Monday, May 27, 2013

TCM FEST PART 2, AND PAT BUTTRAM BIO!


TCM FILM FESTIVAL – ‘THE RIVER OF NO RETURN’

 
The 4th Annual TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL was held in Hollywood, from Thursday, April 25th through Sunday, April 28th, at a variety of venues, including Grauman’s Chinese, the Chinese multiplex, Grauman’s Egyptian, and the Cinerama Dome, now the Arclight Hollywood.  With as many as six screenings happening simultaneously, it was truly an embarrassment of riches, and selecting what movie to see was often a difficult decision. 

On Thursday night, after covering the red carpet for the premiere of the remastered FUNNY GIRL at the Chinese (you can read it HERE ), I hurried to the multiplex and caught Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour in THE ROAD TO UTOPIA.  Every movie had a live introduction, and UTOPIA’S was provided by Greg Proops, a busy on-camera and voice actor best known for the improvisational comedy series WHOSE LINE IS IT ANYWAY?  

I was up bright and early on Friday morning for an eleven A.M. screening of THE RIVER OF NO RETURN (1954) directed by Otto Preminger, and starring Marilyn Monroe, Robert Mitchum, Rory Calhoun, and Tommy Rettig.  Sadly, Preminger, screenwriter Frank Fenton, all the adult leads, and even LASSIE child star Tommy Rettig are all gone.  But remarkably, producer Stanley Rubin is alive and well at 95, and he and his wife, actress Kathleen Hughes (THE NARROW MARGIN, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE) were there for a chat with Leonard Maltin before the movie’s screening.  Maltin began by welcoming Rubin as a fellow college graduate, and asked him to explain the remark to the audience.
 
Maltin, Rubin, Hughes


STANLEY RUBIN:  I had an odd history.  I entered UCLA in 1933.  I got my degree in 2005.  I had other business to accomplish in between.  But I was very happy to go back and get my degree, because I have very dear memories of UCLA, where I was editor of The Daily Bruin.   

LEONARD MALTIN: Kathleen, what was your first date?

KATHLEEN HUGHES: Well, we were both under contract to Universal, and he kept asking me out.  But I kept turning him down.  And I turned him down for months and months and months.  But then one day he invited me to have dinner with him and to go to 20th Century Fox to see an answer-print of RIVER OF NO RETURN.  It sounded like a picture I would enjoy, because it was with Marilyn Monroe.  So we went to dinner, and we went to see the screening, and I enjoyed it very much, and to our pleasure, we were married.
 

STANLEY:  And that relationship still exists.

LEONARD: So you can date your relationship to that movie.  So Stanley, you had already produced a couple of pictures. 

STANLEY: I’d produced THE NARROW MARGIN, but this (RIVER OF NO RETURN) was a much bigger picture. 

LEONARD:  And you had challenges.  You were off on location in Canada, with a large crew, and a rather imperious director, Otto Preminger.  And a strong-willed leading man, Robert Mitchum.  And a sometimes difficult leading lady, Marilyn Monroe.  Not intentionally difficult, but not rock-solid.  What were the biggest challenges, working with this group? 


STANLEY: Well, it turned out very well.  Otto and Marilyn didn’t hit it off right away.  So Marilyn kind of took that as an open door to establish a relationship with me.  So that helped me, and we became very good friends.  That’s Marilyn and I -- not Otto and I.

LEONARD:  So did you lock horns with Otto?

STANLEY: No, not really.  Otto was a diplomat from the word ‘go.’  He really knew how to help keep things warm and friendly.

LEONARD:  What was the most difficult sequence to film?

STANLEY:  The toughest thing was getting Marilyn safely onto the raft; because they first day we tried, she slipped on a rock and fell into the river.  Despite all of the help we had there, we had safety boats, we had safety swimmers.  But Marilyn slipped right off of the rock, into the fast-flowing river. 
Tommy Rettig and Marilyn
 
LEONARD:  Did you manage to proceed on-time, overall?

STANLEY:  I don’t want to make it rosier than it was.  We worked very hard, and at times we slipped behind schedule, but at the end we’d made it up, and we were on schedule. 

LEONARD:  When you were away from home, and had a boss like Daryl F. Zanuck, and Fox, how close an eye could they keep on you?  If you fell behind by a half a day or a day, would you hear from them right away?

Rory Calhoun and Marilyn

STANLEY: No.  There was a grace period, and we took advantage of it.  Zanuck was surprisingly friendly and good-natured, and accommodating to us. 

LEONARD:  After all these years, people are still fascinated by Marilyn Monroe.  Not just as an actress, but as an icon.  How would you describe her?

STANLEY: We became good friends.  And the reason for that was, she and Otto did not like each other, so she turned to me.  And the relationship became very warm and very friendly.  However, I should tell you – this is coming back to me now.  I had met her before; she had come in on an audition a year or two before this.  And I had turned her down on the role she had come in for.  And I remember wondering how friendly she would be, and whether she would even bring up the fact that I had turned her down.  She never did.  She was a good lady.  And from the first meeting, our new relationship went very well.


KATHLEEN:  You know, you turned her down for the part that she had auditioned for, because you thought she didn’t have enough experience to handle it. 

STANLEY:  That’s correct.

KATHLEEN:  So it was just a couple of years later that you were begging Zanuck (to use her).

LEONARD:  One last question.  Robert Mitchum liked to give the impression that he really didn’t care that much, that acting was just a job.  But that seems not to have been the case.  He seemed very dedicated, professional.
 
Mitchum and Monroe
 
STANLEY: I would go along with what you just said fully.  Because he cared a great deal; and then he hid that, because that wouldn’t keep him cool.  And I found out later that he had raised some questions about how good our operation was, how good our questions might be, how appropriate they might be.  He was totally dedicated on everything he did.  He concealed the fact that he wanted it to go well. 

LEONARD: And he and Marilyn hit it off okay? 

STANLEY: Yes.  They became very good friends.   But that was it.  It was a friendly, professional, cool relationship. 


LEONARD:  And now we get to see the results.  Are you going to stay to see the movie?

STANLEY: Oh yes, I haven’t seen it in years, and I’m very interested to see it again.

LEONARD:  Thank you both for being here today. 


I was surprised and delighted at how good a movie RIVER OF NO RETURN was. (I’d seen it as a kid in junior high, ironically just before my family spent our summer vacation going down the Colorado River on a rubber raft.  My school friends in Brooklyn were convinced that they’d never see me again; if the rapids didn’t kill me, the Indians would.)  The depth of characterization, the consistency of the characters, the intelligence of the screenplay, the assuredness of the direction were remarkable, as was the photography.  During the course of the rest of the day I would see BONNIE AND CLYDE, THE GREAT ESCAPE and HONDO in 3D, directed by John Farrow. 
 

Leonard Maltin introduced HONDO as well, saying that many consider it one of Wayne’s very best films – some people call it a perfect film.  One of the strengths of HONDO is that it is so spare; at 83 minutes, there’s not an ounce of fat on the film.  Maltin explained that in part we can thank the 3D process for keeping the story so tight.  The original 1953 3D projection process required two reels of film to be shown simultaneously, and theatres in those days had two projectors.  After a maximum of forty minutes, an intermission was necessary, to re-thread both projectors.  That kept the movies from running much over 80 minutes. 
John Wayne and Geraldine Page

It struck me that between Tommy Rettig as Mitchum’s son in RIVER OF NO RETURN, Lee Aaker as Geraldine Page’s son in HONDO, and Brandon de Wilde’s performance in the also-screened SHANE, the TCM Fest had screened what were probably the three best performances by children in Westerns, all in one day.  There would be nothing comparable until 1972, and the terrific ensemble cast of boys opposite John Wayne in THE COWBOYS, directed by Mark Rydell.

Soon I’ll have my last article on the TCM Festival, and the tremendous panel they assembled for a modern-day Western, DELIVERANCE: Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight, Ned Beatty, and director John Boorman.

BOOK REVIEW - PAT BUTTRAM: ROCKING-CHAIR HUMORIST

 




President Ronald Reagan: “A recession is when your neighbor loses his job.  A depression is when you lose yours.”

Wait a second; let me make sure I’ve got this right.  President Reagan, ‘The Great Communicator,’ was helped in his communicating by Gene Autry’s scruffy sidekick?  By Mr. Haney, the rube con-man who swindled Eddie Albert every week on GREEN ACRES? 
 

That’s correct.  Pat Buttram, born in Alabama in 1915 to an impoverished itinerant Methodist minister and his wife, would become a star of radio, first on National Barn Dance; then a star in movies, replacing Smiley Burnette as the wing-man to Gene Autry; and later a star of television, as crafty ol’ Mr. Haney.  And while always maintaining his rural image, he became famous to show-biz insiders for his startling wit and sophisticated humor, making him the most in-demand emcee and toastmaster in Hollywood, and joke-writer to the president. 

Author Sandra Grabman, whose previous books include SPOTLIGHTS AND SHADOWS: THE ALBERT SALMI STORY and PLAIN BEAUTIFUL: THE PEGGY ANN GARNER STORY, writes in engaging, flowing prose, and her affection for Buttram is clear throughout.  Although she didn’t get to interview the man himself, who died in 1994, she’s spoken to a long list of family members and business associates, including people from the Gene Autry organization, and friends like music legend Johnny Western. PAT BUTTRAM: ROCKING-CHAIR HUMORIST, tells Pat’s story in a way that focuses as much on his family life as his career, which is perfectly sensible, since family was at least as important to Pat as his work.  And liberally sprinkled throughout the book are his delightful wise-cracks and observations.  “Here’s Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, the Lunt and Fontanne of the fertilizer set.”
 

Buttram, whose distinctive nasal twang made him a natural for voicing animation – he did five features for Disney, plus WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (as the voice of a bullet!), and a slew of TV cartoons –  continued to work on-camera as well in film and TV.  His final on-screen role, in BACK TO THE FUTURE III, found him endlessly playing poker with Dub Taylor and Harry Carey Jr. 

Gene Autry was more than just an employer to Pat; their friendship was legendary in this town, a friendship which may have saved Pat’s life on one occasion.  Pat co-starred with Gene in THE GENE AUTRY show on television, and when a ‘prop’ cannon misfired when filming ‘way out of L.A. at Pioneertown, Pat was almost left for dead, and it took a tremendous effort by Gene to keep his sidekick alive.  For decades after, whenever people asked Pat what he learned from the movie business, he would take out a yellowed news story about his near-death experience, headlined, ‘Gene Autry Almost Hurt In Explosion!’  “Humility,” he would say softly.  “Humility.”

Let's hope Mr. Douglas isn't as mad at Mr. Haney as he looks!

Comedians often don’t get their due as actors, so audiences and critics were as surprised as they were impressed when Pat turned villain in TWILIGHT OF HONOR, holding his own with a cast of dramatic actors including Richard Chamberlin, Nick Adams, and the legendary Claude Rains.  He followed up with guest appearances on THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR, and many consider one of his episodes, THE JAR to be the finest of the series.    

BACK TO THE FUTURE 3 - Taylor, Carey & Buttram

Pat had a wonderful career, and a wonderful marriage, and not to a homely character actress, but to beautiful leading lady Sheila Ryan.  Once the wife of cowboy star Alan ‘Rocky’ Lane, she graced the screen in many Westerns, films noir, and even a pair of Laurel and Hardy comedies. 

If one finishes the book with a slight sense of wistful disappointment, it is that a man of his wit and insight didn’t receive recognition as arguably the Will Rogers of his generation.  But he had a much longer life and career than poor Will, and a very satisfying one, and I’m sure that Pat wouldn’t have traded it.   I met Pat Buttram briefly, when he was breakfasting at one of his regular haunts, the Sportmen’s Lodge Coffee Shop.  He was very friendly, and wrote, “Thanks for remembering.  Pat Buttram.”  Sandra Grabman’s book helped me to remember, and told me a hundred things I didn’t know about this very funny man who, like Jack Benny, has rarely if ever had a bad word said about him.
Iron Eyes Cody, Pat, Harey Carey Jr., Yakima Canutt
 

PAT BUTTRAM – ROCKING-CHAIR HUMORIST by Sandra Grabman, is published by Bear Manor Media for $19.95.  Go HERE to order it.

Incidentally many, maybe all, episodes of GREEN ACRES are available free online through IMDB.  Just look up Pat Buttram, and you’ll find 103 video links.

‘CALL OF JUAREZ – GUNSLINGER’
I’m not knowledgeable about video games, so it’s no shock to me that ‘CALL OF JUAREZ’ has been around since 2006, and now has its fourth edition, ‘CALL OF JUAREZ – GUNSLINGER,’  just released.  It’s written by Haris Orkin, who co-wrote the previous versions, and he’s also directed the voice talent.  When I know more, I’ll share it with you.  But for the moment, check out the trailer.





‘THE NEVADAN’ COMIC STRIP!


Remember a 1950 Columbia film, THE NEVADAN, starring Randolph Scott, Dorothy Malone and Forrest Tucker?  My daughter gave me an old western movie magazine, and in it was a comic-strip version of the movie.  I thought my Rounders might find it amusing, so I’ve decided to run it here, and on the Round-up Facebook page.  I’ll do a panel or two a day, and on Sundays I’ll run the whole week’s worth, just like they used to do with the Dick Tracy strip.  Hope it amuses!
 


 
 
 
 
 
TCM FANATIC - WESTERN NOW ONLINE!

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








THE AUTRY NATIONAL CENTER

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.



HOLLYWOOD HERITAGE MUSEUM

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.



WELLSFARGO HISTORY MUSEUM

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.


WESTERNS ALL OVER THE DIAL


INSP’s SADDLE-UP SATURDAY features a block of rarely-seen classics THE VIRGINIAN and HIGH CHAPARRAL, along with BONANZA and THE BIG VALLEY. On weekdays they’re showing LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, BIG VALLEY, HIGH CHAPARRAL and DR. QUINN, MEDICINE WOMAN.


ME-TV’s Saturday line-up includes THE REBEL and WAGON TRAIN. On weekdays it’s DANIEL BOONE, GUNSMOKE, BONANZA, BIG VALLEY, WILD WILD WEST, and THE RIFLEMAN.


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!

THE WRAP-UP

That's it for this week-end.  I hope you had a great Memorial Day weekend, and I hope you took time to remember those who gave their lives for our freedom. Our liberty is backed by an unbroken chain of heroism and self-sacrifice that began more than two centuries ago, and continues today.

Happy Trails,

Henry

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

Sunday, May 19, 2013

‘LONGMIRE’ RETURNS MEMORIAL DAY, PLUS ME & ‘MR. UGLY’


‘LONGMIRE’ RETURNS MEMORIAL DAY WITH KNOCK-OUT OPENER
Updated 5/20/2013 -- See Burt Lancaster item


Season two of ‘LONGMIRE’, A&E’s present-day Western lawman series based on the Craig Johnson novels, returns on Memorial Day with a terrific season opener.  I just saw the rough-cut last night, and high as the standards of this series have always been, Unquiet Mind is one of their very finest, and one of their most ‘western’, episodes. 

It’s the start of winter as a group of hard-core felons from various jurisdictions are being transferred to a maximum security facility.  When the transfer is fatally botched at the start of a blizzard, Longmire (Robert Taylor) must track them on foot, his personal quarry being a serial killer of Indians, who had just been in his custody.  It is very GUNSMOKE in all the best possible ways – and of course Marshall Dillon didn’t have to worry that meanwhile back at Dodge, Newly was trying to take his job, and sleeping with his daughter besides!

The solid ensemble cast is back, featuring Lou Diamond Phillips as Longmire confidante and saloon-owner Henry Standing Bear (Miss Kitty and Sam combined, minus the romance), Katee Sackhoff in the ‘Chester’ role of Deputy Vic Moretti, Bailey Chase as Branch ‘Newly’ Connally, and Adam Bartley as The Ferg, a heftier ‘Festus.’


LONGMIRE is set on the edge of ‘The Res,’ and the series treats the varied and distinct lifestyles of American Indians with an interest and knowledge that is unique on television.  Previous episodes have looked at tribal disenrollment and jurisdictional issues – often with Zahn McLarnon as hostile Indian Police Officer Mathias.  In this particular episode and many others, mystical and religious elements are brought in, handled with a style and grace that make them compelling, which in less-skilled hands would come off as sappy. 


There were a couple of story-beats that were a little unclear in what I saw last night, but that was a rough cut; I’m sure they’ll be ironed out before Memorial Day.  If you’ve been unaware of LONGMIRE, or simply missed an episode or two, you have a chance to catch up on Saturday, May 25th, when A&E will run the entire ten-episode season one to prep you for the season two premiere.  Don’t miss it!

A GREAT SATURDAY SPENT WITH ‘MR. UGLY’!

 

Yesterday, fellow Western writer C. Courtney Joyner and I spent the morning doing audio commentary for THE BIG GUNDOWN (1966).  This excellent and often overlooked Spaghetti Western, directed by Sergio Sollima and co-written by Sollima and Sergio Donati, and starring Lee Van Cleef and Tomas Milian, is being issued by GRINDHOUSE RELEASING in an extended English-language version, including three major sequences that were never theatrically shown in the U.S.     

Lee on the hunt for Tomas

Spaghetti Westerns tended to run long by American standards, usually around two hours, and would be shown in Europe with an intermission.  American distributors routinely ‘cut to the chase,’ often removing important character and plot scenes if they slowed up the action; they wanted them short enough to play in double features.

The Academy Award-winning editor (for HURT LOCKER) Bob Murawski, President of GRINDHOUSE, explained to me that some parts of the film were dubbed into English but cut out of the theatrical release.  They were kept aside for when the film would be released to television, and further cuts would be required because of the violence; then these sequences would be put back, to pad out the running time.  Now, for the first time in the U.S., those scenes -- two in a monastery, and one with Milian and his wife – will be seen.  Also included in the release is the complete Italian-language version of GUNDOWN, including even more scenes that have never been dubbed into English. 

C. Courtney Joyner, Bob Murawski, Henry Parke
Photo by Jim Kunz


GUNDOWN was an extremely important film in Lee Van Cleef’s career.  A busy character actor in American film and TV for many years, work was petering out in the mid 1960s – he’d just played a supporting role in an episode of MY MOTHER THE CAR!  Van Cleef recalled that he was 24 hours from having his phone disconnected for non-payment when the phone rang, and it was Sergio Leone, asking him to do FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE.  He went to Europe, made the film, and became an international star overnight.  His very next film was THE BIG GUNDOWN.  Interestingly, his costar, Tomas Milian, was in a very similar situation.  A Havana-born, New York-raised, Actor’s Studio-trained actor, he’d had parts in THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY and BOCCACIO ’70, but he hadn’t made an impression.  He was planning to give up acting when Sergio Sollima offered him THE BIG GUNDOWN, which made him a star.  Incidentally, although Lee Van Cleef died in 1989, Tomas Milian is still alive and well, and  will soon be seen playing John Leguazamo’s grandpa in FUGLY!

Tomas has a laugh at Lee's expense

The Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood westerns were a huge success in most of the world for several years before they came to the United States, and although BIG GUNDOWN was made before THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, it was released after, in the U.S.  The Columbia Pictures slogan for BIG GUNDOWN,‘Mr. Ugly Comes To Town!’ often triggers derisive comments from GBU fans because Eli Wallach’s character was ‘The Ugly,’ and Lee Van Cleef’s was ‘The Bad.’  (For any novices, Clint Eastwood was ‘The Good.’)  And while it’s true that some of the American publicity for GBU mixed up the names, I always figured Columbia called Van Cleef ‘Mr. Ugly’ in the poster because it brought up the association with the previous hit, and sounded cool in a way that ‘Mr. Bad’ would definitely not.  I’ll have more about THE BIG GUNDOWN when it gets nearer to release.   


ERNESTO GASTALDI FOLLOW-UP
 
 

I received a lot nice comments after last week’s interview with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi.  But as Tom Betts, who writes the excellent site Westerns... All'Italiana! reminded me, I should also have asked about MASSACRE AT FT. HOLMAN, starring James Coburn, Telly Savalas and Bud Spencer.  I’d been regretting not inquiring more about Terence Hill, so I decided to run both questions by Mr. Gastaldi:

 Ugly title for "UNA RAGIONE PER VIVERE, UNA PER MORIRE" (“A REASON TO LIVE, A REASON TO DIE.”). This is one of the best movies directed by Tonino Valerii; for many people the absolute best. The Telly Savalas death I think is one of the best scenes in all Italian western movies.

“Terence Hill ( Mario Girotti) was great in TrinitĂ  and in MY NAME IS NOBODY. I told him to try to become our Cary Grant, acting in comedies. He answered me he hasn't this kind of talent. He was right.”



‘SIERRA SUE’ AND ‘SADDLE PALS’ SATURDAY 5/25 AT THE AUTRY

Every 4th Saturday of the month the Autry presents a double-bill of Gene’s movies at noon.  This time it’s two Republics, pre-war SIERRA SUE (1941), and post-war SADDLE PALS (1947).  SUE features Champion, Smiley Burnette, Fay McKenzie, and westerners like Kermit Maynard, Rex Lease and Eddie Dean.  SADDLE PALS is on the wacky side, with eccentric millionaire Sterling Holloway swapping identities with Gene.  It’s directed by the very talented Lesley Selander, and edited by Harry Keller.  (Now I will digress.)  Keller quickly became a director at Republic, later moved to Universal, where he directed several memorable western films, including two with Audie Murphy.  He directed THE LORETTA YOUNG SHOW and several TEXAS JOHN SLAUGHTER episodes for Walt Disney.  He produced the wonderful noir MIRAGE, starring Gregory Peck.   He retired for a while, then went back to work as an editor when Sidney Poitier asked him to.  I had the pleasure of being his assistant editor on test scenes for THE CHALLENGE, a film written and directed by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright (for THE SUBJECT WAS ROSES), Frank D. Gilroy.  Sadly the film, which starred David Keith and Dee Wallace Stone, never got beyond the test-scene stage.


‘COURAGE, NEW HAMPSHIRE’ PREMIERES MEMORIAL DAY ON INSP

A new Revolutionary War era four-hour miniseries will premiere on INSP on Memorial Day.  Check out the preview below.




BURT LANCASTER – A CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION CONTINUES AT UCLA
This three month-long retrospective at UCLA’s Billy Wilder Theatre, under the auspices of their archive and the Hugh M. Hefner American Film Program, began in April and will continue through June, and includes some of his finest westerns. On Friday, June 7th, see GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL (1957) and I WALK ALONE (1948); on Saturday June 15thit’s THE SCALPHUNTERS (1968) and CASTLE KEEP (1969); on Sunday June 23rdit’s ULZANNA’S RAID (1972); on Friday June 28th it’s CATTLE ANNIE AND LITTLE BRITCHES (1981). To see the complete schedule, go HERE .


BURT LANCASTER CELEBRATION AT LINCOLN CENTER!
Just heard from Pittsburgh-based film editor Tom Dubensky (NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 1990), that New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center is also marking Burt’s century with screenings, several of them westerns, some this week!  Missed APACHE today, but on Tuesday it’s VERA CRUZ at 1pm, THE LEOPARD at 3pm (not a western, but Terence Hill is in it), and THE SWIMMER at 9pm.  On Wednesday it’s ULZANA’S RAID at 2pm, CRISS-CROSS at 4:15pm and THE KILLERS at 9pm.  Thursday it’s TWILIGHT’S LAST GLEAMING at 1:15pm, THE SWIMMER at 4:15pm, ELMER GANTRY at 6:15pm and ATLANTIC CITY (I love this movie) at 9pm.  Learn more here: http://www.filmlinc.com/press/entry/fslc-celebrates-burt-lancasters-100th-birthday-with-a-7-day-salute

THE WRAP-UP

I know, once again I don’t have the rest of my coverage of the TCM Classic Film Festival.  The opportunity to do the commentary on BIG GUNDOWN came up very suddenly, so other things had to be pushed back.  I’ll try hard for next week!

In the meantime, have a great week, and don’t forget to check out LONGMIRE and COURAGE, NEW HAMPSHIRE on Memorial Day!

 

Much obliged,

Henry

 

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

Sunday, May 12, 2013

INTERVIEW WITH ‘MY NAME IS NOBODY’ WRITER ERNESTO GASTALDI




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 fiancĂ© 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.

Title card from FULL HOUSE FOR THE DEVIL


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.
MY NAME IS NOBODY - Henry Fonda


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.
MY NAME IS NOBODY -Terence Hill


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 TO JANE’S RESCUE!

 

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.   

A STUDIO AND MORE CASTING FOR ‘A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST’

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.   

 

TCM FANATIC - WESTERN NOW ONLINE!

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








THE AUTRY NATIONAL CENTER

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.



HOLLYWOOD HERITAGE MUSEUM

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.



WELLSFARGO HISTORY MUSEUM

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.


WESTERNS ALL OVER THE DIAL


INSP’s SADDLE-UP SATURDAY features a block of rarely-seen classics THE VIRGINIAN and HIGH CHAPARRAL, along with BONANZA and THE BIG VALLEY. On weekdays they’re showing LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, BIG VALLEY, HIGH CHAPARRAL and DR. QUINN, MEDICINE WOMAN.


ME-TV’s Saturday line-up includes THE REBEL and WAGON TRAIN. On weekdays it’s DANIEL BOONE, GUNSMOKE, BONANZA, BIG VALLEY, WILD WILD WEST, and THE RIFLEMAN.


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!

THE WRAP-UP

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,

Henry

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