A Fistful of Westerns
The Making of The Italian West: Part 3
“Voice work must improve, projection not good.”
-Dr. Daniel Vandergin, UCLA on Clint Eastwood’s acting while a contract actor at Universal Studios.
I’m sure actor and future director Clint Eastwood took these words to heart and the whispery voiced actor would start to say his lines through clenched teeth. Clint was one of the last of the contract players of the old studio system at Universal Studios. The studios would get young actors or models sign them to a two year contract and groom them. They got paid 75 bucks a week and were required to take dancing, singing, acting, horseback riding, men and women alike. Sometimes previous “graduates” would visit, Marlon Brando was one. The studio would give them walk ons on pictures to see where they fit. Clint got a couple of parts on in Revenge of The Creature, the sequel to Black Lagoon, Tarantula and a Francis The Talking Mule picture Francis in The Navy (don’t laugh two decades later he would star along side an Orangutan named Clyde in one of his biggest hits ever) and a couple other films. After two years, Universal released Miss Ceylon, Miss El Salvador and Clint Eastwood from their contract. This was a low blow I’m sure.
After this he got a sizable part in Ambush at Cimarron Pass, a film he says the the worst he ever made. It’s not great and it plays more like a TV movie. Through a friend who worked at CBS he was able to try out for Rowdy Yates a character on a show CBS was developing called Rawhide, a character influenced by Montgomery Clift’s character in Howard Hawks’ Red River. Needless to say he landed the gig and for next seven years he herded cattle to God knows where.
As mentioned in my previous blog, Sergio Leone wanted several other actors in the role of the stranger in his upcoming western The Magnificent Stranger. Leone saw an episode of Rawhide The Incident of The Black Sheep.
“What fascinated me about Clint, above all, was his external appearance, I noticed the lazy, laid back way he just came on and stole every scene from (Brian) Fleming. His laziness is what came over so clearly.” -Sergio Leone on Clint Eastwood’s performance on Rawhide
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One story has Clint’s agent pressing him at the behest of his wife Maggie, if he could be working he’d have less time chasing women or partying. Regardless, he got an all expenses paid trip to countries he’d never been to.
He read the script and thought the dialog “atrocious” but was “intelligently laid out.”
“I was tired of playing the nice clean cut cowboy on Rawhide.” He said. I suppose the deciding factor may have been his wife Maggie who said “Clint says I’m good at spotting the woman’s angle to a story and I liked this one of the loner. Women want to be looked after and protected, and a man who can dominate a scene, handle himself at all odds, has instant appeal to women.”
Before Clint flew to Italy. He prepared his costume. He grabbed a couple of holsters, a pistol, and the boots from Rawhide. Toshiro Mifune has a toothpick in Yojimbo so Clint thought a cigarillo would be a nice touch (Eastwood is very health conscious and does not, did not smoke.) Now as far as the Poncho, Eastwood and Leone both say they came up with it, I tend to go with Clint on this one. Here’s why, as hair brained as my theory may be. When Clint went to college he thought about majoring in music, he’s a big fan of jazz. In the 50s and 60s Jazz and beatniks went together like Abbott and Costello and there were a lot of coffee house’s in Hollywood where one could see jazz and poetry, and I’m sure Clint frequented these places. The look for a beatniks at the time, we’re talking 1964, would be snug black jeans, an unshaven face and a Mexican poncho, or some kind of shaggy vest (which the stranger also wears, looks like a shearling Jacket liner) I don’t think that look was happening in Italy or Spain at the time. That’s my take anyway, as much as I love Leone.
“I wanted to play it with an economy of words and create this whole feeling through attitude and movement.” -Clint Eastwood
When Sergio Leone was looking for a composer for the score he envisioned, Leone was thinking Angelo Lavagnino, who scored Colossus of Rhodes (Leone’s first film) and Orson Welles’ Othello and Chimes At Midnight, but producers Arrigo Colombo and Giorgio Papi (billed as Harry Colombo and George Papi) suggested he meet with Ennio Morricone first.
Ennio Morricone by this time was pretty much an established composer but had only done one western, Duello nel Texas (Gunfight At Redsands) a picture that can be argued as quite possibly the first Spaghetti Western and also a picture and score that Leone absolutely hated. He agreed to a meeting.
The meeting went well Morricone showed him a photo of the two of them from the same school class as children and Leone was amused… “but that still doesn’t get you the job. Your music for Duello nel Texas was extremely bad Dimitri Tiomkin”. “I agree,” Morricone replied “but I was asked to compose very bad Dimitri Tiomkin.”
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Leone had envisioned a score that sounded like the Deguello music scene in Rio Bravo, by Dimitri Tiomkin, bold masculine trumpets. In all fairness the Redsands score does sound a lot like “bad” Tiomkin but it has one of my favorite SW ballads ‘A Gringo Like Me’ sung by American Folk singer Peter Tevis going by the name of Dicky Jones.
Originally from Santa Barbara California, Peter Tevis had been living in Italy in the early 60s and in 1962 he recorded a cover of Woodie Guthrie’s tune Pastures of Plenty (RCA Victor PM45-3115) with the music arranged by himself and Ennio Morricone and it went on to be a moderate local hit. Morricone played this 7” for Leone and that sealed the deal.
Morricone took the vocal track off of Pastures of Plenty and added Alessandro Alessandroni’s whistle and guitar lick and that became the iconic theme music! Peter was not entirely left out, he would sing for Morricone on other pictures and the two compiled these ballads along with his folk covers onto an LP and Tevis was paid handsomely as this music became internationally very popular.
Next: Part 4 The Magnificent Stranger gets a fistful of dollars and launches a new genre.
-Phillip López Jiménez
CLINT: A Retrospective by Richard Schickel
Clint Eastwood Interviews editor by Robert E. Kaspsis and Kathie Coblentz
Once Upon A Time In The Italian West: The Film Goers’ Guide To Spaghetti Westerns by Howard Hughes
Once Upon A Time In Italy: The Westerns of Sergio Leone by Sir. Christopher Frayling
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