Tag Archive | Charles Bronson

Telly Savalas in the Limelight

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Part II of Mr. Telly Savalas, Back to the Limelight…., Please!

Kojak hoisted the 49 year-old Savalas to superstardom, bestowing on the Greek the status of a sex-symbol, whose trademark quip in his Graeco-Yiddish-Brooklyn accent: “Who loves ya, baby?” engaged wide attention. The title role also brought the actor with a mole on his left cheek an Emmy and two Golden Globes. (Telly revived Kojak in some TV episodes during 1985-1990.) image

As film after film came his way, his commitment to his career not only remained progressive, but Telly had also acquired a taste for wealth and the lifestyle that went with it – savouring the attention his fans bestowed on him. They fed his ego, reaffirming the appeal of Savalas the Star. Like in all aspects of his life, his self-indulgent lifestyle reflected on his stylish images, airbrushed to perfection, on the cover of glossy magazines to the licence plate of his car which flashed “Telly S”.

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He met friendly receptions wherever he went for shooting movies or not. He had a great time in southwest Africa in 1975 shooting Killer Force (aka. The Diamond Mercenaries, D: Val Guest, 1976). Likewise, the German fans were happy to see him in West Berlin for the location work of Inside Out (aka. Hitler’s Gold/The Golden Heist, D: Peter Duffell, 1975). In Berlin, the children rolled up their sleeves to have their arm autographed by him while the girls greeted him with fresh red roses and handful of lollies which he often gave away.

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Keeping up with the then trend in Hollywood for racehorses, Telly ventured into horse racing when actor Walter Matthau turned down an offer to invest in a racehorse. With producer/director Howard W. Koch taking half interest, Telly acquired the other half at $3000 in an American thoroughbred racehorse whom he named Telly’s Pop (either after the lollipops he devours or his late-father who took him to his first horse race as a boy in New York).

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Although Telly later admitted on his CBS-TV show that he does not know anything about horses, audiences who had seen The Scalphunters, Mackenna’s Gold, etc, know that he could handle a horse.

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Telly dipped his toes into championship gambling and promotion of brand products. Lifting himself into the line-up of singing stars of stage and screen such as Mae West, Ethel Merman, Noel Coward, Robert Mitchum, Jayne Mansfield, Harry Belafonte, Christopher Lee, he forayed into the music industry and had some chart success – tunes that would make Duke Ellington tap his shoes seven-feet under.

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By the age of 54, Telly had won over audiences with his nightclub act in Lake Tahoe and Las Vegas where one of the highlights was a bouzouki dance he performed with his brother Constantine. In November 1975, at the wish of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Telly sang at her Royal Command Palladium concert where celebrities like Count Basie, Charles Aznavour, etc performed in spite of the bomb scare that autumn. During that time, the media reported him playing golf with world’s top golfer Tom Weiskopf on the Ailsa golf course at Turnberry in Scotland.

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Often things in life simply don’t go according to set decisions. Telly never forgot the break he got from Burt Lancaster into movies which he reciprocated to the career of others. A 1975 newspaper reported actor Gene Hackman talking on the Douglas show about how Telly, while preparing to move from New York to start out his acting career in Hollywood, suggested to Hackman to “get his skates on” and head for the West Coast where the real action is – which resulted in Hackman’s entry into films on the Coast. Like Telly, the film Mad Dog Coll also marked the debut of Gene Hackman. Telly also played an active part in philanthropy and philhellenism. However, as always, there are different perspectives about Telly bordering on arrogance and rudeness I have also come across during my research.

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For the Greek-American icon who once said that he carried his Hellenism like a badge of merit, the opportunity to play a real Greek on Greek soil came in 1978 in the WW2 POW adventure film, Escape to Athena (D: George Pan Cosmatos, 1979) which had an all-star cast including Roger Moore, David Niven, and Claudia Cardinale.

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In his autobiography, actor Roger Moore wrote about his location days for Escape to Athena on the isle of Rhodes when he brushed up on his gambling at the tables of the local casino which were also frequented by Telly. Stuntman Vic Armstrong’s autobiography also contains interesting pieces about the location shooting of this movie – about how, in the early hours, a bored Telly would phone him to play a game of poker.

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Telly visited Greece again in early 1982 for location shoot in Laconia for My Palikari (American Playhouse, D: Charles Dubin). He turned this into a family affair and had his young son Nicholas from Los Angeles christened at the church in the village of Anogia, the birthplace of Telly’s mother.

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Meanwhile, his career progressed with movies including Capricorn One (D: Peter Hyams, 1977), Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (D: Irwin Allen, 1979), Border Cop (aka. Blood Barrier, D: Christopher Leitch, 1979), Hellinger’s Law (D: Leo Penn, 1981), Fake-Out (aka. Nevada Heat, 1982), Alice in Wonderland (D: Harry Harris, 1985), The Dirty Dozen: The Deadly Mission (D: Lee H. Katzin, 1987), The Dirty Dozen: The Fatal Mission (D: Lee H. Katzin, 1988), Mind Twister (D: Fred Olen Ray, 1994), Backfire! (D: Dean Bell, 1995), etc.

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Augmenting his taste for the international high life, he was regularly featured in forgettable European movies shot across the Atlantic. Some of them were as dull as a wet Good Friday but made pots of money. Having worked with European moviemakers earlier, Telly was at ease with the European way of shooting schedules and locations all over Europe. In the movie business, one gets to work closely with a lot of people. His further outings into Continental productions also gained him good rapport with more moviemakers as well as with industry professionals and eminent personalities.

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A Town Called Hell (D: Robert Parrish, 1971) and A Reason to Live, A Reason to Die (D: Tonino Valerii, 1972) were shot in spaghetti film locations in Almeria and Madrid. His repertoire of European productions also included the Charles Bronson-Jill Ireland vehicle Città violenta (aka: Final Shot/The Family/Violent City, D: Sergio Sollima, 1970), Crime Boss (D: Alberto De Martino, 1972), Senza Ragione (aka Redneck, D: Silvio Narizzano, 1973), Faceless (aka. Les prédateurs de la nuit, D: Jesús Franco, 1987).

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Besides Telly’s appearance in Horror Express (1972), Italian director Mario Bava and producer Alfred Leone cast him in Lisa and the Devil (Lisa e il Diavolo, 1973 – re-edited into The House of Exorcism (1975)) as the devious butler Leandro, the Devil who lured Lisa (Elke Sommer) into the Spanish villa of a blind Contessa and her deranged son. It is in this masterpiece of Mario Bava, mainly shot during the latter half of 1972 in Toledo, outside Madrid and Barcelona that Bava showed the lollipop sucking Telly to great effect, and the sucker became Telly’s trademark in Kojak by late 1973.

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While his continuous interest in Continental filmmaking extended to the 1991-93 TV series  Ein Schloß am Wörthersee shot in Austria and Italy, Telly had also appeared in faraway locations like Australia where he shot Rose Against the Odds (D: John Dixon, 1991).

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Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame awarded him his Star in 1983. The following year, Telly and his third wife Julie Hovland were married. Having promised to be together for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, they remained married until his death.

On Saturday July 23, 1988, the tragedy struck. Christina Savalas, Telly’s mother and a leading American artist whose “Picassolike” work received local and international exhibitions, died of heart failure at age 84 at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center, Burbank, California.

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On Saturday, January 22, 1994, one day after his 72 birthday, surrounded by wife Julie Hovland and family, Telly died of Prostate cancer at the suite he kept at the Sheraton Universal Hotel, Universal City. According to the death certificate, the cause is stated as Renal Failure/Metastatic Disease/Transitional Cell Cancer of Bladder.

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After services at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Los Angeles, Telly was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles, on January 25, 1994. The large marker on the lawn of his grave contains the header “Telly Aristotle Savalas” (a) followed by the quote from Aristotle:

The hour of departure has arrived,

and we go our ways –

I to die and you to live.

Which is better God only knows.

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Telly has gone. Has he fulfilled his aims and ambitions? The question brings to mind a letter the French novelist and playwright Honoré de Balzac, when quite a young man, wrote to his sister about his aims and ambitions: “….. I have two and only two passionate desires – to be famous and to be loved. Will they ever be satisfied?”  As for Telly, maybe none may dispute that he had fulfilled both the desires Balzac was referring to.

Until next time, Jo

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Notes:

  1. The spelling of the middle name on the marker and the Certificate of Death: 39419004248 dt. 22-1-1994 shown in a website differs.
  2. This article owes its source to various newspapers, books, magazines, visual media, etc.
  3. Films forming part of the collection of Manningtree Archive are marked in bold.
  4. Most of the movies and books referred to in this article are available with amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and other leading dealers.
  5. DVD sleeves credits: amazon.com, en.wikipedia, imdb and from my private collection.
  6. This illustrated article is an affectionate nosegay to the movies and performers of the past. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details.

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(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

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WHAT FATE MAY BRING

The 240th anniversary of the Independence of the United States of America went past on July 4, 2016 with traditional fireworks displays, parades, concerts, barbecues, etc. Watching the celebrations on TV brought to my mind the bicentennial celebrations of U.S.A on July 4 forty years ago, when yet another jubilation rang out in some parts of the world related to an incident that lasted one week and ended with a daring rescue at Entebbe International Airport in Uganda which was featured in many print and visual media including the following three streams:

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1: VICTORY AT ENTEBBE (telecasted on December 13, 1976)

Scarce anything awakens attention like a tale of cruelty – wrote Dr. Samuel Johnson (The Idler, 1758). The hijacking of the Air France flight 139 and rescue of hostages at Entebbe in 1976 had all the right spice and human drama to inspire more than 15 U.S film production units/studios to cash in on the events quickly. Emmy Award-winner screenwriter Ernest Kinoy quickly drew up a 200-page treatment for David L. Wolper Productions, 50% longer than most scripts, since it was originally planned as a three-hour telecast on ABC Television. Directed by Marvin J. Chomsky with music score by Charles Fox, it was also made into a theatrical film for overseas distribution. This moderate telefilm was originally shot on videotape and transferred to film for convenience in shooting and editing. Shot at Warner Bros. Studio in Burbank, California, its stellar cast consisted of Helmut Berger, Linda Blair, Kirk Douglas, Richard Dreyfuss, Helen Hayes, Anthony Hopkins, Burt Lancaster, Elizabeth Taylor, Julius Harris, etc. However, the film suffered owing to a script laden with clichéd dialogues and characterization which should have been reworked. According to the biography of a crew member, few days into the shooting, actor/comedian Godfrey Cambridge, cast in the role of President Idi Amin, died on the filming stage from a heart attack and was replaced by Julius Harris.

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2: RAID ON ENTEBBE (telecasted on January 9, 1977)

Made for television, this was written by Golden Globe award winner Barry Beckerman and directed by Irvin Kershner (The Eyes of Laura Mars, Never Say Never Again). Of the two telemovies that came out five months after Operation Entebbe, this is considered a better paced dramatization of the hijacking and rescue and stars Peter Finch, Charles Bronson, Horst Buchholz, John Saxon, Sylvia Sidney, etc. American actor Yaphet Kotto appears as Idi Amin. The factual production had already started in late June 1976 while the hijacking incident was in progress. Telecasted by NBC, it won a Golden Globe as the Best Motion Picture Made for Television in the 35th Annual Golden Globe Awards. The film which originally ran 152 min. but cut to 113 min. for theatrical release was earlier released in theatres of Denmark on December 26, 1976.

33: MIVTSA YONATAN (ENTEBBE – OPERATION THUNDERBOLT) (released on January 27, 1977)

Nominated for the Best Oscar for Foreign Language Film, this story of the daring commando raid at Entebbe is presented in a simple narrative of good versus evil and concentrates on the rescue of the hostages, the main issue, without dwelling on hijackers’ motives, etc. Crackling with action, the film was directed by leading Israeli producer/writer Menahem Golan. According to a book, Golan had originally requested and was denied permission to accompany Israeli forces to shoot a documentary film, should any orders were given for a rescue attempt. The film was mainly shot at the specially constructed full-size replica of the Entebbe Airport terminal. The cast featured Israeli singer/actor Yehoram Gaon, Assaf Dayan, son of military leader/statesman Moshe Dayan, stage/screen actress Gila Almagor, etc, besides Israeli military personnel and equipment, some people who had actually been on the hijacked plane, including footage of some key Government officials of Israel of that time. German actor Klaus Kinski appeared as the fair-haired Wilfried Böse while Austrian actress Sybil Danning is notable in the role of deeply macho Halima. Kinski’s presence as leader of the hijackers and Dov Seltzer’s music (performed by Israel Philharmonic Orchestra) elevates this adaptation by American screenwriter Clarke Reynolds, above the two rushed-out TV versions. Golan had later told in an interview that the movie depicts exactly how Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu was hit.

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The much analysed  and debated Entebbe rescue operation has also spawned books, documentaries, movies, web articles, etc, most of which I have virtually gone through, leading me on to specific or general knowledge on this subject based on which a recap is drawn below (1):

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The hostage-rescue operation at Entebbe: Just before 9 a.m on Sunday, June 27, 1976, Air France Flight 139 with 228 passengers on board left Lod Airport (Ben-Gurion Airport International Airport) near Tel Aviv, Israel, bound for Paris, France with an unscheduled layover at Athens, Greece. This commercial flight was hijacked by 4 passengers barely eight minutes after it took off at 12:25 p.m from Ellinikon International Airport, Athens from where the 4 hijackers (transit passengers travelling on fake passports who had arrived that morning from Bahrain on Singapore Airlines without any intention of going to Paris), boarded the aircraft with concealed guns and hand grenades taking advantage of the lax in security measures. Since 38 passengers had alighted and 56 boarded at Athens, the flight was then carrying 246 passengers plus the crew of 12. The passengers were informed that the flight was under the command of the Che Guevara Group and Gaza Unit of the PFLP. It was the first hijacking in the history of Air France.

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Cutting across the Mediterranean Sea, the hijacked Airbus A300B4S aircraft’s wheels brushed the tarmac of Benina International Airport, Benghazi, Libya, and seven hours later, it took off from there after topping up its fuel and leaving behind a British-born Israeli citizen with symptoms of a miscarriage. No sooner had the flight set on a different course and the radio transmissions ceased from the Airbus, the alert and first reports reached Israel where the Cabinet was in its weekly meeting. While a liaison office to co-ordinate with the hostages’ families was arranged at the Lod airport, intelligence officials were frantically collecting all information and as more developments became known, various possibilities and steps for the release of hostages were being explored.

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After a five hour flight, and having been refused permission to land at Khartoum, Sudan, the twin-engined Airbus finally trundled to a standstill on the landing-strip of the Entebbe International Airport at about 0330hrs (Monday, June 28) where the hostages had to wait nearly nine hours inside the aircraft before they were hustled into the main lounge of the disused old terminal building which was soon securely surrounded by the Ugandan troops.

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The woman, who was left at Benghazi and flown to England by evening, confirmed that the Airbus was taken over by two South Americans and their two accomplices. It would be later established that the blond-haired man checked-in as Peruvian A. Garcia, was in fact a German called Wilfried Böse, a member of a German Revolutionary cell, while the Ecuadorian woman travelling as Ortega, was Böse‘s former German lover Brigitte Kuhlmann (2) of RZ. Their comrades were of Middle East origin. At Entebbe, the hijackers reinforced their team with the arrival of more associates which would also allow them to work in shifts. President Idi Amin of Uganda, after visiting the hostages, made it known that he offered his services in the sympathetic role of a mediator and hoped the wishes of the hijackers would be accepted.

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The demands for the exchange of the hostages was the release of 53 political prisoners held in jails in Israel (40), Kenya (6), France (1), West Germany (5) and Switzerland (1). To deliver the prisoners to Entebbe, the deadline was set for 11.00 am GMT of Thursday, July 1.

On Tuesday, June 29, having moved the Israeli citizens/Jewish passengers of other nationalities to an adjoining room, the captors released 47 non-Jewish passengers, allowing them to fly to Paris on Wednesday on an Air France airplane.

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As the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) looked into the feasibility of several alternative military options, they were grappling with the lack of fresh, credible and reliable intelligence information. For starters, specialists of the planning group had prior knowledge about the Entebbe airport and the merits of the Ugandan troops. Not only had Israeli experts helped train those troops, constructions in the Entebbe airport, including the old terminal building, were done by an Israeli construction firm and they had detailed architectural drawings. On the surface, the impending odds lay in the difficulty of retrieving the large group of hostages which would occasion an eight hour flight through the radar range of other countries and the inevitable refuelling of the aircrafts for their trip back home.

Meanwhile giving in to the mounting plea from the families of the hostages, the captors were made known of the intention of Israel to talk. To facilitate arrangements for the exchange, the deadline was postponed to 11:00 a.m. GMT of Sunday, July 4. Soon, selected 101 non-Jewish hostages were allowed by the hijackers to fly out to Paris. The Air France Flight Captain Michel Bacos, claiming responsibility for all passengers of his flight, chose to stay with the remaining 94 Jewish hostages, a decision welcomed voluntarily by his crew (3).

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A passenger, who was amongst the 101 hostages released, provided valuable information about how the hostages were kept under guard and the strength of the Ugandan guards at the airport. It was also welcoming to know that the rest of Entebbe airport was operating normally and scheduled flights were still flying in and out.

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Intervention through a possible military option called for the element of surprise, an absolute necessity to deny captors any time to harm the hostages. Opportunities don’t happen, you create them. The possibility of sky-dropping troops into Lake Victoria, spread wide at about 69,000 Sq km and touching on Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya, had to be abandoned owing to the lake’s shallow waters (only 100m deep) infested with crocodiles and rampant of Bilharzia. Besides, its shores were then hide-outs for snails which are the host for the parasitic flukes harmful to the body.

Before long, a suitable but daring ‘long-arm option’ for rescue was found feasible to rescue the hostages remaining in the terminal. Named: Operation Thunderbolt, the mission will be under the overall command of Brig. Gen. Dan Shomron. Two days before the deadline, a British-Israeli hostage named Dora Bloch had to be removed to Mulago General Hospital in Kampala when a piece of food accidently stuck in her throat.

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With preparations for military option on, a 100-strong rescue team was drawn up from several IDF units including the elite troops. To support the intricate planning and rehearsal drill for the operation, a partial replica of the Entebbe terminal building, based on the blueprints from the construction firm, was immediately constructed. As weapons and gadgets for operational efficiency and safety were decided upon and coordinated, the disembarkation and embarkation procedures were rehearsed on a Hercules aircraft.

Four tactical Lockheed C130 Hercules transport aircrafts, recently purchased from the United States, which have the manoeuvrability and the range, would be deployed with specific assignments. Each soldier all sparked up and in full webbing, would play a critical role.  The first Hercules would carry a black Mercedes car, two Land Rovers, a paratrooper force and IDF’s elite Special Forces assault team led by Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu, the unit’s recently appointed commander.

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Rolling off the back cargo door of the Hercules, the “break-in crew” riding in the Mercedes and Land Rovers with Colgate air of confidence were expected to pass through the Ugandan airfield without resistance assuming they would be taken for President Amin and his entourage. Through access doors 3 and 4 of the seven points of entry of the old terminal they would storm the lounge where the hostages were held. Once inside, they will eliminate any resistance, free the hostages and secure the building. At the same time, unit members will also neutralise the control tower, its radar room and the machine-gun nest near it.

The other three Hercules aircrafts scheduled to land in close succession five to seven minutes later would be accorded protection on the ground by the units of the first aircraft, Upon landing, the specific assignments of the units of the three aircrafts included providing cover to secure the aircraft and keep Ugandan troops away; secure the new terminal, the new runway, the refuelling station and the adjoining airfield, and also to destroy the squadrons of MIGs parked on the far side of the airfield. They would also facilitate on-board emergency medical treatments, evacuate any casualties and help hostages to emplane the aircraft. Of the two Boeing 707s forming part of the operation, one would act as an airborne command and control equipped with superlative communications and monitor the on-ground mission and simultaneously maintain link with Tel Aviv where the communication equipment would be tuned to the operation’s wave-band. The second Boeing would serve as a full-fledged infirmary unit.

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At 14.30 Saturday July 3, the rescue operation was approved. Operation Thunderbolt commenced that late afternoon at Sharm el-Sheikh, the operation’s “jump-off point” at the southern tip of Sinai where the planes had refuelled, having arrived earlier during the day from Ben-Gurion. To escape detection by radar the formation of C130 Hercules aircrafts equipped with American radar jamming devices flew over the Red Sea at very low altitudes (100 feet above the water and at some places at much lower altitude) and then turned inland over Sudan, flying past Ethiopia and above Kenya to approach Entebbe from over Lake Victoria, covering a distance of about 2,500 miles (4,000 km), the first 1000 miles of which was accorded fighter cover by their Mirages and Phantoms.

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Wheels on ground at Entebbe at about one minute past midnight Uganda time, things went wrong even before the team could reach the old terminal 2.4kms away. Two commandos of the front vehicle had to shoot down an armed Ugandan soldier with their silenced .22 caliber Berettas. When the wounded soldier unexpectedly got back on his feet and took aim to shoot, reacting to a perceived threat, a commando in a Land Rover neutralized him with a long burst from his Kalashnikov. The resultant sound of the gunfire sacrificed the much required element of surprise. However, in less than an hour from touchdown of the first Hercules, the mission was successfully achieved liberating 102 hostages and crew and finally the last of the rescue aircrafts had wheels up and departed from Entebbe, marking a dramatic victory in the operation.

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The casualties included the death of all the hijackers and their accomplices, at least twenty Ugandan soldiers and three hostages.

The best men are so often the first to be killed, because they are in front. Fatally shot in the back by a Ugandan soldier from the control tower, Lt. Col. Yonatan “Yoni” Netanyahu was declared dead (4) by the time the rescuers reached Nairobi, Kenya, from where, after refuelling, they all flew back to a military airfield in Tel Aviv for a rousing reunion with their families.

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Dora Bloch (age 73), the passenger on her way to New York for her son’s wedding who was admitted to hospital in Kampala earlier was reportedly killed in Uganda later (5) in reprisal to the successful rescue operation planned and effected within a short space of time surmounting many odds amidst tremendous tension. Fair enough, the operation was subsequently re-named: Operation Yoni (MIVTSA YONATAN) in honour of Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu.

On July 11, the Sunday following the rescue, Ms. Rina Messinger, a 20-year old aerodynamics instructor was crowned as Miss Universe 1976. Coming on the wake of the victory at Entebbe airport, a source of pride and inspiration, she was happily dubbed “Miss Entebbe” by her jubilant countrymen. From pictures I could see that she certainly looked really pretty when she smiled.

Until next time. Jo

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20Note:

  1. Several authoritative books are available about the Entebbe rescue operation.
  2. The woman hijacker is named as Gabrielle Kroecher-Tiedemann in some films and in the book Counter Strike Entebbe by Tony Williamson.
  3. Captain Bacos was honoured with the Legion of Honour while his crew were awarded with the French Order of Merit.
  4. Yonatan Netanyahu was buried in Mount Herzl National Cemetery, Jerusalem
  5. The remains of Dora Bloch, recovered near a Sugar Plantation 20 miles east of Kampala, were shifted to Israel on June 3, 1979, and were buried with state honours in Mount of Quietudes, (Har HaMenuchot Cemetery) Jerusalem.
  6. The subject is featured in the documentary Operation Thunderbolt – Entebbe (2000) and in movies Follow Me – The Yoni Netanyahu Story (2012): and in The Last King of Scotland (One Episode in 2006)
  7. Most of the movies and books referred to in this article are available with amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and other leading dealers.
  8. Books/DVD sleeves credits: amazon.com, en.wikipedia and from my private collection.
  9. This illustrated article is an affectionate nosegay to movies of the past. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details.
  10. This article is dedicated to the defenders of peace – the fallen and the living.

(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

Red Sun (Soleil rouge – StarChoice.26)

 

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This second post concludes my preceding article of March 29, 2016: The Galloping Riders of Almería

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By early 1970s, Charles Bronson’s charm had transcended the borders of Europe and invaded far of corners of Asia. Movies such as The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, The Dirty Dozen and Once Upon A Time In The West have all contributed their magic for the popularity of Bronson. No sooner, large billboards of the craggy-faced, toughly built Bronson appeared in strategic locations in Japan where he was elevated as the quintessential ‘Western Man.’

His aura of toughness and animal magnetism even earned him an appearance in the Japanese television commercial for Mandom, proclaiming a new toiletry brand for men. The ad-film was created by none other than the Japanese filmmaker Nobuhiko Obayashi, known for his surreal visual style. As for Bronson’s film career, there was no dearth in films for he was already in talks with filmmakers about a project called Red Sun.

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According to a book on Charles Bronson, the script for Red Sun was already available – having been passed around the major studios since 1966 when, based on an idea outlined on fifteen-pages, veteran producer Ted Richmond (Solomon and Sheba, Villa Rides!, Papillon) obtained the consent of Toshirô Mifune to star in it.

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Owing to unenthusiastic response to get the film off the ground in Hollywood, Richmond associated with producer Robert Dorfmann (Le Cercle Rouge, Cold Sweat, Papillon) in Europe who signed Bronson and Delon. The choice was easier since the two stars had not only starred in their earlier projects, their commercial appeal made it possible to secure financing. The result was a co-production, between Les Films Corona, France; Oceania Produzioni Internazionali Cinematografiche (Oceania Films), Roma/Italy; Producciones Balcázar S.A., Spain, – an arrangement, besides other benefits, assured distribution in three markets.

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They also roped in Terence Young to direct the movie. Young has proven his flair in directorial skills through a wide range of genre including peplum and war films since his directorial debut in 1948.

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International in scope as the stylish action director of three of the first four James Bond films, Dr No (1962), From Russia With Love (1963), and Thunderball (1965), Young himself was then ranked a colourful character – consistent to the image of the British secret service agent James Bond’s taste for fine wine, expensive clothes and beautiful women.

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Ever since his departure from the James Bond series, Young was engaged in direction of The Poppy is Also a Flower (Operation Opium, 1966), L’Avventuriero (The Rover, 1967), Wait Until Dark (1967), Mayerling (1968), and Cold Sweat (1970), the first of three movies that Terence Young would make with Charles Bronson.

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Red Sun was shot during the first half of 1971. Chosen as a stand-in for the American Southwest are the atmospheric mountains, virgin grounds, stark terrain and delicious climate of Spanish Almeria’s El Cabo de Gata (Cape Agate), Tabernas and Cortijo de la Sartenilla as well as the area between La Pedriza de Manzanares El Real and La Calahorra, effectively cutting the production cost.

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Some of these places, studded with agave plants and other desert succulents, flat-roofed whitewashed houses and abandoned/renovated farmsteads, were familiar to Bronson for having worked there recently in earlier production of Sergio Leone.

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Set in the 1870s, Red Sun opens with the arrival of prairie rider Link Stuart (Charles Bronson) at a deserted railway station from where he boards a mail train bound for Washington. Besides the civilian passengers and the US soldiers protecting the gold and other valuables on the train, a delegation led by the Japanese ambassador to the United States occupied a private car.

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During the reign of the 121st emperor of Japan, Emperor Kōmei-tennō (July 22, 1831 to January 30, 1867), Japan had begun its transformation into a modern industrial power following the arrival of US Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry and his “Black Ships” on July 8, 1853 on a mission to force the opening of Japanese ports to American trade, through the use of gunboat diplomacy if necessary. Within the next decade, the drive for modernization resulted in the opening of Japan’s doors to the rest of the world.

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Ten years later, as the movie goes, Sakaguchi, Lord of Bizen and the first Japanese ambassador to the United States by authority from the Emperor, had arrived in San Francisco after a long and perilous voyage by sea. Even though his safe arrival to Washington is guaranteed by the US government, anticipating dangers on their way, the entourage rightfully consisted of two samurais to protect their liege lord – one being Kuroda Jubie (Toshirô Mifune) (1) to whom loyalty and death is part of his air and sea and earth.

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Once the train had chugged out of the station, its control was forcefully taken over by the bandit group belonging to Link and co-leader Frenchman Gauche (Alain Delon) who soon set to rob the train of its valuables. Having sent off all civilian passengers by foot, Link and Gauche barge into the private car of the Japanese entourage and steal their money while the two samurai stay meek at the ambassador’s instance.

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It was after Link had left the car with the money when Gauche’s attention was drawn to a precious Mikado katana, a gold embossed sword, the Japanese was carrying for presenting to the 18th U.S. president, Ulysses S. Grant. Gauche forcefully steals it after killing one of the samurai (Hiroshi Tanaka) who aggressively opposed him. With his mission successfully completed, Gauche double-crosses his partner Link (who was promised 1/3rd of the loot) by throwing dynamite at him. Believing Link to be dead, Gauche and his henchmen ride off with the spoils.

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Link was fortunate to survive the attempt on his life and was discovered by Kuroda by the railroad track. Regaining consciousness, Link was compelled by the Japanese ambassador to accompany samurai Kuroda to track down Gauche and retrieve the sword. Kuroda will attain this within seven days maintaining the code of morals and manners of the Bushidō (the way of the warrior) (2) and if he failed, carry out seppuku (belly-cut) or hara-kiri, the Japanese ritual suicide reserved for samurai.

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Although Link reluctantly agreed to this he was troubled by the samurai’s intention to kill Gauche in a bloody reprisal as soon as he retrieved the sword. This would not leave Link enough time to catch Gauche alive, and obtain the loot ($400,000/-, give or take a dollar!) from the train robbery. For purpose of expediency, Link must elude Kuroda and go after Gauche alone. The journey that follows is a concoction of action, humour, nudity, betrayal, revenge and restitution of honour.

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A French/Italian/Spanish production, the film was a hit in Europe and Asia while in the USA the regular critics were unkind to it which the filmgoers mostly discarded. An uncomplicated action director, Terence Young keeps the movie at a semi-brisk pace sprinkled with humour and brings the story to a dramatic climax amidst the reed thickets, shot in Venta Nueva, Adra, Spain.

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Red Sun contains the three situations essential to every western: isolation, violence and law. Kuroda, a man of dignity and honour, but quick and deadly as a rattle snake, is an isolated man in the West in his pursuit to retrieve the stolen sword and protect the honour. He was forced to associate with the outlaw Link into a path of violence, taking the law and justice into his own hands, hardly concerned whether he may die doing it or not.

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Since most of the action takes place while Link and Kuroda are on the trail of the sword, director Young gives more emphasis to the interaction between the always very meticulous Bronson and much-focused Mifune – the events depicted in the movie leading to the point where Kuroda brings respect in Link for the strict bushido code which Kuroda adhered to, whereas Link manages to convince the revenge-minded Japanese to restrain from killing Gauche until Link could learn of the location where Gauche has hidden the loot. The script also briefly offers Kuroda, who generally dominates Link, an opportunity to speak of the disappearing values of the samurai as his countrymen no longer value the customs of old.

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The two foreigners, Kuroda and Gauche, in the western settings of the movie contrasts dramatically: Mifune’s Kuroda representing the good and the gallant, while French actor Alain Delon’s Gotch ‘Gauche‘ Kink epitomises the bad and the ruthless; and within the limited but fairly meaty sequences of Gauche, the story maze clearly defines his debauchery, grounds for Kuroda to exact lethal vengeance. Relevant to Delon’s then public image as a “toughie” off screen, he comes across effectively as crafty and aggressive – and then again, there is always the visually interesting aspect – his pretty-boy good looks.

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Statuesque Swiss-German actress Ursula Andress, who received second billing in the movie credits, is the foul-mouthed prostitute Christine who is the connection with Gauche whilst in love with Link. Red Sun displays her in a parody of scenes: in partial nakedness, as a helpless hostage of outlaws, as a victim of refined Indian torture, etc.

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Although Andress has donned roles in Le Avventure di Giacomo Casanova/Sins of Casanova (1955), What’s New Pussycat? (1965), The Blue Max (1966), Anyone Can Play (1968), etc, it is her smouldering screen appearance as Honey Ryder in Dr. No (1962) that she is much remembered for, although she also appeared as Vesper Lynd in the satirical James Bond spoof Casino Royale (1967), a role turned down by Joan Collins, Elizabeth Taylor, Shirley MacLaine and the patrician French actress Capucine (The Pink Panther, ‘What’s New, Pussycat?).

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As it turned out, Capucine (Kap-u-SEEN), whose original name is Germaine Hélène Irène Lefebvre but changed it in honour of France’s nasturtium, co-starred with Andress in the role of Pepita in Red Sun.

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In the supporting role as Hyatt is Scottish actor Anthony “Tony” Dawson – a regular in Terence Young productions and often cast in a variety of villainous roles in the 1950s and 1960s including movies such as Alfred Hithcock’s Dial M for Murder (1954) and Dr. No.(3)

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Other members of supporting cast: young French actor Luc “Luke” Merenda (Chato), Hungarian dancer/circus artist Bart Barry/ Bernabé Barta Barry (Paco), Lee Brown/Guido Lollobrigida (cousin of actress Gina Lollobrigida) (Mace), John Hamilton/Gianni Medici (Miguel), George W. Lycan (Sheriff Stone), Hiroshi Tanaka (Second samurai), Canada born Satoshi (Tetsu) Nakamura (Japanese Ambassador), Jo “José” Nieto (murdered Mexican farmer), Spanish actor Julio “Jules” Peña (Peppie, train passenger with newspaper), beautiful Spanish rose Mónica Randall/Aurora Julià Sarasa (Maria), John B, Vermont, plus a whole team of stuntmen (4).

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Original Music by French composer/conductor Maurice Jarre (Maurice-Alexis Jarre) is an interesting mixture of Anglo/Japanese themes. The brilliant Eastmancolor cinematography owes to Henri Alekan of Roman Holiday (1953) fame.

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The script adapted by Denne Bart Petitclere/William Roberts/Lawrence Roman is based on the story by American author Laird Koenig, famous for his novel, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1974). Further crew consists of: Gerald Devriès (dialogue); Johnny Dwyre (Film Editing); Enrique “Henry” Alarcón (Set Decoration); Tony Pueo (Costume Design): Alberto de Rossi (Make-up); Karl Baumgartner (Special effects).

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Released in 1971, Red Sun  is also known as: Sole rosso (Italy), Sol rojo (Spain), Rivalen unter roter Sonne (Germany), Sol vermelho (Portugal), Monomahia ston kokkino ilio (Greece), The Magnificient Three (Philippines)

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Red Sun has its moments of fun and rough spots besides providing the opportunity to see Bronson/Andress/Mifune/Delon coming together in a pleasing blend of their American/Swiss/Japanese/French charm, embellished by the direction of Britain’s Terence Young. Until next time. Jo

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Notes:

  • Toshirô Mifune’s character in Hell in the Pacific is called Tsuruhiko Kuroda.
  • The eight virtues typified by the Bushidō code: Righteousness; Courage; Benevolence; Respect; Sincerity, Honour, Loyalty, Self-Control.
  • According to a film trivia, it is Dawson’s hands we see stroking a white cat in the scenes depicting Bond’s arch-nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld in From Russia with Love and Thunderball.
  • One of Hollywood’s top gun coaches and fast-drawing experts, chickasaw Indian Rodd Redwing died on May 29, 1971 following a heart-attack aboard the flight while returning home from Spain after work on Red Sun.
  • Books, DVD/Blu-ray of the books/movies referred to in this article are available with amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and other leading dealers.
  • DVD sleeves/posters credits: Wikipedia, amazon, and from my private collection.
  • This illustrated article is an affectionate nosegay to the movie reviewed above. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details.
  • In memory of French actress/model Capucine (January 6, 1933 – March 17, 1990)

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(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

The Galloping Riders of Almería

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International superstardom finally started to cast its glare on American actor Charles Bronson in the late sixties – essentially since his appearance as the half-breed gunslinger l’uomo dell ‘armonica in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Western “Once Upon a time in the West” (C’era una volt ail west, 1968). In the mind of filmgoers, the gristly face of Bronson with his sleepy eyes and drooping moustache had become distinguished as an image of a ‘tender tough guy’ with an explosive air of elemental violence about him, drawing audiences to his movies shown across Europe over to Asia. The Italians nick-named this stone-faced and powerful personality, their “Il Brutto” – The Ugly One.

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While Bronson’s films never received wide release across America where he remained an unknown actor, his leading parts were confined to European products such as Guns for San Sebastian (1967), Farewell Friend (Adieu I’Ami, 1968), Villa Rides (1968), etc.

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Born to Lithuanian parents settled in the bleak mining town of Ehrenfeld (known locally as Scooptown), Pennsylvania, USA, “Shulty” (nickname of Bronson as a boy) was initially a coal miner who led a life full of deprivation. Charlie served the army from early 1943 to early 1946, following which he went on to do short stints as bricklayer, waiter, baker’s helper, etc before venturing into the theatre where his face and figure could draw only bit-parts of heavies and ethnics.

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Without any film-acting experience other than a year of learning at the Pasadena Playhouse, he had headed for Hollywood where, from his film debut in You’re in the Navy Now (initial title: U.S.S. Teakettle, 1951) till director Robert Aldrich’s Apache (1954), he was known as Charles Buchinsky, his birth name. With Drum Beat (1954) he changed his name to Bronson after the Bronson Gate at Hollywood’s Paramount Studios which derived its name from Bronson Street in Los Angeles.

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Having met actress Jill “Dorothy” Ireland in Bavaria, Germany, in 1962 during the filming of The Great Escape (then married to Welsh actor David McCalum whom she divorced in 1967), Bronson (divorced from his first wife Harriet Tendler in 1965) and Jill married in October 1968, which was few months after Bronson left Hollywood for Europe where he travelled from 1969 to 1973, making various movies.

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He soon fitted himself into a world infested with immigrant western actors such as Steve Reeves, Clint Eastwood, Cameron Mitchell, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach, Van Heflin, John Ireland, Ty Hardin, Woody Strode, Rod Steiger, Jack Palance, etc, who had taken trek to Europe to join the European actors (most of them given Western-sounding names) to star in Peplums as well as in Euro-Westerns mostly shot in Almería which provided a perfect match for the deserts of Arizona.

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Impressed by Bronson’s performance in Machine-Gun Kelly (1958), French actor Alain Delon had by then developed an interest to work with him. Conveyed to Bronson through French producer Serge Silberman while Bronson was on location in Spain (at El Casar de Talamanca, Guadalajara, Castilla-La Mancha for director Buzz Kulik’s “Villa Rides”), the outcome was Bronson in the role of Franz Propp in Adieu I’Ami (Farewell Friend/Honor Among Thieves).

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When the film came out, his pairing with Delon earned them lavish praises from the critics, spiralling progress in Bronson’s career through a series of European productions including director Richard Donner’s Twinky (Lola/Statutory Affair, 1970) and French director René Clément’s chilling suspense piece Le Passager de la pluie (Rider on the Rain, 1970), the role in which, according to a book, had come seeking Bronson with a bit of urging of Alain Delon.

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In the late 1960s, with the sensuality of facial features that made Alain Delon a beautiful leading man still intact, Delon retained his physical presence and stylish, enigmatic look in domestic productions such as The Girl on a Motorcycle (1968), La Piscine (1969), Le Clan des Siciliens (The Sicilian Clan, 1969), Borsalino (1970), etc.

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Earlier in 1966, he had acted as a hitman clad in a trenchcoat and sporting a felt-hat in French director Jean-Pierre Melville’s cult classic Le Samouraï (The Samurai, 1967) which had kindled his interest in Japan where he had recently earned a large number of fans and commercial success that extended not only to his iconic status, his screen muscularity and sex appeal, but even to the sunglasses branded with his name. According to IMDB, at that time, Delon even kept a samurai blade hanging on the wall of his bedroom.

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Producing films since the 1970s under the name of his own production company, Adel Productions, and in a position to attract investment from across Europe and USA, Delon was then very active in filmdom and given the scale of his popularity as a global style icon, no doubt he would have gladly welcomed any interesting story angles of diverse genre to revamp his image, including a proper role where elements of Japanese culture are interestingly featured.

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The box-office success in Japan of more than a dozen films that director Akira Kurosawa made between 1950 and 1965 and other elements of Japanese film culture were already fanning their influence on the American filmdom. Kurosawa’s “Rashomon” (1950) came out as “The Outrage” (1964), “The Magnificent Seven” (1960) was based on “Seven Samurai”, while “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964) which invented the spaghetti Western was inspired by “Yojimbo” (1961) (1).

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Simultaneously, “You Only Live Twice” (1967), the fourth James Bond starring Sean Connery, predominantly set in Japan, featured prominent roles for Japanese actors Tetsurô Tanba, Akiko Wakabayashi and Mie Hama. Director Richard Fleischer’s “Tora, Tora, Tora” (1970) about the Pearl Harbour attack featured a fusion of West-Orient actors and crew and Kurosawa was originally slated to direct the Japanese half of the film which did not materialised due to technical issues.

The West had also taken note of Toshirô “The Wolf/The Shogun” Mifune’s strong, monolithic screen presence. Mifune had built his career on several wonderful classics of Kurosawa which included Rashomon (1950), Seven Samurai (1954), Throne of Blood (1957), Yojimbo (1961), Red Beard (1965), and The Hidden Fortress (1958), which was Kurosawa’s personal favourite.

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The power of Mifune’s screen presence engendered the strength of character through silence, together with quick and deadly dynamism in action sequences. In “Something Like An Autobiography” Kurosawa wrote that, in Mifune he had come across “a kind of talent he had never encountered before in the Japanese film world.”

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Toshirô Mifune, himself a producer on several samurai films, was no stranger to roles in Hollywood products. Referred to as Japan’s John Wayne, he had appeared in Grand Prix (1966) and later with Lee Marvin in director John Boorman’s Hell in the Pacific (1968), a World War II drama of two adversaries, an American pilot and a marooned Japanese navy captain Tsuruhiko Kuroda, on a small uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean. The film offered good contrast in acting styles of Marvin and Mifune (both actually served in the Pacific during World War II) as the two men of opposing countries who cease their animalistic confrontation and come to terms with peace and cooperation in order to survive.

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It was during this period that the American producer Ted Richmond decided to create a Shogun-type Western, with a fusion of Japanese folk legends. Jo                 (To be continued)

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Notes:

  • According to A New Guide to Italian Cinema, Leon has insisted that the source of A Fistful of Dollars is a play by Carlo Goldoni Arleccchino il servitor di due parroni/The Servant with Two Masters (1745)
  • Books, DVD/Blu-ray of the books/movies referred to in this article are available with amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and other leading dealers.
  • DVD sleeves credits: Wikipedia, amazon.co.uk, and from my private collection.
  • This illustrated article is an affectionate nosegay to movies of the past. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details.

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(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)