Tag Archive | The Dirty Dozen

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

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Part I

Life with many beginnings and endings is a progression of cycles. Just like the years before, the New Year arrived in the cyclical order – ushering in the divisions of days, weeks, months, various seasons, in conjunction with personal social relationship events such as the dates of birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, etc. Within the past three weeks of January in the present calendar, there were few birthdays (including mine on 18th) and anniversaries of people I have had the privilege of knowing – and also a reminder of more to come as the year progresses – a good number of which must be reinforced by remembrance.

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Those with nostalgic longing for movies of the second half of the 20th century would not have to jog their memory much to remember the late Telly Savalas, the Film/Television actor, TV show host and Singer. Telly shared his birth and death in January – on consecutive days of 21st and 22nd. In many of us, the image of Telly Savalas was moulded not only from the characters he portrayed in a string of movies or from his presentations in Television, or the music albums but also from the wide attention he generated to himself by display of his images in a wide range of American-International magazines.

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Of those movies featuring him in a succession of devious characters, one could easily think of the box-office hit, The Dirty Dozen (D: Robert Aldrich, 1967) which presented Telly as a convict and brutal rapist; he was an earthy renegade killer whose frumpy mistress (Shelley Winters) described him as having “as much feelin’s as a bald-headed hog” in The Scalphunters (D: Sydney Pollack, 1968); a black marketer in Battle of the Bulge (D: Ken Annakin, 1965); a no-good army sergeant in Mackenna’s Gold (D: J. Lee Thompson, 1969), a sadistic bandit leader in A Town Called Hell (D: Robert Parrish, 1971); a crooked narcotics agent in Clay Pigeon (D: Tom Stern, 1971); the cold-blooded assassin in L’assassino… è al telefono (D: Alberto De Martino, 1972)….. and so the list goes on until he came across his alter ago Kojak.

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Like the bald headed Hollywood actor Yul Brynner, it is difficult to fully fathom the real story of Telly Savalas since he told a different story in every other interview – a phenomenon I had noticed while researching for this article.

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Aristoteles Savalas (a) was born in Garden City, New York, on January 21, 1922 (b). He was the second son of artist Christina Kapsalis (a former Miss Greece beauty queen from the Greek village of Anogia) and to Nicholas Constantine Savalas (originally spelled Tsavalas – hailing from the village of Gerakas), who made a fortune in tobacco, lost the lot and made another fortune in the bakery business. As teenagers, both his parents had emigrated to America in the early 1900s.

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The second of five children (three brothers: Constantine Socrates, George Demosthenes, Theodore Praxiteles and sister: Katherine), in his earlier days, Aristoteles who spoke fluent Greek, had to sell newspapers, shine shoes and work as a lifeguard to help support the family. Somewhere along the way, he became regularly known as Telly. Having enrolled in the army in 1941 and following four years of service during the World War II he was discharged duly decorated with a Purple Heart for injuries sustained. How he was wounded in the war is unclear – quite similar to the ambiguity about how his left index finger got slightly mangled.

7With the intention to pursue a career in the diplomatic service, Telly graduated in psychology from Columbia University where he had met Katherine Nicolaides. After his father’s death, Telly married Katherine in 1948 and together they had Christina. Following few years work with the Near East Information Services branch of the U. S State Department as host of the Your Voice of America series, ABC (American Broadcasting Company) News hired him as a producer. Having left ABC in January 1959, he had his first TV acting role in And Bring Home a Baby, of Sunday Armstrong Circle Theatre (1950–1963). Burt Lancaster saw his work and drew him to California to appear in episodes of the CBS TV series The Witness (1960-61).

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About the age of 39, Telly had forayed into acting in feature films, debuting with Mad Dog Coll (D: Burt Balaban, 1961) which chronicled the career of the Irish American gangster, Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll. Telly portrayed the role of another Lieutenant in the crime drama film The Young Savages (D: John Frankenheimer, 1961), the first of Burt Lancaster’s four picture deal with United Artists (the other three being Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), The Train (1964) and The Hallelujah Trail (1965)).

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Luck played into his hands when, impressed by his performance in the roles of Al Capone and “Lucky” Luciano in The Witness in which the life and crimes of America’s notorious rogues are investigated at a committee of inquiry; and also in The Young Savages shot in New York, Lancaster provided him the important role of the solitary row prisoner Feto Gomez of Leavenworth Prison in the prison biography, Birdman of Alcatraz. This breakthrough role earned Telly an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor.

Following his divorce from Katherine, in early 1960s when his film roles were mainly villainous, he got married for the second time to Marilyn (Lynn) Gardner.

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When director George Stevens’ cameo-packed dramatization of the life of Jesus Christ, The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) was announced, many eyebrows were raised at the parade of famous actors in unexpected roles. The casting of Telly as Pontius Pilate drew smiles from those who thought that a Brooklyn accent has no place in a Biblical epic.

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Stevens thought that the 6’1” Telly would look more virile and powerful in the role of the Roman prefect (governor) of Judaea if he shaved his head. Telly found the proposition extremely attractive and decided to go on with life as it was before retaining his signature bald look he took for his role in this Bible epic. Whyever not?

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He simply chose to shave his head for the look. By the way, men generally don’t grow beards because they dislike shaving – but because they think their whiskers make them look better and give them a distinctive image.

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He is on record in an interview as saying about the time Telly told his mother Christina vis-à-vis his casting in The Greatest Story Ever Told. She had rounded things off with the remark: “You are joking!” and she continued, “You’ll make a Marvellous Jesus!” She must hold the world record for being the world’s most optimistic mother.

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Telly had a memorable role as James Bond’s notorious arch-rival Ernest Stavro Blofeld in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (D: Peter Hunt, 1969) in which stuntman Joe Powell nearly got killed doubling him in the bobsleigh in Switzerland. Two of his co-stars of The Greatest Story Ever Told, Donald Pleasance and Max von Sydow also played Blofeld in You Only Live Twice (D: Lewis Gilbert, 1967) and in Never Say Never Again (D: Irvin Kershner, 1983).

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Of his bald head, he once said that “everyone’s born bald.” In spite that Telly was typecast as a villain for being entirely bald, audiences took him to their hearts – believing that in the baddie they saw onscreen rested a sweet nature. His strong features and ethnic look came handy for the role of Shan in Genghis Khan (D: Henry Levin, 1965).

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The success of that film gave his career further fillip earning him roles in Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell (D: Melvin Frank, 1968), The Assassination Bureau (D: Basil Dearden, 1969), Kelly’s Heroes (D: Brian G. Hutton, 1970); Pretty Maids All in a Row (D: Roger Vadim, 1971), etc.  For the title role of Pancho Villa (1972), the bald look was vindicated by the shaving of his head in prison during the opening sequence.

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Since 1974, after a long separation Telly and Marilyn were divorced. According to the mini documentary “Telly Savalas: The Golden Greek”, he had met the beautiful Sally Adams while working on the movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service  (c). In 1973, Cojack with ‘c” hit the TV screens and his luck seems to improve.

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Although the bald-headed, deep, gravel-voiced Telly had been acting since the late 1950s, real popularity came looking for him in the title role of the famous CBS TV series Kojak (October, 1973-April, 1978) which was a spun-off from the made-for-TV pilot, The Marcus-Nelson Murders (D: Joseph Sargent, First American Broadcast: March 8, 1973).

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Few initial instalments showed him wade through a stereo-typed routine of law-and-order claptrap. But soon Kojak became a prime program as the series turned tough and reasonably true – taking on the look, sound, feel, taste, and smell of the New York crime investigations.

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Working out of a Precinct of Manhattan, Telly’s Lieutenant Theo Kojak, in fabulous three-piece suit, displayed a more credible human being. Much of the vicious power and toughness Telly had displayed in his earlier villainous roles were there. But the exception was that, in his new persona as the stubborn and tenacious good guy Kojak with a deep concern for people and justice, his wrath was targeted against the crooks, spooks and killers. Audiences related to Kojak’s passionate belief in equality and fairness and his vehement opposition to police bureaucracy. Well, you know the rest.

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While Telly reigned supreme in the role of the chrome-domed streetwise cop’s cop with a sweet tooth for sucking lollipops and a penchant to wisecrack snazzy lines, Telly soon became indelibly identified with the character of Kojak. “Telly and Kojak are one and the same,” Telly said in a TV interview, drawing a parallel between him and Kojak.

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His love for the suckers, I mean, his serious attitude towards the lollipops, reportedly to replace Telly’s addiction for long thin cigars, was initially featured in Episode eight “Dark Sunday” of Kojak in December 1973. This addiction for suckers could have its origins in Toledo, Spain and to Italian director Mario Bava, the father of Italian horror films.

This concludes Part I.  Part II will follow. Jo

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Notes:

  1. The spelling of first name is based on Certificate of Death: 39419004248 dt.22-1-1994 shown in a website although the name on his tombstone differs;
  2. The date is based on his death Certificate;
  3. Some sources maintain that Telly met Sally while working on the movie, The Dirty Dozen.
  4. This article owes its source to various newspapers, books, magazines, visual media, etc.
  5. Films forming part of the collection of Manningtree Archive are highlighted in bold.
  6. Most of the movies and books referred to in this article are available with amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and other leading dealers.
  7. DVD sleeves credits: amazon.com, en.wikipedia, imdb and from my private collection.
  8. 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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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)