Monday, February 20, 2012


Yesterday, the 6th annual LOS ANGELES ITALIA FESTIVAL began.  Held the week leading up to the Oscars, it’s seven days of movie screenings, classics and premieres, as well as other cultural events.  It takes place at the Chinese 6 Theatres, part of the same Hollywood and Highland complex as the home of the Academy Awards, the Kodak Theatre -- soon to be known as something other than the Kodak Theatre.  

Legendary filmmakers are honored, and this year two of the honorees are the late spaghetti western master, Sergio Corbucci, and horror and suspense stylist Dario Argento, who is attending.  The screenings began at 10 a.m. with a documentary about Ms. Loren, BECOMING SOPHIA.  At 12:30 was the first Corbucci screening, THE MERCENARY (1968), starring Franco Nero, Tony Musante and Jack Palance

John Landis on Swiss TV

The Festival began in earnest at 6:30 p.m., with the arrival of stars on the red carpet.  There I had the chance to ask John Landis when he was going to direct his next Western.  “Are you kidding?  I’d love to direct a western.  I’ve worked on about sixty, but I’ve only directed one, THE THREE AMIGOSWalter Hill once said if they knew how much fun it was to make a western, they wouldn’t let us.  It’s true; it’s the best, and it’s the American genre.  I would love to make a western – I’ve worked on so many of them, in Spain, Mexico, America.  Unfortunately you have to wait till another western somehow makes money before they’ll make some again.   But I love westerns.  Do you know when I first met Dario (Argento)?  I was a stunt guy on a movie called ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, for Sergio Leone.  And do you know who wrote ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST?  Dario Argento and Bernardo Bertolucci.  They were both film critics.  That’s when I met them – they were both on the set going, ‘We met Henry Fonda!’  You know Franco (Nero) killed me once, in a western.”

JUSTIFIED star Joelle Carter

Next I asked Joelle Carter, who portrays Ava Crowder on JUSTIFIED, if she considers her series to be more of a Western or a cop show.   “I’d say a modern-day western.  There’s the cop aspect to it, I guess.”  I asked if she’d like to do a period Western.  “That would be great.  There’s a TV show coming on that’s based on the evolution of a group of pioneers moving west, called FRONTIER.”

When Mark Canton, the producer behind such monster franchises as THE 300 and PIRANAH films, came by, I asked him when he was going to do a Western (I know I’m starting to sound obsessive/compulsive, but it’s my job).  He laughed, “I don’t know.  I start April 16th on THE TOMB, with Sylvester and Arnold, so first things first; a really great big prison movie, and then I do the next 300.  So it’s western enough for me.”

Franco Nero and Joan Collins

Finally, the great Franco Nero arrived, startlingly handsome, his eyes that familiar blue, looking not too many years older than when he was starring in Spaghetti Westerns.  Sergio Corbucci famously said, “John Ford had John Wayne, Sergio Leone had Clint Eastwood, and I have Franco Nero.”  I asked Franco which was his favorite among his Corbucci westerns.   “Well, actually, I loved the three of them.  I love DJANGO, I love COMPANEROS and THE MERCENARY.  And I did a western – there going to show it here Wednesday – JONATHAN OF THE BEARS – that I dedicated to him, dedicated to Sergio Corbucci.”  I asked what set Corbucci apart from other western directors.  “Well, he was very original.  He did westerns with humor.  I would say like a black comedy.  They were very tough.  But also, they were very political.”

Next was horror maestro Dario Argento, whose SUSPIRIA had been screened just before the red carpet began.  His next film is DRACULA 3D, and immediately after the red carpet, he treated us to 25 minutes of scenes from the film.  I’m not a huge 3D fan, but I loved it, and I can’t wait to see the whole movie – it contains all the best elements of his own work, but those of Hammer horror as well.  Until John Landis reminded me of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, I’d forgotten that Argento started out writing thrillers and westerns for other directors, among them TODAY WE KILL, TOMORROW WE DIE and FIVE MAN ARMY.  I asked him if he might return to the western genre.  “No, no.  Finished.” 

Dario Argento

After DRACULA 3D, and Fausto Brizzi’s romantic comedy, LOVE TO MAKE LOVE – surprisingly also in 3D – Sergio Corbucci’s DJANGO (1966) was screened, with its star, Franco Nero, in attendance. 

Franco Nero, John Landis & Mark Canton

The festival continues every day through Saturday, and all the screenings are free, first come, first seated.  If you can make it today, Monday, at 6:30, you can see THE TONTO WOMAN, a short western shown in tribute to Francesco Quinn, who recently passed away.   At ten a.m. on Wednesday morning they’ll screen Corbucci’s COMPANEROS, starring Franco Nero, and that night at eight they’ll screen JONATHAN OF THE BEARS (1995), also starring Nero, and directed by Enzo Castellari, an honoree at last year’s Festival.  Nero will be doing a Q & A, so you need to RSVP for that one.

Dario Argento and Mark Canton

For a complete schedule of screenings, go HERE.  I’d strongly advise you to come to the festival if you’re in or near Los Angeles this week, but check on-line for road closures, because in preparation for the Oscars next Sunday, a lot of streets are being shut down.


In his new book, RAWHIDE: A HISTORY OF TELEVISION’S LONGEST CATTLE DRIVE, author David R. Greenland takes on the considerable job of documenting the history of this remarkable series, from creation to dilution to eventual destruction.  He also outlines every one of the 217 episodes that made up the series.  Happily it can currently be seen on the Encore Western Channel Monday through Friday, and this book makes a wonderful reference volume for it, enhancing the viewing experience considerably.

More than fifty years after the program first hit the air, the difference between RAWHIDE and most other Western series of its day – or any other day for that matter – is especially apparent.  It is the unvarnished stories of anonymous men doing thankless toil for poor wages.  It is a man’s world to a far greater degree than most westerns.  As far as believability, it exists in the Pantheon of realistic western programs with only two others; WAGON TRAIN and GUNSMOKE.   

And as Greenland explains, it’s unique even within that company, because its creator wanted it that way.  Perhaps the greatest revelation of the book is the contribution to the western form, big-screen and small, made by the series creator, Charles Marquis Warren.  The godson of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Warren started writing western novels, among them ONLY THE VALIANT, and went on to variously write, produce and/or direct a string of mostly modest-budget western features that are all worth seeing.  But it was in television that he truly made his mark.  He produced the first 52 episodes of GUNSMOKE, setting the standard for noir-ishly adult western stories. 

When he couldn’t get along with network higher-ups, he left (replaced by John Meston, who had created the show for radio).  Warren soon moved on to his own creation, RAWHIDE, a western series that would not be set in a town or on a ranch, because it was about continuous movement.  Its episodes had ‘incident’ in most of the titles – INCIDENT OF THE HAUNTED HILLS, INCIDENT OF THE WIDOWED DOVE – because Warren thought the shows should not be about ‘stories’, but ‘incidents.’ And there is a deceptively random feel to many episodes, the plots so subtly designed that they just seem to ‘happen.’ 

Clint Eastwood, Sheb Wooley, Paul Brinegar, Eric Fleming

Typical, and terrific, is INCIDENT WEST OF LANO, which grows out of a simple bit of bad timing: the cattle drive and a wagon train reach opposite banks of the same river, and neither is willing to let the other side cross first.  True to the ‘incident’ idea, the audience knows, when pot-shots are taken, who did it, but the characters don’t know, and they never find out.  And in keeping with the manly silence of the cowboy, when a man from the wagon train is back-shot, any other western, or any other TV drama for that matter, would turn on the revelation that the dead man was a would-be rapist stopped in the act.  But no one on the cattle drive ever reveals how it happened: they’re not interested in justifying their actions to other men.

RAWHIDE premiered in 1959, which Greenland points out was a peak year for Western television.  Fifteen new western series premiered that year, including BONANZA, LARAMIE and THE REBEL.  Westerns were great money-makers, but they were still the Rodney Dangerfields of television: in that year, the only Western-related Emmy nomination was for Richard Boone in HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL.  And he lost.  In eight seasons, RAWHIDE never got a single Emmy nomination for any actor, writer, director or crew member.  It’s worth noting that of all those nominees and winners, about the only shows that people still watch from that era are PERRY MASON and I LOVE LUCY.  And the great westerns like RAWHIDE, which seems startlingly fresh and natural in acting style.

The lives of the men who made up the show’s cast are varied and fascinating.  Clint Eastwood had mostly played uncredited roles until he landed the part of ramrod Rowdy Yates, and he credits the show with teaching him a great deal about acting, and the jobs behind the camera as well.  

Eric Fleming, who played trail boss Gil Favor had such an awful childhood that it’s remarkable that he got past it.  A homely youth, it was while in the Navy that a two-hundred pound block of steel smashed in his face.  The good looks we’re familiar with were a by-product of reconstructive surgery!  Just as Clint would do spaghetti westerns during hiatus periods, Fleming would do movies as well.  His death while making one in South America is so grotesque that, if you saw it in a movie, you wouldn’t believe it.

Other regulars, like Sheb Wooley as Pete Nolan, Paul Brinegar as Wishbone, and Steve Raines as Jim Quince, not only had considerable experience in Westerns, they had all previously worked in Western films for Warren.   

But ironically, several of the featured players were as anonymous as the men they portrayed.  After they left the show, little is known of James Murdock, who played cook’s helper Mushy; Rocky Shahan, who was drover Joe Scarlett; or Robert Cabal, who played the wrangler Hey-soos, except that they’ve all died.    

In fact, with the exception of Eastwood, who was apparently unavailable to be interviewed, none of the regulars are living.  Greenland was able to speak with guest stars like L.Q. Jones, Morgan Woodward, the late Richard Devon, and director Ted Post, and  he pulled together a great deal of older interview material.  There is, however, a substantial interview with Gregory Walcott, a frequent guest on the show.  And Walcott tells one story which demonstrates that, while Charles Marquis Warren made some of the best westerns ever, he could also be a heartless sonuvabitch. 

Some of the great stars of the film business appeared on RAWHIDE, among them Barbara Stanwyck, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, Mary Astor and Lon Chaney Jr.  I just watched one at random, and it featured John Erickson, Leif Ericson and John Cassavettes.  And the one I’ll watch when I finish writing this review stars Brian Donlevy and Dick Van Patten, and is directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, one of the last survivors of this era. 

Each of the 217 episodes is listed, with its original airdate, director, writers, cast, summary, and notes where applicable.  And also the opening narration, if any.  Here’s one: “I got a cousin, woman, teaches in a school house back east.  She tells me those boys daydream about becomin’ cowboys.  Of all the jobs a man could pick, why’d he ever want to choose this way to make a livin’?  Three thousand head of God’s lowest form of life, cattle.  If they don’t die of tick fever, strangle in a dust storm or trample their fool selves to death, then the market’ll go down to two cents a pound on the hoof.  They might as well have died before we set out.  But they need food back east.  It’s my job to get this herd movin.  My name’s Gil Favor, trail boss.”

And for us boys who still daydream about becomin’ cowboys, and who learned what a trail boss and ramrod and drover and wrangler are by watching RAWHIDE, David R. Greenland’s book is required reading.  It’s published by Bear Manor Media, and retails for $21.95. You can order it HERE.  


That's it for this week's Round-up!  Next week I'll be featuring an interview with LAREDO star Robert Wolders.  They've just started running his episodes on Encore Western if you want to take a look.



All Original Contents Copyright February 2012 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved

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