Sunday, May 12, 2013


I became aware of the work of the talented and prolific Italian screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi as I prepared to do audio commentary, with fellow western writer C. Courtney Joyner, for Blue Underground’s DVD release of Gastaldi’s THE GRAND DUEL, starring Lee Van Cleef (you can read my review HERE.)

The auteur theory of film, which deifies the director, often ignores the fact that the words have to come from someone, and Mr. Gastaldi’s words have illuminated many of the best European Westerns and Giallo (literally ‘thrilling’movies); he has more than 120 produced movies to his credit.  We exchanged a few emails after I did the commentary, and to my delight, he agreed to an email interview about his westerns for the Round-up. 

In preparing my questions, the hardest part of my research was identifying his films from the maze of alternate titles.  I was reminded that in February I had been talking to Spaghetti Western star Giuliano Gemma at the Los Angeles Italia Fest, about his favorites among his own westerns.  He was talking about MAN FROM NOWHERE and I was talking about Gastaldi’s ARIZONA COLT, and it took us a minute to realize we were talking about the same movie. 

I finally put every Euro-western DVD I had in the player to read the writing credits – and I was startled to realize how many of my favorites were written by Ernesto Gastaldi.  I emailed my questions to Ernesto late on Thursday night, and to my great surprise, on Friday afternoon, all of my answers were waiting for me.  Here, then, is my interview.

HENRY: What is the first movie you remember seeing?

ERNESTO: Maybe L’ASSEDIO DELL’ALCAZAR by Augusto Genina. I was 6. (Note: an Italian war film about the famous Siege of Alcazar during the Spanish Civil War; winner of the Mussolini Cup at the Venice Film Festival)

HENRY: When did you know that you wanted to make movies?

ERNESTO: After RASHOMON by Kurosawa.

HENRY: In 1957 you graduated from Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia of Roma with degrees in direction and screenwriting.  In the United States, ‘film school’ was practically unheard of until the early 1970s.  What were the most important things you learned in your film studies?

ERNESTO: CSC allowed me to stay in Rome and meet people. One good prof was the director Alessandro Blasetti. (Note: the founder of the school, he directed his first film in 1917, and he continued directing until 1981.)

The young writer and director.

HENRY: In 1960 you were writer and assistant director on THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA.  Was that your first movie?  How did you get the job? 

ERNESTO: In 1959, at Christmas, I was assistant director of Renato Polselli in that movie: we wrote the script together.  Renato was fiancé of a girl I met at CSC.

HENRY: How did it feel to hear actors saying your dialogue for the first time? 

ERNESTO: Having been on the set, not so much...

HENRY: In the first three years of your screenwriting career, 1960 through 1962, you worked on nineteen movies – horror movies, pirate movies, comedies, gladiator movies.  Were you under contract? 

ERNESTO: In Italy no writers were under contract. I wrote for many different producers.

HENRY: Where did the projects come from?  What genres did you prefer?

ERNESTO: I like all commercial genres.

HENRY: With THE HORRIBLE DR. HITCHCOCK you started using the pseudonym Julian Barry on certain films.  Why?

ERNESTO: Italian producers preferred to pretend your movies were American.

HENRY: In 1965 you did uncredited script work on BUFFALO BILL, starring Gordon Scott.  Was that your first western?

ERNESTO: The first Italian western was COWBOY'S STORY by (19 year old) Peppo Sacchi, in 1953. I was on the set as visitor. BUFFALO BILL wasn't a real Italian western.

HENRY: Were you a fan of westerns as a boy?

ERNESTO: No, but I liked them.

HENRY: Who were your favorite cowboy actors growing up? 

ERNESTO: Gary Cooper.

HENRY: What western writers or filmmakers influenced you?

ERNESTO: Nobody.

HENRY: It was another year and fourteen movies – a lot of spy thrillers among them – before you made another western, and it was the excellent ARIZONA COLT.  You established that perfect balance of western adventure and humor that would be seen in much of your western work.  Was ARIZONA COLT your idea, or was it brought to you?

ERNESTO: Duccio Tessari (A PISTOL FOR RINGO) invented the humorous western; Sergio Leone followed and I too.

HENRY: Giuliano Gemma had made the RINGO films and several other westerns by then.  Did you write ARIZONA COLT with him in mind, or was he cast after it was written?
Colt and his sidekick, Whiskey
Fernando Sancho as Gordo
ERNESTO: I knew, while I was writing the script, that Giuliano Gemma would be Arizona Colt.

HENRY: You have written five movies that Giuliano Gemma starred in.  Which was your favorite?

ERNESTO: I think I GIORNI DELL’IRA (DAY OF ANGER) by Tonino Valerii.

HENRY: Did you write any westerns, and then try to sell them, or did you write on assignment?

ERNESTO: I wrote almost always on assignment.

HENRY: In 1966 you co-wrote $1,000 ON THE BLACK, creating the hugely popular character of ‘Sartana’ for Gianni Garko.  You would write several more ‘Sartana’ movies for Garko.  Why do you think the character became so popular? 

ERNESTO: The name ‘Sartana’ had a big success; I don't know why. Many different actors acted ‘Sartana’!

HENRY: How did you like Garko?

ERNESTO: Garko has been a very good ‘Sartana’.

HENRY: You were writing movies that you knew would be translated into many languages.  Did that knowledge affect your approach to the writing?  Did you try to tell the stories more visually?

ERNESTO: When I write I think just to the story, no cares about actors or other conditions.

HENRY: There are often five or six writers credited on Italian films.  Why were there so many?

ERNESTO: I wrote my scripts alone, rarely with one friend. Many names you see in credits are fake, to justify coproductions.

HENRY: In 1967 you wrote a ‘Django’ film, $10,000 FOR A MASSACRE, and your first western for Lee Van Cleef, DAY OF ANGER.  Lee was now a big international star.  Did that change anything in your writing?  Did stars try to tell you how to write for them?

ERNESTO: No. As I (said before), when I write I think just to the story.

HENRY: In 1967 you earned a degree in economics.  Why did you decide to go back to school, and why did you choose economics?

ERNESTO: I started economics studies in Torino in 1953, well before I imagined writing movies. Then I interrupted them for years. In 1965 the Roman University, where I shifted (to) in 1955, asked me to finish or renounce forever. I finished, passing 20 tests in few months.

HENRY: Did you spend time on the sets of films you were writing?   

ERNESTO: I almost never went to sets. Too much to write in those periods!

HENRY: Were you asked to make script changes during production? 

ERNESTO: Yes, but really few times.

HENRY: I have spoken to several European Western stars who complained that many producers were dishonest.  Did you ever have trouble getting paid for your work?

ERNESTO: Once.  Screenwriters were the first people to be paid.

HENRY: In 1968 you made the first of your seven films with George Hilton, with ONE MORE TO HELL, also known as FULL HOUSE FOR THE DEVIL.  You must have had a good relationship.


ERNESTO: George Hilton is one of my good friends.

HENRY: In 1970 you made ARIZONA COLT RETURNS, with Anthony Steffen taking Gemma’s role.  How well do you think he did, and why did it take four years to do a COLT sequel?

ERNESTO: The second COLT wasn't a real sequel. The title had been decided by the producer, not by me.

HENRY: Did you have favorite directors and favorite actors? 

ERNESTO: Favorite directors: Tonino Valerii (MY NAME IS NOBODY; DAY OF ANGER; A REASON TO LIVE, A REASON TO DIE; THE PRICE OF POWER),  Sergio Martino (ARIZONA COLT RETURNS; $10,000 FOR A MASSACRE; VENGEANCE IS MINE), and Sergio Leone. Favorite actors: Tony Quinn (note: in 1988 Gastaldi wrote STRADIVARI, starring Anthony Quinn as the violin-maker), Henry Fonda, Lee Van Cleef, Alan Collins (note: his real name is Luciano Pigozzi.  Known as the ‘Italian Peter Lorre,’ he appeared in IT CAN BE DONE, AMIGO, and nearly a dozen gialli written by Gastaldi).

HENRY: How long did you usually take to write a western?  Would a giallo take more time or less time?

ERNESTO: Usually I wrote a script in one month: western or giallo are the same. Of course when I worked with Sergio Leone I spent 8 months to write MY NAME IS NOBODY.

HENRY: In 1972 you wrote the very enjoyable western comedy IT CAN BE DONE, AMIGO, starring Bud Spencer and Jack Palance, and from the ARIZONA COLT films, Roberto Camadiel. 
Bud Spencer and Jack Palance in IT CAN BE DONE, AMIGO

ERNESTO: I wrote SI PUO FARE, AMIGO because Bud Spencer had to be forgiven, and compensate the (production company) SancroSiap.  (He had) told one story of mine, paid for by SancroSiap, to director (Enzo) Barboni, from which he made the film THEY CALL ME TRINITY. To avoid a lawsuit, Bud worked for free.

HENRY: Also in 1972 you wrote REVENGE OF THE RESURRECTED, also called PREY OF VULTURES, for Peter Lee Lawrence, a western mystery.  Did you enjoy combining those two genres?

ERNESTO: I do not remember anything about that movie

HENRY: You next wrote A REASON TO LIVE, A REASON TO DIE, for James Coburn, Telly Savalas, and Bud Spencer, three big stars. Your fourth western of 1972 was THE GRAND DUEL, one of my favorites, as you know.  Again it is an elegant blend of western action and humor.  This was getting very late in the time of the European western.  Did you have any sense that they would soon disappear? 

ERNESTO: IL GRANDE DUELLO – I wrote this movie during my collaboration with Sergio Leone, which lasted 3 years. No, I hadn't any sense that western movies were at their end.
Dentice watches Van Cleef in GRAND DUEL

HENRY: Starring opposite Lee Van Cleef is Alberto Dentice, who is very good, and yet he never did another movie.  Were you making a reference to John Ford and John Wayne is the stagecoach sequence, which reminded me very much of STAGECOACH? 

ERNESTO: No. I just invented a new story.

HENRY: In 1973 you wrote one of your best-known films, MY NAME IS NOBODY, starring Terence Hill and the great Henry Fonda.  What was it like to work with Sergio Leone?    

ERNESTO: I met Sergio Leone when he had just the title MY NAME IS NOBODY. I worked for 8 months, going every day to Sergio’s home to read him the scenes I had written at night. To see Henry Fonda saying my dialogues has been a real emotion.

HENRY: How much of the movie did he actually direct? 

ERNESTO: Sergio Leone directed just two little scenes of MY NAME IS NOBODY.  The only director was my friend Tonino Valerii.

HENRY: LA PUPA DEL GANGSTER (1975) starred Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni.   It is a comedy, based on a story by the very ‘noir’ Cornell Woolrich.  Did the story start out as a comedy?

ERNESTO: LA PUPA DEL GANGSTER (was to star) Monica Vitti, but the script so pleased Sophia Loren, wife of film producer Carlo Ponti, (that she) wanted to act in it.

HENRY: In 1975 you wrote another comedy-western for Terence Hill, A GENIUS, TWO FRIENDS AND AN IDIOT.  It was directed by the usually very serious Damiano Damiani.  How was he to work with? 

ERNESTO: Damiano Damiani was not able to direct a movie (as) complex and ironic as it was in the script, and he ruined everything.

HENRY: Was this your last western? 

ERNESTO: I wrote, with my daughter, a new ‘almost’ western story, called TOWN & COUNTRY, located in the US; too expensive for our dead cinema industry.

HENRY: Eleven years after NOBODY, you did script work on ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA.  How was it to work with Sergio Leone again?

ERNESTO: I worked very well with Sergio, but in my treatment of ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, the young criminal does not become a senator!

HENRY: What do you think of recent westerns, like TRUE GRIT and DJANGO UNCHAINED? 

ERNESTO: I liked very much DJANGO UNCHAINED! I have found a lot of Sergio Leone style and some parfum of my western scenes.

Ernesto with wife, Mara Maryl, in Hawaii
HENRY: You have directed several films, many with your wife, actress and writer Mara Maryl.  Given the choice, do you prefer to write or direct?

ERNESTO: I prefer to write.
You can purchase many of Ernesto Gastaldi’s films.  GRAND DUEL is available from Blue Underground, as are many of his gialli, HERE, ARIZONA COLT, ARIZONA COLT – HIRED GUN, REVENGE OF THE RESURRECTED, IT CAN BE DONE -- AMIGO, and FULL HOUSE FOR THE DEVIL are available, some in double bills, from Wild East Productions HERE.  MY NAME IS NOBODY is available from lots of outfits – check out Amazon.



Ewan McGregor has gotten out of bed with Jude Law and in bed with Natalie Portman (okay, I doubt he was really in bed with Jude, but I had to use that picture!), rescuing JANE GOT A GUN from purgatory!  The most troubled western movie production since HEAVEN’S GATE, the movie starring and co-produced by Portman was shut down on the first day when director Lynne Ramsay abruptly quit.  When she quit, lead villain Jude Law – himself a replacement for Joel Edgerton (who is still ‘in’, but in a different role) – quit as well.  Ramsay was soon replaced by director Gavin O’Connor, and Jude Law was replaced by Bradley Cooper, and everything looked honky-dory.  Then Cooper had to exit due to a long-standing commitment to his SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK director David O. Russell, and JANE got shut down again.  But now Ewan McGregor has stepped into the breach!   

Curiously, with Ewan coming on-board, JANE GOT A GUN has become something of a STAR WARS reunion: Natalie Portman played Queen Amidala; Joel Edgerton, currently Tom Buchanan in THE GREAT GATSBY, played Owen Lars; and Ewan McGregor was Obi-Wan-Kenobi.   


Seth McFarlane’s western comedy, set for release on May 30th of 2014, will be c-produced by Universal, no great shock considering how well they fared with his TED.  Joining McFarlane and the previously announced Charlize Theron and Amanda Seyfried are Liam Neeson, Giovanni Ribisi and Sarah Silverman.  Writing with McFarlane are his TED collaborators Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild.   



And speaking of TCM (okay, nobody was), have I mentioned that the segment I was interviewed for is now viewable here?


Built by cowboy actor, singer, baseball and TV entrepreneur Gene Autry, and designed by the Disney Imagineering team, the Autry is a world-class museum housing a fascinating collection of items related to the fact, fiction, film, history and art of the American West. In addition to their permanent galleries (to which new items are frequently added), they have temporary shows. The Autry has many special programs every week -- sometimes several in a day. To check their daily calendar, CLICK HERE. And they always have gold panning for kids every weekend. For directions, hours, admission prices, and all other information, CLICK HERE.


Across the street from the Hollywood Bowl, this building, once the headquarters of Lasky-Famous Players (later Paramount Pictures) was the original DeMille Barn, where Cecil B. DeMille made the first Hollywoodwestern, The Squaw Man. They have a permanent display of movie props, documents and other items related to early, especially silent, film production. They also have occasional special programs. 2100 Highland Ave., L.A. CA 323-874-2276. Thursday – Sunday 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. $5 for adults, $3 for senior, $1 for children.


This small but entertaining museum gives a detailed history of Wells Fargo when the name suggested stage-coaches rather than ATMS. There’s a historically accurate reproduction of an agent’s office, an original Concord Coach, and other historical displays. Open Monday through Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. Admission is free. 213-253-7166. 333 S. Grand Street, L.A. CA.




RFD-TV, the channel whose president bought Trigger and Bullet at auction, have a special love for Roy Rogers. They show an episode of The Roy Rogers Show on Sunday mornings, a Roy Rogers movie on Tuesday mornings, and repeat them during the week.

WHT-TV has a weekday afternoon line-up that’s perfect for kids, featuring LASSIE, THE ROY ROGERS SHOW and THE LONE RANGER.

TV-LAND angered viewers by dropping GUNSMOKE, but now it’s back every weekday, along with BONANZA.

AMC usually devotes much of Saturday to westerns, often with multi-hour blocks of THE RIFLEMAN, and just this week began running RAWHIDE as well.  Coming soon, LONESOME DOVE and RETURN TO LONESOME DOVE miniseries!


Happy Mothers' Day!  Next week I'll finish my coverage of the TCM Classic Movie Festival, and I've got some other things cookin' as well.  Have a great week, and if you know something that would be of interest to the Round-up Rounders, please share it!

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright May 2013 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved


  1. Thanks for the posting the Gastaldi interview. I've interviewed some of the Italian and Spanish actors and crew members and they are usually amazed if we know much about them and their answers are usually very short and to the point. One you missed was Massacre at Ft. Holman with Telly Savalas, James Coburn and Bud Spencer.

    1. Hi Tom. Actually I did ask him about it, under one of its many alternate titles, but he didn't comment. Maybe I'll ask again.