Monday, May 19, 2014



‘THE HOMESMAN’ had its world premiere Sunday night at the Cannes Film Festival.  While hundreds of films will screen during the festival, and thousands will be bought and sold, only a handful of films are accepted into competition every year, and THE HOMESMAN is one of the few.  Based on the novel of the same name by Glendon Swarthout, who also wrote the novel THE SHOOTIST, it’s the story of a man set to be hanged as a claim-jumper, who is given the chance to redeem himself by helping transport three madwomen to an insane asylum.  The star and director is Tommy Lee Jones, and the woman he’s helping is played by Hilary Swank.  Both Oscar-winners, they are joined by a third, Meryl Streep, and the rest of the exceptional cast includes Hailee Stanfield from TRUE GRIT, Oscar nominee John Lithgow, James Spader, William Finchner, Barry Corbin and Grace Gummer.  At the recent Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival I had the opportunity to interview Miles Swarthout, son of Glendon, who scripted THE SHOOTIST, and has plenty to say about both films.  You’ll be reading that interview soon in the Round-up.

Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank Sunday at Cannes


Acknowledging that the explosion of Western action with a Italian/Spanish flavor began five decades ago, the Cannes Film Festival will feature screenings of two of Sergio Leone’s classic films. THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY was screened on Saturday night.  The one that started it all, A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, will screen on Sunday, May 24th, after the Awards Ceremony, and will be hosted by Quentin Tarantino.  The copy will be a new restoration done from the original Techniscope camera negative.

And what better way to honor the subgenre than to demonstrate that the Spaghetti Western is alive and well.  Franco Nero, the screen’s original DJANGO (1966) will star in DJANGO LIVES! and producer Mike Malloy (of THE SCARLET WORM fame) is at Cannes with Resolution Entertainment hoping to wrap up financing.  In the sequel – actually the third Franco Nero/DJANGO outing following 1987’s DJANGO STRIKES AGAIN – the gunman will have turned up in Los Angeles in the early days of the silent movie industry, working, as many former lawmen and outlaws did, as a technical advisor on westerns.  I am very eager to see this movie made, so if you’ve got a hankering to invest, drop me a line and I’ll put you in touch with Mike.

DJANGO LIVES director Joe D'Augustine & Franco Nero


Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder

One of the high points of this year’s TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL for Western fans was on Friday night, April 11th, when the tremendous Chinese Theatre, now with a huge IMAX screen, was 100% packed to see Mel Brooks introduce his 1974 western comedy sensation, BLAZING SADDLES.  There are quite a few western comedies when you think about it.  Among my favorites are CAT BALLOU, CITY SLICKERS, the Burt Kennedy comedies like SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF, and the TRINITY films.  That’s not to mention Bob Hope’s THE PALEFACE, and recent entries like SHANGHAI NOON and THE THREE AMIGOS.  There was once a time when every comedy movie star did a western comedy, like Jack Benny in BUCK BENNY RIDES AGAIN, Laurel and Hardy’s WAY OUT WEST and THE MARX BROTHERS GO WEST.  Almost every series eventually had one – from OUT WEST WITH THE HARDYS to BOWERY BUCKAROOS with the Bowery Boys.  In twelve days we’ll have another, A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST.  But few would argue that the best known, and one of the funniest, is Mel Brooks’ BLAZING SADDLES.

One serious note about Mel Brooks.  Speaking as a transplanted New Yorker who loves the city and loves Broadway, we can never applaud Mel Brooks enough, following the 911 attack, for having the courage and independence to open THE PRODUCERS on schedule, not only bringing much needed laughter to a terrified city and nation, but letting the terrorists know that they hadn’t broken our spirit, and couldn’t change our way of life.

As always, practically everything Mel Brooks says is actually shouted, and should be followed with an exclamation point.  In a town of false modesty, his very real immodesty is wonderfully refreshing.  After he walked onto the stage to deafening applause, singing the theme of the movie, and before he was joined by Robert Osborne, Mel spotted some very young audience members. 

MEL BROOKS:  You kids have never seen BLAZING SADDLES.  They’re in for a weird surprise.  It may be my favorite movie.  It may be the funniest movie ever made.  Bless you for all coming here and being a part of this night.  I really appreciate it.  I’m going to talk to Mr. Osborne,

ROBERT OSBORNE:  That standing ovation was well-deserved.  I think it’s also amazing that this movie came out in 1974, as did YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. 

MEL BROOKS:  The same year, and they were #1 and #2 for the year.

ROBERT OSBORNE:  Two of the funniest movies of all time – no question about it.  This was a difficult movie to sell, wasn’t it?

MEL BROOKS:  I remember the first screening for the executives at Warner Brothers.  John Calley was running the studio.  Dick Shepherd had left, and there were like eight other guys, all executives at Warner Brother, and they all said (with expressions of disgust), “Oi!  Oooh! Ay!”  This one said, “We can’t release it.  It’s too vulgar for the American public.”  At any rate, John Calley said, “Let’s try it in New York, Chicago and L.A., and if there’s any love for it, we’ll release it.”  So they released it in those cities, and believe it or not, it was the biggest hit Warner Brothers had that year. 
ROBERT OSBORNE:  Before they released it, did they ask you to cut anything from the picture?

MEL BROOKS:  That’s a good question, Robert.  He knows his stuff.  The truth is, the head of Warner Brothers at the time, who will go nameless, was Ted Ashley.  The preview was really great.  We had cattle in the lobby.  We had cowboys riding up and tying up their horses outside the theatre.  We had tons of Raisenetts.  And the audience loved it.  And Ashley took me by the scruff of the neck, threw me into the manager’s office, handed me a legal pad and pencil, and said, “Take these notes!”  I said yessir.  He said, “No farting!  You can’t punch the horses!  You can’t beat old ladies up!”  There were like twenty of those notes.  And if I followed all of these notes the movie would have been twelve minutes long.  So when he left, I crumpled up all my notes.  And I threw the balled-up notes across the office, into a wastebasket, and John Calley said, “Good filing!”  I didn’t cut a sentence, or a word, or even an expression.  A lot of people don’t know that.  So keep it under your hat.      

ROBERT OSBORNE:  That was a daring movie to make at that time, the (scatological) jokes and stuff; that was dangerous territory to go into. 

MEL BROOKS:  It was beyond vulgar.  It was dirty.

ROBERT OSBORNE:    Where did you get the courage to do that?

MEL BROOKS:  I didn’t know better.  You know, if I was wiser, if I was more diplomatic, or smarter, or if I realized what the rules of courtesy and kindness were, I never would have made the movie.  I was a scruffy little kid from Brooklyn, and there are no rules, or there are just a few.  And there were some things that I just had to say.  I’d been watching westerns all my life – three westerns on a Saturday morning.  Hoot Gibson, Tim McCoy, Ken Maynard!  I loved westerns!  And they’d sit around the campfire.  And they’d eat straight beans off a tin plate -- a lot of beans.  And they’d drink black coffee from a tin cup.  And you never heard a sound across the prairie!  I decided to…let the boot drop.  I wanted to tell the truth about westerns.

The German version

Richard Pryor, one of the writers, I asked Warner Brothers to hire him as the black sheriff, to play Black Bart.  And they said no, we can’t get him insured because he was arrested for drugs; we can’t do it.  Richard and I did a lot of auditions, looking for our sheriff.  Finally there was this guy from Broadway, and his name was Little, Cleavon Little.  And he was absolutely wonderful.  And beautiful.  And Richard said something really profound.  He said, “If I had the part, I could be Cuban, light as I am; I’m coffee-colored.  And I’ve got a mustache; I could be the Cuban sheriff.  This guy is so black, and he’s gonna scare the shit out that town.  And he’s what you want – he’s so damned handsome and so talented.”  And we were so lucky to get him, to play the lead.  And by the way, a lot of the people in that movie are long gone (note: of the top-billed stars, Cleavon Little, Slim Pickens, Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn, and David Huddleston are all gone.  Only Mel, and Gene Wilder are still around).  But in the audience tonight is the school marm who punches one of the bad guys -- Carol Arthur is sitting somewhere out there!  (Carol Arthur, who will be 80 in August, once married to Dom Deluise, and a veteran of four Mel Brooks movies as well as THE SUNSHINE BOYS, stands for tremendous and well-earned applause)

ROBERT OSBORNE:   Also you had a lot of casting changes.  Gig Young was originally going to play the Waco Kid, right?

MEL BROOKS:  I hired Gig Young to play the Waco Kid.  He was a great actor, he’d won the Academy Award for THEY SHOOT HORSES DON’T THEY, and I knew he was a recovering alcoholic, so he was perfect for the Waco Kid. Unfortunately he was not really…recovered.  So we’re in the first scene, there’s something green on his mouth.  And he’s spraying the jail-cell all green, and I said, I don’t think he’s ready yet.  I was stuck, and I didn’t know what to do.  So I called my best friend in New York, I called Gene Wilder and said, what am I going to do?  And he said just get a costume for me to wear, and a gun, and a horse to ride on, and I’ll be there tomorrow.  And he did.  And he saved me, and he saved the picture.  It was fate. 

ROBERT OSBORNE:   And fate that you had Madeline Kahn.

MEL BROOKS:  She came to my office, and after I heard her sing, I said, raise your skirt; I want to see your legs.  She said, “Oh, it’s that kind of an audition.”  I said no, no.  It’s just that you’re playing like Marlene Dietrich, and you’ve got to straddle that chair.  She said okay, she raised her skirt, she straddled the chair.  She sang I’m Tired, and I fell madly in love with her.  She was so good, so talented, so richly talented.  You know, Madeline could have been a coloratura in opera.  That’s how great a voice she had.  Also she had a sense of comedy, with her own strange timing, and her own weird little takes – she was just amazingly talented.  And she died of ovarian cancer – just awful.  And Harvey, the great Harvey Korman.  One of my favorite moments is Harvey making love, physically, to the globe.  And when he says, “My mind is aglow with whirling, transient nodes of thought careening through a cosmic vapor of invention.”  And Slim Pickens says, “Ditto.”  And Harvey says, “Ditto?  Ditto, you provincial putz?”  There are some moments that tickle me so much.  I think this could be the funniest picture of all time. 

ROBERT OSBORNE:   One last question.  Could this motion picture be made today?

MEL BROOKS:  Well, you couldn’t say the ‘n’-word. You know, I said we don’t have to use the ‘n’-word, but Richard Pryor said, “No.  We are writing a story about racial prejudice.  It’s a fact; it’s real.  And the more we use it, from the bad-guys and redneck side, then the more the victory of the sheriff, the black sheriff, who in the end is loved by the townspeople.”  And I said okay Richard.  The ‘n’-word will be all over the screen.

ROBERT OSBORNE:   Thank you for this movie.  Thank you for being here.  Thank you for Mel Brooks.


At 12:30 pm on Wednesday, May 21st, Rob Word’s third-Wednesday-of-the-month Cowboy Lunch @ The Autry will salute John Wayne just a week short of what would have been 107th birthday.  Admission is free (although you have to buy your own lunch) and after the feed, Rob will lead a discussion with folks who worked with the Duke in various capacities, and are admirers of his work.  Last month’s luncheon celebrated THE WILD BUNCH, and Rob brought together actors Bo Hopkins and L.Q. Jones, master horse and car stunt-man Gary Combs, and costumer-turned-screenwriter-turned-producer for Peckinpah Gordon Dawson.     

As people’s schedules can change at the last minute, Rob understandably plays it cagey as to who will take part.  But I can tell you that among the folks he’s invited are one of Wayne’s greatest romantic co-stars, a co-star in Wayne’s best TV comedy turn, a fine character actor who did six films with the Duke, and the man who scripted Wayne’s last movie.  And you never know who will turn up in the audience.  Last time I found myself sitting among actors Paul LeMat, Morgan Woodward, and GUNSMOKE writer Jim Byrnes. 
Below is a poignant teaser, with director Rupert Hitzig talking about directing Mickey Rooney and Ben Johnson in a western at the end of the trail.


That’s it for now – have a great week!

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright May 2014 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved

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