EASTWOOD ON LEONE - Blogs
EASTWOOD ON LEONE
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, March 11, 2016
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dozens of Cinemark Theaters nationwide are showing ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ next week (see review on this page) to celebrate the film’s 50th anniversary. So this seems like a good time to revive my Jan. 25, 1990, Deseret News story about Clint Eastwood’s Sundance Film Festival press conference, in which he spoke about working with filmmaker Sergio Leone, who had died nine months earlier. Note that he mentions that one of his next two movies will be a Western. He is, of course, referring to “Unforgiven,” which earned him the best-director Oscar two years later. This was the headline: Eastwood remembers ‘Fistful of Dollars’ director; Gracious superstar: Film festival hears from one of movie industry’s ‘biggies’ about his start in Westerns.
PARK CITY — Jane Fonda canceled at the last minute, and Robert Redford was nowhere to be seen — he’s off making a movie. But one of filmdom’s superstars did show up to give the Sundance United States Film Festival a boost this year.
Clint Eastwood met with the public — and a massive collection of reporters — in the Yarrow Hotel in Park City Wednesday afternoon to talk about the late Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone.
It was a brief news conference — about 20 minutes. In fact, Eastwood probably spent as much time graciously signing autographs and speaking with people who crowded around him afterward as he did at the microphone.
Leone, who died just over a year ago, is being honored by the festival in its “Gone But Not Forgotten” section with showings of “Duck, You Sucker,” a typically overblown Leone comic Western epic that had a different title in its abridged American version — “A Fistful of Dynamite.”
Eastwood and Leone fans can tell you why the title was changed. It has to do with an attempt to cash in on the title of Eastwood’s first starring film.
In 1964 Eastwood was just another TV cowboy — co-starring in “Rawhide” — when Leone cast him as the Man with No Name in his low-budget ($225,000) Western “Per un Pugno di Dollari,” known in America as “A Fistful of Dollars.”
“Somebody sent him (Leone) an episode of ‘Rawhide’ in Rome,” Eastwood said, adding that he was offered only $15,000 for the role. Eastwood naturally asked his agent why he didn’t negotiate for more money. “He said, ‘You’d better take it. They have Rory Calhoun in the wings.’ Well, I’d never seen Europe, so I decided to do it.”
The film was scheduled to shoot during the hiatus between seasons of “Rawhide.” Eastwood described his Rowdy Yates character on “Rawhide” as “the second banana, and the dumber of the two.”
When he finished the film he returned to the TV series, unaware that the movie was becoming a phenomenon in European movie theaters. Eastwood said he read in Variety about a popular European Western called “Per un Pugno di Dollari,” but he thought it was some other picture since his film had been titled “Magnificent Stranger” while he was working on it. Eventually he saw his name connected with it and realized his movie was a European hit.
The film went on to become an enormous worldwide success, made Eastwood an international star, and the term “spaghetti Western” became a household phrase.
Over the next two years Eastwood played the same character in Leone’s equally popular sequels, “For a Few Dollars More” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” Along with their first collaboration, these films have become known as Leone’s “Dollar Trilogy.”
Clint Eastwood, left, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleeft, Sergio Leone in Spain, circa 1965, on the set of 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.'
Leone went on to make several other big films, sans Eastwood, including “Once Upon a Time in the West” (considered by many to be Leone’s masterpiece) and more recently, “Once Upon a Time in America.”
“Sergio was not afraid to attack American mores,” Eastwood said, explaining that Leone broke some of the rules of American movie censorship with more realistic violence than had been used in Westerns up to that point. “He had an operatic feel — a big, grandiose style. He was very big with the countryside.”
When they first met, Leone spoke no English and Eastwood spoke no Italian, but he said they had no trouble making the movie because they left each other alone. “It was very easy to handle that. I just did my own thing,” Eastwood said, adding that producers complained about his seeming inaction in the screen. “They said, ‘He’s not doing anything. He’s just standing there with that cigar in his mouth.’ They didn’t understand the symbolism. Italian producers were used to a lot more dialogue.”
Clint Eastwood greets fans at the 1990 Sundance Film Festival.
Did Leone influence Eastwood the director? “I’m sure he influenced me a lot. His boldness, subjectwise — and visually he was terrific. I admired his visual eye. He admired (Japanese director Akira) Kurosawa, and so did I.”
Eastwood said he hasn’t given up on Westerns, despite their being rare these days. One of his next two films will be a Western, though he described it as “something a little different than I’ve done in the past.” His last Western was “Pale Rider” in 1985.
Eastwood said he and Leone had drifted apart and had not communicated for several years when he was in Rome last year to promote his film “Bird.” Leone called him up and they spent a couple of evenings together and renewed their friendship. A few months later Leone died.