copies out there; but those copies degrade, too.

At 6 o’clock the Fest red carpet began, and to my delight, the very first man to walk its length was Fabio Testi, star of the astonishing Western FOUR OF THE APOCALYPSE, and several others, THE GARDEN OF THE FINZI-CONTINIS, and who recently co-starred with Franco Nero in LETTERS FROM JULIETTE.  I asked him, “When are you going to do FIVE OF THE APOCALYPSE?”

FABIO TESTI: (laughs) You mean FOUR.

HENRY: You’ve done FOUR so far; when are you doing FIVE? 

FABIO TESTI:  (laughs) I don’t know.  We did four (westerns), and I hope (to do more), but I think the Western movie, more or less, is finished now.    Or maybe we can make the new one.

HENRY:  We need you to bring it back.

FABIO TESTI:  I’m ready.  We need money and a director – that’s all!

HENRY:  I’ll bring ‘em!

FABIO TESTI:  Thank you, thank you! 

Moments later, along came Hayley Westenra, a singer from New Zealand, who told me about collaborating on an album with the legendary composer Ennio Morricone. 


Hayley Westenra


HAYLEY WESTENRA: An incredible experience as you can imagine, very surreal.  I made an album with him, in Rome, a few years back.  So we spent the summer there, working with his orchestra, his team of people.  And I wrote some lyrics for this album as well, for some of his pieces.

HENRY: In English?

HAYLEY WESTENRA: In English. Gabriel’s Oboe, and some lyrics from a piece from MALENA, one of his films, and La Calipha.  It was an incredible experience. 

Below is a short video on the making of that album, Paradiso, and a cut from it, I don’t own anything, from ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. 





Then along came John Landis. 


John Landis


HENRY:  When are you going to do a Western follow-up to THE THREE AMIGOS?

JOHN LANDIS:  You know what?  Walter Hill once said to me, and it’s true, “If they knew how much fun it was to make a Western, they wouldn’t let us.”  It’s the most fun.  I worked in a lot of Spaghetti Westerns.  But making THREE AMIGOS was such fun – I mean it was a comedy, but it was a Western.  Riding around on horses, it’s the most fun.  I love the genre.  It’s hard to get a Western made these days. 

HENRY:  But they are happening, the last few years.

JOHN LANDIS:  I hope so, I would love to – I love Westerns.

Next I talked to Graham Moore, who has an excellent chance of winning the Oscar for Best Screenplay Adaptation for THE IMITATION GAME. 

HENRY:  How difficult is it to take a story where so much of the action is so cerebral, and try to make it understandable and exciting to watch?


Graham Moore


GRAHAM MOORE:  That was one of the great challenges of making this film, was trying to recreate Alan Turing’s subjective experience of the war, and of breaking Enigma, on screen.  My approach, and all of our approach on the film, was to tell Alan’s story, and to, in each moment, imagine what did this feel like for Alan.  So we wanted the code-breaking section, for example, to feel like a thriller, because Alan Turing experienced it as a thriller.  You imagine he’s this 27-year-old mathematician, he’s never been outside of a university in his life, and now he’s working alongside the head of MI-6 on extremely high-level espionage work.  He’s literally living inside of a James Bond novel.  And we wanted to create that feeling on-screen because that was his experience of it. 

HENRY:  Is this a period, historically, that you were interested in before this project came along?

GRAHAM MOORE:  You know, I had been interested in Alan Turing for a long time.  I was lucky enough to have been exposed to Alan Turning’s story as a teenager.  Growing up I went to Space Camp, and computer programming camp; I was a hugely techy kid, and among awkward techy kids like myself, without a lot of friends, Alan Turing was a source of tremendous inspiration, a great hero.  And it always amazed me after I did not become a computer programmer, but became a writer, that no one had a made a film about him.  I felt like if anyone’s life story deserved to be told on screen, it was Alan Turing’s.   

HENRY:  Is this a story that you wrote and brought to people?

GRAHAM MOORE:  That’s right: I wrote it on spec.  I met our producers, Nora Grossman and Ido Ostorowsky, and they had never produced a film before, and I had never written a movie that had been produced before.  So we all jumped together, and spent a year just working on the script on our own, without any money, any corporate anything behind us, because we thought it was such an important story, such a beautiful story that we wanted to be involved in telling.

HENRY:  What’s your next project?

GRAHAM MOORE:  I’m finishing my second novel.  It’s nice to go back to some quiet time in bookland. 

HENRY:  Do you plan to alternate screenplays and novels?

GRAHAM MOORE:  Yuh, my first novel came out four years ago.  I had this grand plan that I was going to take six months off, write this Alan Turing script, and then go right back into the second book.  (laughs) That was five years ago; for lots of happy reasons it’s taken longer then I might have imagined, but so now I’m very happy to go back to the book, and I might go do a movie after that. 

Next up was Rory Kennedy, a documentary filmmaker who is, indeed, one of those Kennedys.  Her documentary, ETHEL, was nominated for an EMMY, and her new film, LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM, is nominated for an Oscar.  I asked her why she chose to make a film about the mass evacuation from Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War.


l to r, Pascal Vicedomini, Antonio Verde,
Rory Kennedy & Fabio Testi


RORY KENNEDY: This is a documentary that I feel very passionate about.  It’s a story that many people in this country think they know; it’s an important chapter in our nation’s history, but few of us actually know what really happened during those last 24 hours.  I think it’s important.  I think it’s relevant today because we’re struggling to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and I think that this film raises important questions about what happens to the people left behind, and our responsibilities to them.  We didn’t do it very well in Vietnam, so I’m hoping we’ll learn a few lessons and do it better as we’re struggling with the same issues today.   

When the red carpet was done, we moved into the theatre, for some entertainment, and presentation of awards.  The Fest coincides with the 100th anniversary of the birth of Frank Sinatra, and in recognition of that event, opera singer Vittorio Grigolo sang two Sinatra songs beautifully.   Robert Davi, a character actor who made a name for himself as cops and crooks in films like GOONIES and DIE HARD, is also a talented singer who specializes in Sinatra music.  Working with his sextet, which includes members of Frank Sinatra’s orchestra, Davi performed a terrific set with the classic arrangements. 


Robert Davi


One of the high points of the evening was Franco Nero, who was presenting an award to Jimmy Kimmel, telling the story of his meeting Frank Sinatra when he’d flown into the country to make CAMELOT. 


Jimmy Kimmel flanked by Franco Nero and Kimmel's mother


The Fest continues through Saturday.  On Tuesday night at 8:30, MAN, PRIDE AND VENGEANCE, starring Franco Nero, will be shown.  Presented in the guise of a Spaghetti Western, it’s actually based on Carmen, the novel that is the basis of Bizet’s opera.  (Courtney Joyner and I just did audio commentary for BLUE UNDERGROUND, which will be released shortly.)  At 10:15 pm, TIS PITY SHE’S A WHORE will play, starring Fabio Testi, who will attend.  Wednesday at 3:45 pm, BLOOD BROTHERS screens, and Fabio Testi will attend.  At 6 pm, MASTER STROKE, a spy thriller, will play, honoring Richard Harrison, but I don’t know if he will attend.  There will be many other interesting Italian movies playing throughout the week, all of them free, on a first come, first serve basis.  Here is the link for the full schedule: http://www.losangelesitalia.com/



Remember that the Oscars will be held next Sunday, at the same venue, and streets are already being blocked off, so give yourself extra time for finding your way in to parking – you can get parking validation at the Chinese box office.  I would say ‘take the train,’ but check first if you do, as I’ve heard a rumor that the Hollywood and Highland station may be closed.


Franco Nero and Fabio Testi


THAT’S A WRAP!

Have a great week, folks!  Happy Presidents Day

Happy Trails,

Henry

All Original Content Copyright February 2015 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved